Daily Archives: May 3, 2010

Spanish Grand Prix preview

The flyaway Formula 1 races have concluded, so now the sport returns to Europe until Singapore in September (excluding Canada). The first of the European races this season is in Barcelona, Spain.

The track

Like China, I have voiced my dislike of this circuit, since it is very difficult to overtake here. It does, however, pose a challenge to both the drivers and the team. High g-force corners like Campsa (Turn 9) will be a tough test on the driver, while the entire track requires perfect aerodynamic setup, which will be difficult for the team.

Overtaking opportunities are slim here, but the bet option would be on the main straight. The final chicane, put in this track in 2007, has helped slightly improved chances of getting past an opponent on the long straight. Still, it is difficult to follow the car ahead around the rest of the track, so overtaking may remain a challenge this year.

Here is Mark Webber’s video of him talking us through a lap of the Spanish Grand Prix

Weather

There is little chance of rain in Barcelona this weekend. On Sunday, there is a 45% possibility of rain falling at some point within a 24-hour period, with a 70& chance of Friday. Those figures may seem very high, but don’t forget it’s referring to an entire 24-hour period, so the chances of it falling on a 1.5 hour slot in the middle of the afternoon is very low.

So, if it remains dry, air temperature will be 20C at highest, with track temperature quite higher. Wind speeds will be 6m/s, which may well pose a challenge at corners like Campsa. The cars will be very sensitive to wind speed at this corner, where the track inclines while turning right, so watch out for this over the weekend.

Tyres

Bridgestone will be supplying the hard and soft tyres, the same as last year. There were no particular problems with heavy tyre wear last year, but that could change. With the full fuel tanks at the start, and heavy aerodynamics providing lots of grip, the softer tyres could burn out quite quickly if they are used for the first stint.

Still, I’m expecting the teams to run the soft tyres first, for about 15 laps or so, then switch to the harder tyres for the rest of the race. An alternative strategy would be to run two stints on the soft tyre, then one on the hard at the end. This was attempted by Rubens Barrichello in Malaysia, but it dodn’t work. However, if a driver wanted consistently fast pace throughout the race, without worries of tyre wear, then Barcelona would definitely be the track to use this two-stop strategy.

The three new teams may try vastly different tactics, since their cars are probably lacking in downforce. This especially will apply to Lucas di Grassi, who won’t be able to make it to the flag, thanks to his fuel tank issue. Some of these 6 drivers may opt to take on two sets of soft tyres, like I said earlier, to keep up the grip levels on the car, and to stick to the cars ahead. If reliability doesn’t get in the way, then they would have to change to hard tyres for the final stint.

Otherwise, as long as it stays dry, there should be no other changes in strategy.

Drivers to watch

Sebastian Vettel – It has been acknowledged that Red Bull have the car to beat in Spain, so Vettel is obviously the man who I’m tipping for the win. The RB6 can consume 10kg less fuel than its rivals, which gives Vettel and Webber a huge advantage for the first stint. Also, as we have seen, their car is geared towards a balance of aerodynamic and mechanical grip, which perfectly suits this circuit. I would put Webber down on the list here, but I feel that Sebastian is just better on race day. Having said that, Mark coming second wouldn’t be a surprise at all.

Fernando Alonso – If anyone is to challenge the Red Bulls, it is certainly Alonso. First of all, this is his home circuit, always packed to the brim with his adoring fans, and Fernando always tries to keep them happy. Even with the underperforming Renault he had a few years back, he always tried his best at this track, and often did very well, such as running 5th in 2008, before a gearbox problem stopped him in his tracks. In fact, this circuit is really where he put his name on the map, back in 2003, when he chased Michael Schumacher all the way to the flag, and instantly created a new Spanish hero.

His Ferrari car should hold up well here as well. Their new F-duct system was tested by Giancarlo Fisichella a few days ago, and should be put on the car in time for the race. This will give them the advantage down the main straight, without crucially compromising them in the heavy-downforce corners of the track. Just don’t mention engine failures.

Vitaly Petrov – His Renault car has been pitched as better than the Mercedes, so there is no better place to prove this than in Barcelona. While Mercedes will be bringing an updated car, which they hope will fix the chronic understeer they have been suffering, I still think that Kubica and Petrov can beat Schumacher, though it remains to be seen about Rosberg.

Still, Vitaly has scored his first points in F1, so he should be getting up to speed fully in the next few races. I’m not expecting him to match Robert, but getting within a few places would be a good achievement.

Bruno Senna – Despite the famous name, he hasn’t thrashed Chandhok like I thought he might. While the HRT car has surely been holding him back, he needs to perform better if he is to prove himself, such as not being out-qualified by Karun. Lotus are still well in front, but I would be looking for Bruno to at leat challenge them this weekend.

Virgin to update only Glock’s car

Lucas di Grassi will have to settle for the earlier version of the VR-01

Lucas di Grassi will have to settle for the earlier version of the VR-01

Virgin have said that they have only been able to update Timo Glock’s VR-01, which features a larger fuel tank, in time for the Spanish Grand Prix next weekend.

This means that Lucas di Grassi will be forced to drive the older version of the Virgin car, with the undersized fuel tank. The team, however, blame the Eyjafjallajokull volcanic flight disruption for holding up their development programme:

"What should have been a useful three-week break in the calendar,
and an opportunity to ensure we are fully prepared for the European
season, turned into something of a race against time thanks to the
fallout from “The Volcano”. It took up to five days after the
Chinese Grand Prix before the entire team were back in England,
so we had to rush headlong into preparations for Spain.

The planned modifications to the chassis were always going to be
our most significant development, but they were also the tip of the
iceberg in terms of what we will bring to Barcelona. As a new team
we will be using new trucks and a new motorhome for the first time
and on top of that we moved into our new race preparation facility
while the team were stranded in China, so we certainly had a lot
going on for us when we finally made it home.

Nonetheless, the team have done an admirable job and we’ll be
heading to Spain this week full of optimism for the next phase of
our debut season."

“The designer of the car, Nick Wirth, added:

Since Shanghai, we have conducted an extensive investigation into 
the failures that halted the obvious progress the team has been 
making since its debut. That investigation has highlighted a number 
of issues that are currently being addressed by the race team, 
Wirth Research and our key suppliers and our continuing aim is 
to put an end to the reliability issues that have dominated our 
Grand Prix debut.

Having worked tirelessly to prepare the new car for the race, 
including its successful re-homologation, it is a bitter pill 
to swallow that we are unable to complete the second car due 
to the “volcanic delays”. Running two fundamentally different 
specification cars at Barcelona will certainly challenge the 
team, but as the reliability fixes apply to both specifications, 
we’ll keep our heads down and focus solely on getting both cars 
to the chequered flag."

It really is a shame that they can’t fully sort out their fuel tank issue yet, but I have to feel that the volcanic disruption is just an excuse for them not being able to make the changes in time themselves. Even after this, there may still be hydraulic problems with the car, so I’m not expecting a Virgin to get to the finish in Spain.

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