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.
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
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.
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.