Text: Alex Yoong / Photos: | posted May 11, 2012 10:27
The Spanish GP is typically a big indicator of form for the European races that make up the middle two quarters of the F1 season. All the teams target it as a race to bring big updates to their cars as it's the first race back in Europe and close to home base. It's also a circuit with long sweeping medium to high speed corners in the first two sectors which necessitate a well-balanced car with good aerodynamic efficiency. The teams that have got it right in these bits will find their cars good for the majority of the European tracks.
It is also a circuit the teams and Pirelli know well as they test here pre-season. This means that the teams and drivers should be on top of their game and it is unlikely that a strange or off par performances should appear. If a team is not where it expects to be here, then it is a car competitiveness problem, not an issue of non-performance.
Qualifying is usually key at Barcleona and it is a circuit that is not known for lots of overtaking; although last year we saw a very exciting race with Pirelli tyres that were wearing higher than expected. With the soft and hard compound being a step softer than last year, we should see high tyre wear again, but I expect the teams to be more on top of it. So expect a fairly exciting race, but qualifying will play a bigger role than we have seen in the races so far.
Last week was the only in-season testing for the year as the teams tested around Mugello for three days. Not much information could be gleamed from this, with many teams questioning such need. Costs and the dangerousness of such a high speed circuit with no run off, being some of the criticism. One thing is fairly clear though is that Lotus look very good still, with Grosean being quickest on two of the days. We also saw teams holding quite a few of their updates back so to not show their gains too early.
McLaren not running their new raised nose until the final hour on the last day tells me that they know they have quite a gain there and are confident in what it does for the car. Normally if you are unsure of a new part and you need to correlate the data from theory to practical, you don't leave it till the end of the test to run.
Others will be showing all the updates during this Friday's running. The development war is an exciting game of cat and mouse and I will be very keen to see qualifying on Saturday here on Star Sports to see if any of the teams have stolen a march on the others.
The team with the biggest pressure to deliver has to be Ferrari. They have had a very bad start to the year with a car 0.8 seconds off the pace and its only due to Alonso's brilliance that they enter round 5 with only a 10 points gap to Vettel in the drivers championship. It’s very unlikely that Ferrari will be challenging for pole, but they will be expecting (or hoping) to at least half the gap to pole position. If they can do that, I can see them getting on the pace by the British GP and if that happens, then a bit more Fernando Alonso magic will keep them in the hunt for the title.
But enough about the title, who will win this weekend? It's so competitive that it is impossible to make a call on this, but you can count on McLaren, RedBull, Lotus and Mercedes being in the hunt for pole. Who actually gets it might even come down to temperatures, with Mercedes being very quick in cooler conditions and RedBull and Lotus showing they will be there quick when it is hotter.