When the Spanish Grand Prix was held in the month of August last year, the same set of hard tyre compounds were allocated as were in Portugal last weekend. Same shall be the case in Spain this time round when the action kicks off on Friday afternoon.
What’s been said
Most of the headlines coming from Portugal have been surrounding the track limits, with Max Verstappen claiming he has lost a race victory, a pole position, and a point for fastest lap due to the track limits confusion. How the track limits are policed and where are they policed from both have been written in the Regulations and Race Director’s note. There seems to be a disconnect between the Red Bull team and the Race Directors. Either they are not aware of all the rules or they are not feeding the rules to Max on track.
Pirelli‘s head of Formula 1 and motor racing, Mario Isola, said: “The race strategy in Catalunya was influenced primarily by the very high track temperatures last season. This year, with the race moving back to a spring date, temperatures will be cooler but should still be a key factor behind the strategy. The altered corner profile of Turn 10 provides another new challenge that could influence the way the drivers approach the lap. We’ve seen in the past that strategy has been one of the key differentiating factors at Barcelona and we should expect this to become the case once more this weekend.”
Barcelona is renowned for being a difficult track for overtaking, although the 1.1 Km long front straight added with DRS assistance can help drivers line up a move for Turn 1 and Turn 2. The track layout itself has been changed compared to previous seasons with a modification to Turn 10 ahead of this week’s Spanish Grand Prix. This modification resulted in making the track 20 metres longer. This has made Turn 10 a slightly wider left-hander with a bigger run-off area and a shortened braking zone while entering the corner.
The struggles of a one-stopper are evident for all to see due to its abrasive surface and many mechanical sections that put a high load on these Pirelli tyres. Last year, the race was won by Lewis Hamilton on a two-stop strategy, while his teammate Valtteri Bottas was on the podium with a three-spot strategy. Among the front runners, it was Sergio Pérez who finished a respected fifth on a one-stopper soft-medium strategy. Although the track temperatures will be cooler this time around, there should still be a good mixer of one and two-stop strategies.
Mercedes and Red Bull have been exchanging punches one after the other. While Mercedes snatched away Red Bull’s victory in Bahrain thanks to clever strategic calls, Max Verstappen and Red Bull drew blood at Imola. As the Formula One carnival travelled south of Europe, Portugal showed the might of Lewis Hamilton and why he’s one of the greatest of all times.
With only three races gone, Lewis Hamiton leads the Driver’s Championship by eight points from rival Max Verstappen while Red Bull are enjoying their best start to a season since 2011 with 83 points, 18 points behind leaders Mercedes. With Lewis and Max fighting hammer and tongs, the onus will be on the second drivers; Valtteri Bottas and Sergio Pérez, to propel their team to the Constructors Championship glory.
In the midfield, Lando Norris is sitting in third place in the Driver’s Championship. Touted as a future World Champion by many, Lando has taken the mantle of being the team leader in McLaren with Daniel Ricciardo still finding his feet.
Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz of Ferrari will be hoping for a better race weekend after their below-par performances in Portimão. While Leclerc finished the race in a lonely sixth place, Sainz continued to fall away until he was finally out of the point-scoring positions, coming home in eleventh place.
The Alpine duo of Esteban Ocon and Fernando Alonso will be hoping to prove that their double points finish in Portimão was no fluke either. It will be interesting to see whether their new shark teeth-like blades below the nose cone can make any difference in the Spanish Grand Prix.
AlphaTauri has shown good one-lap pace in the first three races of the season but their long-run pace has flattered to deceive most people across the paddock. With only 9 points from their first three races, Pierre Gasly and Yuki Tsunoda will be hoping to right the wrongs of last weekend.
Sebastian Vettel in a recent interview said:
“This weekend, I’ll have the upgrade Lance (Stroll) used in Portugal which he felt promising. So, I am looking forward to experiencing it for myself. Looking at the last race, it’s clear that we have a better race pace than single-lap performance, so we’ll be looking to make improvements on Saturday to give us the best chance of points on Sunday. We all know Sunday afternoons at Barcelona can be tricky for overtaking, so it’s important that we maximise our opportunities where we can.”
The four-time World Champion needs to pick it up this weekend as he has no points to his name so far in his Aston Martin career. Lance Stroll too needs to start producing on the track if they are to get anywhere near their pre-season ambitions of finishing third in the Constructors Championship.
With cool and gusty conditions expected for this weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix, George Russell and Williams, in particular, might struggle with their extremely wind-sensitive car. Russell was only 0.057s away from making it into the Q3 session for the first time since 2018, but the young British driver fell away during Raceday as he struggled to get a hold of his Williams in gusty conditions.
With cooler track temperatures and the same tyres compounds that were allocated last weekend, Mercedes will be the team to beat this weekend. If Max Verstappen and Red Bull can figure out their lack of pace compared to Mercedes on the C1 compounds, we should have a mammoth battle on our hands.
McLaren too should be stronger than they were in Portugal with Ricciardo admitting he struggled to adjust to the new layout and didn’t feel his car’s setup was in sync with the requirements of the track. With the most laps run than any other track in the Formula One calendar, teams and drivers will have a lot of data to fall back to and should be better prepared than they were for Portugal.