• Spanish Grand Prix Preview

Praying for rain

Laurence Edmondson May 6, 2010
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The last three races have proved that all F1 needs to be exciting is a drop of rain and the odd driver error. Historically the Circuit de Catalunya, home of this weekend's Spanish Grand Prix, has offered neither. The teams and drivers know the circuit back to front due to the amount of testing mileage completed here over the years, meaning there are no excuses for a missed apex or a poor set-up. Unfortunately this amounts to boring races as there are few mistakes made by the drivers, and due to the fast sweeping curves even fewer genuine overtaking opportunities. The good news is that we know this is the case and, unlike Bahrain, expectations have been set suitably low. The even better news is that a few showers can't be completely ruled out on all three days of the event.

In Form

Jenson Button's two wins in wet races have made him the early championship leader and the man to beat heading to Barcelona. On both occasions he has made the right call at the right time to take an unexpected lead that he has then held under pressure. It's all very impressive, but a dry race in Spain could be a very different story. In Bahrain and Malaysia Button was some way off the pace in the dry and has struggled to find a set-up at tracks as quickly as team-mate Lewis Hamilton. That's not to take anything away from Button's achievements in the early rounds, but the true test of how well he has settled in at McLaren will be a dry qualifying session in Spain.

Out of Form

Michael Schumacher's beaming smile after three lacklustre results in Bahrain, Australia and Malaysia seemed a little out of character, but it made it easy to think he knew something we didn't. It was almost as if he was waiting for the perfect opportunity to put in a brilliant performance and turn to the press to say "I told you so". But when, by his own admittance, he failed to get anything near the best from the car in China the smugness started to fade. The car is clearly not to his liking, although that could change with some updates to the Mercedes for the Spanish Grand Prix. But even in 1996, when Schumacher first drove for Ferrari and was presented with a dog of a car, he adapted to it and got the best from it - that was supposed to be part of his genius. Quite whether the Mercedes upgrades will go far enough to allow him to emulate his virtuoso performance at the Circuit de Catalunya in 1996, when he took his first Ferrari win by 45 seconds in wet conditions, remains to be seen.

Expectations surrounding Fernando Alonso are high in Spain © Getty Images
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One to Watch

The majority of the 140,000 race goers on Sunday will have bought their ticket in the expectation that their man Fernando Alonso will win. That's a lot to live up to for someone who has taken one victory in his last 24 attempts, but the fans' confidence is not misplaced. If it had not been for a run of bad luck and minor mistakes at the last three races, Alonso would have been a serious contender to add three more victories to his one at the start of the season in Bahrain. What's more, in qualifying Ferrari has been the closest team to Red Bull so far, and although it has been relatively quiet about its updates for Spain, a working F-duct and some added downforce could be enough to make the difference.

Talking Points

Car updates Of the past 15 Spanish Grands Prix ten have been won by that year's eventual world champion. The Circuit de Catalunya is a good barometer for a car's overall performance and its traditional date near the start of the European season means the teams have had the chance to debug any early problems from the opening rounds. It'll be no different this year, as most the teams - with the exceptions of Williams and Renault - will bring a heavily revised car that will form the base on which they build for the rest of the 2010 campaign. Don't expect to see anything too dramatic in terms of bodywork, but changes in the order could be possible come Saturday afternoon.

The return of KERS A gentlemen's agreement among the members of the Formula One Teams' Association (FOTA) means KERS isn't being used this season, although it is not actually banned by the FIA. The car manufacturers, most notably Ferrari and Renault, are keen to see it reintroduced to make F1 cars more relevant to their greener road-going cousins. In Barcelona FOTA will meet to discuss the best way to reintroduce the technology, which could come in the form of a standard unit or possibly ones supplied at a reasonable price by Ferrari and Renault. But with a complete chassis rethink due to the ban on double diffusers and the possibility of a whole new tyre construction next season, teams will be wary not to bump up costs too much.

The new teams With all the talk of updates at the front of the field, it's all too easy to gloss over the hard work going on further down the grid. Lotus has long targeted Spain as its breakthrough race and will introduce a more aggressive package that it is hoping will give it a "significant" advantage over its rivals. Virgin will be running its long-awaited larger fuel tank, although it will only be on Timo Glock's car. Nevertheless it should allow them to push the VR01 to the limit for the first time during the race. HRT also has a number of bodywork upgrades, but they will likely be aimed at keeping in touch with the other two rather than moving up the grid.

Schumacher As stated above, this is Schumacher's big chance to shine and prove his critics wrong. In Spain he will use a different chassis after racing the last two rounds, possibly more, with damage to his car. But with the new chassis and all its updates comes high expectations; there will be nowhere to hide and his performance could be a defining moment in his comeback year.

Weekend Timings

  • Free practice 1 0800 GMT / 1000 Local
    Free practice 2 1200 GMT / 1400 Local
    Free practice 3 0900 GMT / 1100 Local
    Qualifying 1200 GMT / 1400 Local
    Race 1200 GMT / 1400 Local

Stat Attack

  • The last nine Spanish Grands Prix (since 2001) have been won from pole
  • This year's race will be the 40th Spanish Grand Prix since the inaugural Formula One event in 1951
  • The 1986 Spanish Grand Prix at Jerez was the closest ever finish, with just 0.014 separating race-winner Ayrton Senna from second-place Nigel Mansell after 72 laps
  • Kimi Raikkonen holds the lap record with a time of 1:21.670 set in 2008.

Trivia

  • The Circuit de Catalunya was first used in F1 in 1991, a race remembered for Nigel Mansell's bold overtaking manoeuvre into turn one on Ayrton Senna
  • Barcelona hosted the Spanish Grand Prix four times between 1969 and 1975 in Montjuich Park. It was a tight and dangerous track that was eventually dropped in 1975 when five spectators were killed after Rolf Stommelen crashed over the barriers
  • The park was later extensively re-developed for the 1992 Olympic Games Fernando Alonso is Spain's only Formula One race winner
  • The very first race to run under the title of the "Spanish Grand Prix" was held in 1913, although it was actually run to touring car regulations rather than the grand prix formula of the day

Circuit

There is a very good reason why the cars return to the Circuit de Catalunya year-after-year to test. Its sweeping corners are very dependent on downforce, while the long straight requires a low level of drag. Put simply, if you're quick here you can be quick almost anywhere. Unfortunately all those fast corners come at the cost of reducing the chances of overtaking. Turn one remains a favourite place to try a move, while the big stop into turn 10 can be a possibility if the leading car makes a mistake through the tricky turn nine. The cars are at full throttle for 60% of the lap, meaning it is not the hardest track on engines, but still enough to cause concerns for the likes of Ferrari and Sauber who are very quickly working their way through their season-long allocation. Bridgestone is bringing its hard and soft compounds this weekend to combat front-left tyre graining, which will almost certainly result in one stop strategies for every team if it is a dry race.

© ESPNF1
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Weather

Showers are possible on all three days and that could be enough to add that extra bit of spice to proceedings. More likely on race day, however, are overcast skies that will keep the track temperatures relatively low compared to the highs seen in Bahrain and Malaysia.

Betting

The strength of Red Bull's car sees Sebastian Vettel as favourite at 2-1, although Mark Webber in an identical chassis is left with relatively good odds at 15-2. Lewis Hamilton (7-2) is still favoured over Jenson Button (8-1) as is Fernando Alonso (7-2) over Felipe Massa (14-1). Mercedes, the outsider in the top four so far this season, could be worth a bet if it's wet at 8-1 for either car to win.

ESPNF1 Prediction

Sebastian Vettel's odds are short for a reason. On a track where overtaking is so difficult, any prediction has to be based on qualifying form. Red Bull has been so dominant on Saturdays this season that it is very difficult to bet against them, and with Sebastian Vettel taking pole three times out of four this season, he has to be the logical choice over Webber.

Laurence Edmondson is an assistant editor on ESPNF1

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Laurence Edmondson is deputy editor of ESPNF1 Laurence Edmondson grew up on a Sunday afternoon diet of Ayrton Senna and Nigel Mansell and first stepped in the paddock as a Bridgestone competition finalist in 2005. He worked for ITV-F1 after graduating from university and has been ESPNF1's deputy editor since 2010