• Spanish Grand Prix preview

Updates and uncertainties

Chris Medland May 10, 2012
The long run down to the first corner saw Fernando Alonso go from fourth to first in 2011 © Sutton Images
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The start of the European season is a frequently-used term as if it could be a defining moment in the year, but it holds more weight in 2012 following the Mugello test. Three days allowed the teams to evaluate significant updates in-depth, and the paddock descends on the Circuit de Catalunya with more genuine uncertainty over who is where in the pecking order. A run of four different winners from four different teams in the first four races could well be extended if Lotus can replicate its Bahrain form. Or it rains...

On Form

While Red Bull returned to the top step of the podium, it appeared that the quickest man in Bahrain was a certain Kimi Raikkonen. Having started from 11th place, Raikkonen displayed the full potential of the Lotus in the hot conditions to carve his way through the field, but only got up in to third place on lap 13 - by which time Sebastian Vettel was over 10 seconds ahead. 23 laps later and the pair were squabbling over the lead in to turn one, but it turned out to be Raikkonen's only chance as he had to settle for second place. Having shown impressive pace in Barcelona during pre-season, there's every chance Raikkonen will be challenging at the sharp end once again.

Out of form

While making up 12 places in the race in Bahrain sounds impressive, the fact remains that Michael Schumacher has scored just two points so far this season. His post-race outburst at Sakhir fully exposed where his weakness lies in 2012 - the Pirelli tyres. He's had little support for his comments, however, and also little time on the slicks having retired on lap 12 in both of the dry races prior to Bahrain. If Schumacher is going to use the potential of the W03 to secure his first podium since returning to Formula One then he'll have to focus on mastering the tyres quickly, but his one saving grace this weekend could be the threat of rain on Sunday.

Paul di Resta was hugely impressive on his way to sixth place in Bahrain © Sutton Images
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One to watch

One of the standout performances in the last grand prix came from Paul di Resta for Force India. The team had skipped FP2 in Bahrain yet still made Q3 and di Resta drove brilliantly to maximise his strategy and finish in sixth place. What made it more impressive is that the car is currently not the strongest midfield runner, with the team admitting it was on the back foot having pushed with development of its 2011 car until the end of the season. The Mugello test has given the opportunity for progress, and based on the improvements made last season Force India could once again be challenging for solid points.

Talking points

McLaren's nose
Having started the season with by far the best-looking car due to the lack of a stepped nose, questions were asked whether McLaren had missed a trick by going in its own direction with the front end of the MP4-27 compared to the rest of the field. Two front-row lockouts in the opening two races appeared to answer the question, but the team has fallen back in the last two grands prix and in search of some more performance it ran a higher nose configuration at the Mugello test. Martin Whitmarsh has confirmed that it is likely to be on the car in Barcelona, but whether the upgrade is enough for McLaren to move to the front again remains to be seen.

Schumacher's tyre issues
Schumacher literally has an issue with the tyres, having criticised Pirelli following the Bahrain GP and continuing to do so this week. He likened the current tyre situation to driving on "raw eggs" (we suspect he meant eggshells), and wants to be able to push harder. Unfortunately for Schumacher - who was used to very durable Bridgestone's developed with Ferrari in the early 2000's - the rapidly-degrading rubber makes for great racing, and both his team-mate and Martin Whitmarsh have come out to say they're good for the sport. With a bigger gap between tyre performance in Barcelona due to the hards and softs being supplied the potential is there for Schumacher to be unimpressed with the compounds once again.

Webber's future
It doesn't take long each season for the topic of Mark Webber's contract to surface. At the age of 35 he only signs one-year deals at present, and with Red Bull using Toro Rosso to look for the next Sebastian Vettel it always seems like Webber's on the verge of leaving the team. As Felipe Massa continues to struggle at Ferrari rumours persist that Webber will switch to Maranello - mainly based on his friendship with Fernando Alonso - but in response even Dietrich Mateschitz has said that he wants him to stay for at least one more year.

Ferrari has been busy updating its car during the three-week break from racing © Sutton Images
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Ferrari
Having been honest enough to admit it was off the pace after pre-season testing, Ferrari's attentions immediately turned to the Mugello test and improving the F2012. At one stage it seemed like the team assumed that the in-season test would automatically mean it was on the pace afterwards, but it is more cautious now despite insisting it has made progress. Luca di Montezemolo admitted that the poor form was a shock and that Ferrari may need to recruit externally to improve its aerodynamic knowledge, but it'll be tough for him to put on a brave face if the car continues to be uncompetitive this weekend.

Trivia

  • The Circuit de Catalunya is the fifth venue to host a World Championship Spanish Grand Prix, following on from Pedralbes, Jarama, Montjuic and Jerez
  • Sebastian Vettel's victory last year was the first time in 11 years that the pole sitter had not won the race
  • Of the current field, only Michael Schumacher (six) and Kimi Raikkonen (two) have more than one win in Barcelona
  • Drivers are subjected to 3.2G for five seconds through the long turn three right-hander

Fast facts

  • This is the 22nd Spanish Grand Prix to be held at Barcelona and the 42nd overall
  • There are over two kilometres of straights available for DRS usage during practice and qualifying
  • Drivers will be at full throttle for 12 seconds on the pit straight, while only 53% of the lap is also spent at full throttle
  • Kimi Raikkonen holds the lap record around the Circuit de Catalunya with a 1:27.670 set in 2008

Circuit

A track that is known extremely well by all the teams due to its frequent use as a test venue, the circuit is an ideal challenge of a car's performance. High downforce is required for the corners and minimal drag for the long pit straight. Traction is also tested too out of turns five, ten and the final chicane - put simply, you need a good car to be strong here. Overtaking opportunities arise in to turns one and ten, while tyre degradation on the abrasive surface may see the odd lunge in to turns five and 14.

FIA driver steward

Tom Kristensen takes over the role of driver steward in Barcelona, with the eight-time Le Mans winner making his third appearance having previously been the drivers' representative in Australia in 2010 and Germany last year.

© ESPNF1
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Weather

Friday and Saturday are set to be dry and warm this weekend, allowing the teams clear running. Early forecasts suggested rain could affect the race on Sunday, but that threat seems to be relenting with any wet weather now expected to arrive 24 hours later. Temperatures look set to drop for race day though, and in turn will lead to lower track temperatures.

Betting

It's a close run thing depending on who you bet with, but Sebastian Vettel is the marginal favourite at 11/4 compared to Lewis Hamilton at 3/1. Jenson Button is also fancied at 4/1 as tyre degradation will be an issue, and you can get Kimi Raikkonen at 8/1. Fernando Alonso is tempting at 11/1 as the impact of the Ferrari updates is still unknown, while away from race winners Nico Rosberg is well priced at 9/2 to take pole. Pastor Maldonado (7/1) and Paul di Resta (8/1) also offer good outside value for a top six finish.

ESPN prediction

Four races down, four different winners from four different teams and we're yet to correctly predict one of them! Red Bull's improvements were ominous in Bahrain but we're going to go for the romantic option and predict a fifth different winner with Kimi Raikkonen. The Lotus was strong at Barcelona in pre-season and very quick in Bahrain when finally given a fully dry Friday and Saturday. Add in the fact that Kimi's strong around here having won twice already and it could just be the Iceman's weekend.

Chris Medland is assistant editor at ESPNF1

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Chris Medland is assistant editor at ESPNF1 Chris Medland, who in his youth even found the Pacific GPs entertaining, talked his way in to work at the British Grand Prix and was somehow retained for three years. He also worked on the BBC's F1 output prior to becoming assistant editor ahead of the 2011 season