Who will win the battle of the Bulls? (Spanish Grand Prix pre-race analysis)

Vettel needs to repeat the turn one pass on Webber he performed in Sepang

Vettel needs to repeat the turn one pass on Webber he performed in Sepang

Red Bull will naturally be thrilled at locking out the front row for the Spanish Grand Prix.

But they will also be concerned at how hard their drivers will push each other as the run to the first corner at Barcelona could decide who wins the race.

Start

Often in Spain the drivers on the pole sitter’s side of the grid enjoy the benefit of starting from the clean side of the track.

But Sebastian Vettel, who starts from second on the grid for the second year in a row in Barcelona, can take heart from Sergio Perez’s start from the same place in today’s GP2 race.

Perhaps thanks to rain washing the track clean this morning and levelling out the available grip, Perez easily drew alongside pole sitter Jules Bianchi and (after banging wheels with Dani Clos) got away into the lead.

The Red Bull drivers have swapped position on the opening laps of the last two Grands Prix. Webber will be especially keen not to surrender his lead to Vettel as he did at Sepang, when he couldn’t see Vettel lining up at a pass due to his outboard wing mirrors – devices which are now banned.

Webber may also have to worry about Lewis Hamilton, whose McLaren starts behind him on the favourable side of the grid. Hamilton’s F-duct may help him make a move on either or both of the Red Bulls as they reach the first corner.

But if he can’t do it then, he’s not likely to get another chance over the remaining 65 and three-quarter laps.

The narrow first corner with its tarmac and speed bumps by the inside kerb tends to invite first-corner crashes – again, see today’s GP2 race for an example and last year’s F1 race for examples.

If Adrian Sutil makes it as far as lap two it will be an improvement on his last two efforts at this circuit.

Strategy

Once again, all the drivers who qualified in the top ten used the soft tyres so that’s what they’ll be starting on.

The decision on when to pit and switch to the hard tyres will be determined by two things: whether they can make it to the end of the race on the next set of tyres they change to (not likely to be a problem) and what kind of traffic they’re going to come out in.

In dry races this year we’ve seen a domino effect to pit stop strategy. It begins with the drivers towards the back of the field who pit first in an effort to jump ahead of cars in front of them (enjoying quicker lap times on their new tyres).

The drivers they are racing for position then have to pit to ‘cover’ what their rivals are doing. That also frees up track position for drivers further ahead to drop into when they pit.

But this can present a dilemma to teams whose drivers are running closely together. It may be necessary to give their trailling driver his pit stop first in order to protect him from a rival who has pitted. But that could allow him to jump ahead of his team mate – something the leading driver would rightly feel aggrieved about.

Last year team tactics was a bone of contention as Jenson Button passed team mate Rubens Barrichello by using a different strategy. Even without refuelling, strategy could still be a problem at this race and others this year.

Outside the top ten drivers like Sutil and Pedro de la Rosa may stand to benefit from starting the race on hard tyres and running a longer first stint. If degradation is a problem on the soft tyres they could pick up quite a few places.

Rain again?

There is still a chance of rain during the race, McLaren and Red Bull being among the teams to have raised it as a possibility.

There has been intermittent rain in the area over the past few days. A shower was heading towards the GP2 race this afternoon but the clouds faded before it reached the track.

But rain doesn’t have to fall to play a role in the race. If the teams think rain is coming they’re more likely to postpone a pit stop. Those drivers contemplating starting on the hard tyres will be eager to see forecasts for rain in the second half of the race.

Not for the first time this year, Red Bull are staring at an open goal. For Webber, this is a race he simply has to win – not just to keep his team mate in check, but because after the last nine consecutive Spanish Grands Prix were won by the pole sitter it will reflect badly on him if he fails to convert pole to victory.

What’s your reading of the Spanish Grand Prix heading into the race? Who do you think will win? Post your thoughts below and join us for live comments during the Grand Prix starting from one hour before the race tomorrow.

2010 Spanish Grand Prix

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60 comments on Who will win the battle of the Bulls? (Spanish Grand Prix pre-race analysis)

  1. As usual, I’ll be a bit surprised if both Red Bull cars make it to the flag anyway. I’m picking Vettel for the win – he’s faster than Webber over a race distance and he’s luckier too. If one of the cars fails, it always seems to be Mark’s.

    I think Hamilton and Alonso will go well and I’m hopeful of a decent battle between Schumacher and Button.

    It needs to rain though!

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