Mark Webber, Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull, Barcelona, 2010

F1’s formula for entertainment gets its biggest test in Spain

2011 Spanish Grand Prix previewPosted on | Author Keith Collantine

Mark Webber, Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull, Barcelona, 2010
Mark Webber, Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull, Barcelona, 2010

The Circuit de Catalunya has a reputation for producing dreary, processional races.

The race has been won from pole position for the last ten years in a row.

Will F1’s new rules package, which has produced some frenetic action so far in 2011, change that?

The FIA have already confirmed drivers will be able to use the controversial Drag Reduction System all the way down the main straight at the Barcelona. That should remove at a stroke the biggest obstacle to overtaking in Spain.

But the jury’s still out on whether these DRS-powered, motorway-style passes are an adequate substitute for real racing and genuine battles for position.

Once the novelty value of seeing cars pass each other on tracks like Barcelona has worn off, is what remains an entertaining spectacle and a true sporting contest, or something more hollow and unsatisfying?

These questions are not likely to trouble Sebastian Vettel, who has seen very little of racing, 2011-style so far this year. That’s what happens when you keep sticking it on pole position and scampering off to unopposed victory.

It’s not a criticism of Vettel, but an increasingly damning indictment of his rivals, first among which is his team mate Mark Webber.

Last year, this race marked the beginning of Webber’s mid-season surge. Back-to-back wins in Spain and Monaco (the next destination on the calendar) propelled him into the lead of the championship.

So far this year Webber has struggled to keep up with his team mate. He has to start beating him soon or he’ll be playing the number two role at Red Bull faster than you can say ‘Felipe Massa‘.

The best start for Webber would be to end Vettel’s streak of five consecutive pole positions – he edged his team mate by a tenth of a second here last year.

As we saw in Istanbul, drivers are increasingly wary of burning through their allocation of new tyres in qualifying. Webber restrained himself from going out with a fresh set of softs in an effort to find the four tenths of a second he needed to displace Vettel from pole position.

Pirelli tyres, Red Bull, Shanghai, 2011
Pirelli tyres, Red Bull, Shanghai, 2011

Tyres will be a major consideration at the Circuit de Catalunya, one of the most punishing tracks on the calendar for rubber. The front-left in particular takes a pounding around the long turn three.

Pirelli will bring their new hard tyre which is supposed to last a few laps longer than the previous compound. The key question here is whether it opens up new options for drivers who have been able to run fewer stops – keep an eye on 2009 winner Jenson Button along with Sebastien Buemi and the two Saubers.

Barcelona is traditionally where teams bring major performance upgrades. While some chose to bring their to Istanbul instead there will still be a lot of changes to the cars this weekend.

One of the most interesting developments could be at Lotus, who reckon they’ve found a full second per lap in their T128. They’re within striking distance of the midfield and may be able to trouble the likes of Pastor Maldonado, Jaime Alguersuari and Sergio Perez.

But above all this is a track of long, quick corners which should suit the RB7 to a tee. If no-one can get ahead of Vettel in qualifying or on the 440m sprint to the first corner, even the new rules won’t stop it being business as usual for the world championship leader.

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Images ?? Red Bull/Getty images