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

2011 Spanish Grand Prix preview

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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70 comments on F1′s formula for entertainment gets its biggest test in Spain

  1. BasCB (@bascb) said on 18th May 2011, 10:33

    I certainly hope DRS will help give cars the opportunity to stay close, maybe have a look in at the first corner and have a serious try at passing in the following corners.

    Sure, Lotus bring a full second, Virgin half as much and the cars in front of Lotus all bring about 3-4 tenths with their packages as well. Lets wait and see if there is any relative differences in qualifying then.

  2. Torg said on 18th May 2011, 10:41

    My solution to the ‘Cataluya’ problem would be axe the GP. Have it a Jerez or something for a change. Catalunya is such a low poinit to the season IMO.

    DRS for the whole straight, very pointless!!! Half the straight would be more than sufficient for attempting a pass!

    • Icthyes (@icthyes) said on 18th May 2011, 10:46

      Did you watch last year? That chicane spaces the cars out far too much. but maybe it won’t be necessary, in which case they’ll change it like they did in China, which was probably the most perfect DRS placement yet.

      • Icthyes (@icthyes) said on 18th May 2011, 10:47

        I mean, the length of the DRS won’t be necessary, the chicane will be there for a long while yet! :(

      • Torg said on 18th May 2011, 10:55

        Yeh the chicane will spread them out a little but having the whole straight a DRS zone seems way to big to me. The speed differential between a car with an activated wing and a standard wing is massive. Look at Turkey for example, cars were passing unactivated cars like they was stationary! I wouldnt be surpised to see no outbraking manoueuvres into turn 1 but cars passing by half way down the straight.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 18th May 2011, 10:49

      I don’t know what makes you think Jerez would be any better for overtaking. The longest straight there is shorter than Catalunya’s and has much the same problem of being preceded by a quick corner.

      I’d compare Jerez to the Hungaroring.

      • Torg said on 18th May 2011, 10:57

        I would take a race around Hungaroring anytime over Catalunya. Jerez would make for a nice change of scene.

      • juan fanger (@juan-fanger) said on 18th May 2011, 11:29

        Keith, isn’t the problem at Catalunya the chicane before the straight?

        • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 18th May 2011, 11:42

          Well it’s not as if there was loads of overtaking before they added the chicane.

          • Snow Donkey said on 18th May 2011, 15:55

            I could be way off the mark, but isn’t a big part of it the speed of the right left at the END of the strait? It’s not like there’s a million (or even 2) lines through there.

            Also, I agree keith, there definitely wasn’t a ton of overtaking before Tilke’s rinky-dink right left. Barcelona is a wonderful test track. Race track not so much.

            Motorland Aragorn?

          • BBT said on 18th May 2011, 19:48

            Yeah, the speed into and around the first corner is the reason (I also believe) we don’t normally see many overtakes there.
            It could work, it I’ll take a brave pass into T1 (or I would of thought so, will DRS make it to easy or just possible, we’ll soon find out)

          • Mike said on 19th May 2011, 9:34

            That certainly wouldn’t help, but the new chicane spreads cars out so far that even with a different first corner we wouldn’t see much overtaking.

    • Aldo said on 18th May 2011, 15:52

      Torg, I agree 98% with you (the Jerez mention takes 2% off). IMO, that track is hopeless, and I don’t like it even for MotoGP. I truly can’t see how those “motorway-style passes” (in Keith’s fantastic definition) could improve the show.

      • Torg said on 18th May 2011, 16:22

        Sod it! Skip over the boarder into Portugal and have a GP at Estoril instead. (was only using Jerez as an example because i couldnt think of any other circuit in Spain)

        • KaIIe (@kaiie) said on 18th May 2011, 18:25

          Overtaking wise I don’t think there are many very good circuits for F1 in Spain.

          Catalunya & Jerez: we’ve seen ‘em, they just don’t work.
          Circuito de Navarra: Has two medium-lenght straights, but with the whole circuit being under 4km, I don’t think they are long enough.
          Aragon: Hard to see F1 cars following closely through the long left at T9/10 onto the first part of back straight. The later part of the straight (after the “large bus stop”) is pretty long though.
          Jarama: Actually, I think you could pass here with these rules. The corner coming onto the S/F straight should be easily flat, and the straight itself is long.
          Ricardo Tormo: Forget about it.

          Over the border Estoril would be a nice track to get back to the calendar, but after Tilke’s modifications (T1 in particular) it isn’t what it used to be.

          • dau said on 18th May 2011, 19:01

            I don’t think Estoril would be much of an improvement over Catalunya. Portimao could be nice though.

          • Torg said on 19th May 2011, 10:53

            Valencia? Not the street circuit but the permanant circuit. Just brain storming :)

          • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 19th May 2011, 10:58

            It’s too slow, twisty and narrow for an F1 race, even more so than Jerez. Even the GP2 races there weren’t very good.

  3. Icthyes (@icthyes) said on 18th May 2011, 10:44

    If the amount of extra laps on the soft tyre plus the faster lap times from not nursing them add up to greater than the pit-stop penalty, it won’t matter how long the hard tyre lasts. So if we don’t see anything different, don’t write off the new compound just yet – it might come into play at tracks with longer time penalties for making pit-stops.

    I think the novelty will last a while longer. A Spanish race where something actually happens, then minimal effect at Monaco giving a short rest from mass action, a Canadian race that is usually exciting anyway, before going to the dull Valencia where the DRS should be quite effective and we’ll be glad of it. I think it’ll be Silverstone where it finally wears off.

    But that’s inevitable. The races will still be more exciting than usual except for a handful of tracks which are already exciting or where the DRS will have a minimal effect (Monaco). And we’ll still be rid of the majority of cases of faster cars being bottled up behind slower ones (if you need proof, Button v Massa in Australia and Massa v Rosberg in Turkey show the need’s there). Having people who are much faster because of a different tyre strategy or simple mechanical advantage is the price we have to pay for that, unless we want to complicate the rules even further.

    • Snow Donkey said on 18th May 2011, 16:04

      Having people who are much faster because of a different tyre strategy or simple mechanical advantage is the price we have to pay for that, unless we want to complicate the rules even further.

      You bring up an interesting point. The FIA has a tendency to introduce multiple rule changes at once, making it difficult to judge the individual merits of rule changes. It is, in my opinion, the biggest argument for trying a race or two without drs. I would suggest 3 tracks. Two which typically produce good racing (Canada & Silverstone maybe?) and one which does not for comparisons sake (say maybe Hungaroring?).

      Since the FIA are probably not keen to dismiss the new toy, tracks like istanbul where passing is common, should have an alternate location looked at. Turn 6 to 7 would have been my choice. I propose a criteria whereby if the previous years race produced more than X number of passes on this strait/turn combo, another spot is looked at.

  4. Zazeems said on 18th May 2011, 10:56

    The chicane hasn’t provided overtaking. At all, and with DRS on the main straight now it’s totally unneccesary.

    Really the sensible solution would be to by-pass it so it stops interrupting the flow of the track, however this is far too sensible for anybody within the F1 fraternity to even consider. Gits.

  5. wasiF1 said on 18th May 2011, 11:22

    Given the length of DRS zone & the tyre wear dispite that they will survive some more laps I think we will have a exciting weekend this time as we had in Turkey.

  6. xabregas said on 18th May 2011, 12:04

    If there is a track where the DRS system is needed for sure is in Spain ( Hungary too ).
    The good news is we´ll have an exciting race and the “bad” is the winner will be the same. Mclaren, Ferrari, Mercedes and Renaut need ( Webber ) to step up their game or by the midle of the year Vettel will be the champion.
    Really hope this grand prix to be the turning point for us to see some exciting stuff for the first place which has been the only one not beeing afected by the new rules.

    • Maksutov said on 19th May 2011, 5:34

      Mercedes and Renault need to step up. McLaren are already high up there, Ferrari are close.

  7. smifaye (@smifaye) said on 18th May 2011, 12:17

    I think the key to knocking Vettel off the top spot of the podium, as the article suggests, is to beat him in qualifying. Easier said than done.

    If you look at his victories, 10 out of 13 have come from pole position. The other three:

    Abu Dhabi 2009 – Hamilton started on pole, and then suffered a problem, giving Vettel the win.

    Malaysia 2010 – Webber started on pole, Vettel got him in the first corner.

    Brazil 2010 – Hulkenberg started on pole, he was never gonna finish there was he?!

    Apologies if I’ve missed any.

    I’m by no means underestimating Vettel’s talent, as half the battle is qualifying, and improves your chances of victory. It just seems that Vettel relies on it quite heavily.

    • dyslexicbunny said on 18th May 2011, 16:18

      Well starting on pole gives you plenty of clean air ahead of you. Plus, they have a quick car. I also don’t think as highly of Vettel simply because of that but you can’t blame him for no one else being able to touch him, even his teammate in the same car.

      Hopefully things will shake up a bit so we can see how Vettel can perform driving in the rest of the pack. If he’s still outstanding, I’ll just be a spiteful jerk instead of a cautious critic.

      • Eggry (@eggry) said on 18th May 2011, 18:57

        Hopefully things will shake up a bit so we can see how Vettel can perform driving in the rest of the pack. If he’s still outstanding, I’ll just be a spiteful jerk instead of a cautious critic.

        HAHA, I like the spirit!

  8. maxthecat said on 18th May 2011, 12:32

    I have to say Keith that for someone who runs an F1 fan site you seem awfully keen for the sport to fall on it’s ****.

    How about some positive words from you instead of the constant bashing you seem to partake of recently? Sometimes you come across like a spoilt child, no matter what F1 does you want to say it’s rubbish, why?

    Maybe the Spanish GP won’t benefit from Kers/DRS/Tyres but you can’t have spectacular races every-time out and if you try too then you really are manufacturing races. Sometimes life is boring you know.

    Anyway, i have no particular problem with you i just felt it needed to be said. Maybe you’ve become jaded.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 18th May 2011, 12:37

      Not in the slightest. Honest criticism is healthy and necessary.

      Maybe the Spanish GP won’t benefit from Kers/DRS/Tyres but you can’t have spectacular races every-time out and if you try too then you really are manufacturing races. Sometimes life is boring you know.

      Reading this makes me think you’ve missed the point of the article.

      Sometimes you come across like a spoilt child, no matter what F1 does you want to say it’s rubbish, why?

      If you’d read what I’ve written previously you’ll know I’m a fan of the new tyres and I like how DRS is being used in practice and qualifiyng:

      Why Pirelli deserve credit for F1′s terrific start to the 2011 season
      DRS: Separating the good from the bad

    • Randy (@randy) said on 18th May 2011, 15:56

      Sorry but i have to support F1F there.

      This is not constant bashing, Keith is introducing very interesting and thoughtful prospects (i.e. non-championship races).

      So you’re saying we should be happy and accept dull F1 races? You know you’re completely alone in that, right? All right, just please refrain from calling people with their own vision of the sport as if they were spoilt children.

      • Robbie said on 18th May 2011, 18:00

        Agreed Randy…Keith is merely asking the question as to whether the current format visa vie quickly degrading tires and DRS will change the face of the usual parade that is the Spanish GP, with the pole sitter being the winner for the last 10 years.

        I think Keith answers his own question in a way, by pointing out that if SV does what he has been doing this season so far, that being sitting on the pole and ‘running away’ with it at turn one, then I don’t think the new rules will help change the pole-sitter-is-winner factor…we’ll just have to see if someone can change that, but I wouldn’t bet against it at this point. Perhaps the action will be better behind SV as they seem to sit amongst themselves closer to each other while SV seems in a class by himself these days.

        In general I wish it didn’t take intentionally soft tires and DRS to provide us the action. I would prefer limits to the amount of downforce, and more consistant tires, such that passes are made through mechanical grip and driver skill rather than through a device that suddenly alters the aero issue and depends on whose tires are in what condition at what time. ie. I would much prefer an apples to apples view of racing that sees drivers in similar conditions and not so disturbed in dirty air making seat of the pants passes with guts and talent rather than adjustable wings and luck-of-the-draw timing of who is on what tires and when. Oh, I know that is part of the game these days, and playing that game is the same for everyone and carries the opportunity for everyone to simply play the game better, but I still say they could/should simplify and get back to the basics of mechanical grip and less aero dependancy for ‘proper’ passing.

        • Randy (@randy) said on 18th May 2011, 23:58

          In my opinion, we have to hand it out to Sebastian Vettel that he’s just ballistic both in qualies and the race, and the rest of the drivers squabble between themselves for the rest of the places. Look at who gets 2nd, 3rd and the rest in Quali and how it changes throughout the races, but the winner is always the same (except from China obviously, which was a start-of-the-season fluke imho).

          I think Seb is in a position now that no rules would prevent him from winning. I hate it, it’s boring and i don’t particulary like him but he’s on top of it at the moment. I will repeat – it’s not down to the rules, in my opinion.

          I’m shivering just thinking about it, but we may as well have another Schumacher’esque period ahead of us, they’re (Seb & Red Bull) getting better year by year, and there’s no sign of stopping them.

          Sorry for off topic response.

    • As this is a site run by Keith, with a lot of dedication, perhaps if you’re not onboard with his opinions you can exercise the option of not viewing?

      I for one think Keith gives as balanced view as is necessary, but he’ll also call it like it is.

  9. john said on 18th May 2011, 12:47

    sorry to be a hindsighting pain but as a lewis fan if his wheel would have lasted 3 more laps last year in spain he would have won the championship. I know vettel and other people had more reliability failures and that but as a lewis fan its quite painful to see that 3 laps could have made him champion :(

  10. Gubstar said on 18th May 2011, 12:49

    I agree with Torg. This GP should no longer take place. Spain should not have 2 races. They should just keep valencia. If the reason for two races in spain was to capatalise on Fernando’s popularity and championships, well, that was 5 years ago now. And since then, Britain has had two world champions and not a sniff of a second race. IMO there should only be 1 race per country, but for spain to have 2, and both dull tracks, it just doesnt seem right. Valencia should become the Spanish GP, and the European GP should rotate round tracks such as (red bull ring, Brno, Portimao, & somewhere in france, etc) Then we could keep all the standard european races as they are (UK, Germany, Belgium, Italy, Spain, Hungary) Drop Turkey for the USA race and then we wont have any fear of losing more in europe, and they can still go to new territories if need be.

    • xabregas said on 18th May 2011, 13:04

      Liked the idea of a rotating European GP.
      What i don´t like is loosing Turkey.

      • Gubstar said on 18th May 2011, 13:20

        Dont get me wrong, I love the track. But the sport ABSOLUTELY cannot have races in front of empty grandstands. It devalues the sport and the heritage. Nothing against the locals, because I know they are being priced out of it, but the only time it has been busy at the track was in the first couple of years when it was held later in the year when all the tourists visit. It has had its chance, and it is clear that nothing motorsport related is being developed there

      • Burnout said on 18th May 2011, 17:37

        The whole point of awarding a multi-year contract is that the race promoter has some incentive to maintain high-quality facilities, since there’s an opportunity for them to recover their money over 7-8 years.

        I’d love to see the European GP being passed between countries, especially those that don’t host races now like France, Portugal and the Netherlands. But unless the cost of building a circuit and the FOM’s race fees come down drastically, it’s not going to happen.

  11. topdowntoedown (@topdowntoedown) said on 18th May 2011, 13:10

    Keith’s you’re on form today…

    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‘.

    Classic. :D

  12. Don M. said on 18th May 2011, 14:17

    It looks like we are stuck with DRS in F1 for the foreseeable future. I think that’s a shame as I would like to have seen a better solution.

    If we’re stuck with it we need to push for its use to be more strategic and less artificial. As commented many times, activation should be allowed ‘x’ number of times, so that all drivers have equal use of it. That way it isn’t just used as an unfair advantage in particular circumstances (ie, in ‘the zone’ when following within one second).

    Some people want to allow it to be used freely, but if you don’t limit the use then DRS is pointless – if everyone uses it all the time you are back to square one.

    The on-screen graphics show us when DRS is being used, so it cannot be difficult to keep track of the number of times that each driver has used it (and I mean by monitoring the signals, not watching the screen!). This should definitely be trialled before the ‘DRS zone’ system becomes the accepted norm.

  13. IceMan said on 18th May 2011, 14:21

    They key question here is whether it opens up new options

    Keith i think it should read The key question.

  14. xabregas said on 18th May 2011, 17:25

    For me the problem with the DRS system is not the system itself but the way they´re using it in the race. It should be used in the race like they´re using it in practce or qualifying, it would be much fair for everybody like the KERS system.

    • Burnout said on 18th May 2011, 17:43

      In addition, what if they allow multiple levels of wing angle reduction instead of the all or none approach they have right now. That way drivers can trim the wing to get the rear end moving as much or as little as they want and try different lines.

  15. Rob said on 18th May 2011, 18:10

    If they can use it at any time then they may as well take it off of all cars. The point is to counter the time lost while sitting in turbulent air. So while the dirty air is taking down-force away from the casing car, they gain the time back in the drs zone.

    • Torg said on 19th May 2011, 11:07

      Fully agree, i keep hearing ppl say ‘allow the drivers to use DRS/KERS/whatever whenever they want’. This idea to me seems utterly pointless. Might as well just not have the systems on the car at all if that was the case as it would just neutralise the effects. If your going to have DRS or KERS in F1 it will either have to be like it is at present or just have a rule stating you are only allowed a certain set amount of times/time you can use it during a race.

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