Mark Webber, Red Bull, Barcelona, 2011

Vettel’s problems hand Webber a precious chance

2011 Spanish GP pre-race analysisPosted on | Author Keith Collantine

Mark Webber, Red Bull, Barcelona, 2011
Mark Webber, Red Bull, Barcelona, 2011

For the first time this year Sebastian Vettel isn’t on pole position.

Can Mark Webber capitalise on a rare chance to put one over his team mate?

And will Vettel be left stranded at the start without his KERS power boost?

The start

Does Sebastian Vettel really think his KERS will be fixed in time for the start of the race?

Or were his words in the press conference that he’s “sure” it will be sorted actually a coded plea to his team to make sure he’s not left vulnerable at the start of the race.

If he has to make a KERS-less start he could be in big trouble. Mark Webber lost six places at the start in Malaysia without his.

And at 440m, this is one of the longest runs to the first corner. No wonder Lewis Hamilton, third on the grid, fancies his chances:

“Third on the grid is actually a perfect position ?ǣ because, if you get a good start, you can slipstream the guys in front. My aim is to be P1 by turn one! It doesn?t normally go that way, but as long as I don?t go backwards I?ll be happy.”

Vettel has the added disadvantage of starting off-line: not as great a problem as it was for Webber in Istanbul, but nonetheless not ideal.

Michael Schumacher potentially has the same problem as Vettel following his KERS problems in qualifying.

Interestingly, even McLaren haven’t been immune to glitches with their system this weekend. Martin Whitmarsh said they hadn’t been able to use their KERS to its full because it wasn’t up to its “optimal operating temperature”.

Strategy

The new hard tyre introduced by Pirelli appears to be lasting very well but it is around two seconds per lap slower than the soft.

Using it any earlier than necessary in the race would be a significant gamble so teams are likely to try to run as many sets of soft tyres as possible.

Here are how many new sets of soft tyres each of the drivers have left for the race:

Driver Sets left
Fernando Alonso, Felipe Massa, Nico Rosberg, Vitaly Petrov, Pastor Maldonado, Sergio Perez, Jaime Alguersuari 0
Sebastian Vettel, Mark Webber, Lewis Hamilton, Jenson Button, Michael Schumacher, Kamui Kobayashi, Sebastien Buemi, Heikki Kovalainen, Jarno Trulli, Narain Karthikeyan, Vitantonio Liuzzi, Timo Glock, Jerome D’Ambrosio 1
Adrian Sutil, Paul di Resta 2
Rubens Barrichello, Nick Heidfeld 3

As usual the top ten drivers will have to start on the same tyres they qualified on. That’s potentially a problem for Hamilton, who flat-spotted a set during Q3.

Schumacher will have a free choice of tyres having not set a time in Q3.

Nick Heidfeld hasn’t used any of his soft tyres and has the chance to “do a Webber” – mimicking his run from 18th to third in Shanghai, aided by a large stock of fresh tyres.

With drivers wanting to spend as little time on the hard tyre as possible, strategy is likely to be centred around postponing the stop as late as they can.

They may be willing to tolerate a greater degree of drop-off in performance on the soft tyre than usual as the hard tyres are so much slower.

The long DRS zone which begins at the start/finish line should make overtaking much easier than it has been in the past at the Circuit de Catalunya.

That leaves us anticipating another unpredictable race – with the tantalising prospect of seeing the championship leader in the thick of the action for once.

Who do you think will win the Spanish Grand Prix? How do you think the race will unfold?

Have your say in the comments.

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Image ?? Red Bull/Getty images