Will Spain produce another new winner?

2012 Spanish Grand Prix preview

Start, Barcelona, 2011Four different drivers from four different teams have won so far this year. Will round five produce another different winner?

The Spanish Grand Prix has often been seen as a strong indicator for what the rest of the season has in store. The Circuit de Catalunya features several medium-to-high speed corners and a long straight which makes efficient aerodynamic performance – a key benchmark of a competitive F1 car – crucial.

For those teams which started the year on the back foot the three-week gap between the opening flyaway races and the return to Europe also gives them the chance to make upgrades and close the gap.

This year they’ve also had the benefit of three days’ testing in Mugello.

So we can expect further change in a competitive order which is far from clear at the moment. Three different teams have taken pole position so far and the top six teams were covered by 1.05% of lap time in the last race.

Catalunya circuit information

Lap length 4.655km (2.892 miles)
Distance 66 laps (307.1km/190.8 miles)
Lap record* 1’21.670 (Kimi Raikkonen, 2008)
Fastest lap 1’19.954 (Rubens Barrichello, 2009)
Tyres Hard and Soft

*Fastest lap set during a Grand Prix

Catalunya track data in full

Pirelli are supplying their hard and soft tyres for this weekend’s race. They used the same combination at this race and six others last year, but this year’s compounds are softer.

Michael Schumacher’s criticism of their tyres after the previous race has provoked debate over whether the tyres are lasting long enough. Last year several drivers including four of the top five finishers made four pit stops during the race.

Pirelli’s motorsport director Paul Hembery said: “We’ve nominated the soft and hard tyre in order to highlight performance differences that will create a different challenge for the teams, showcasing both the speed and durability of our products.

“There is a whole step in between our two nominations for the first time this year and this should allow the teams to come up with a number of different tyre strategies that could make a big difference to the final outcome.”

Red Bull

Red Bull have set pole position and won the last two races here. After the surprise of seeing Sebastian Vettel knocked off his perch in the opening races, round four saw him back on top after set-up changes to the team’s exhaust system.

He’s now back on top of the drivers’ championship but isn’t expecting an easy ride from here on in. Nor should Mark Webber be discounted – he’s been on pole position here for the last two years.

McLaren

McLaren’s car has been the most consistently competitive over the opening races but what’s really let the team down has been their pit stops. Both Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton have seen points and podiums go begging after losing time in the pits.

Expect them to be in the hunt for victory at the Circuit de Catalunya, where the MP4-27 looked good in testing. But all eyes will be on the silver cars when they make their way into the pits on race day.

Ferrari

Fernando Alonso, Ferrari, Mugello, 2012A very important race for the team as they ready a substantial upgrade package for their F2012. They’ve been 1.5% off the pace on average over the first four races of the year and need to slash the gap here.

Part of the upgrade was tested on the final day of running at Mugello – unfortunately some time was lost after Fernando Alonso spun the car, damaging the front end. The remaining parts will come this weekend.

It’s Alonso’s home race and he often produces something special for the Spanish crowd – remember him hunting down Schumacher in 2003, and his electrifying start in last year’s race. If the revised car is good enough to give him the merest sniff of victory, he’ll snatch it.

Mercedes

Mercedes have been somewhat cool on their prospects for this weekend’s race. The W03′s strength is its straight-line speed, courtesy of that controversial Double DRS, but Catalunya’s single straight means it may not prove too great a benefit here.

“We know that its characteristics do not exactly play fully into our hands,” admitted Schumacher. Here is a driver who needs a change of luck: his car failed while he was running third in Melbourne, a botched pit stop ended his race in China and a DRS problem compromised his qualifying effort last time out.

Lotus

After a breakthrough result in the last race, with Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean both finishing on the podium, the question now is whether Lotus can take another step forward and score a victory.

They return to the venue where their season threatened to go off the rails before it even began. They had to scrap a four-day test in February after a suspension failure. They’ve put that trouble behind them and Grosjean was quickest in testing at Mugello (Raikkonen did not run).

Team principal Eric Boullier reckons they can challenge for victory given the right conditions: “We?ve been able to look after our tyres quite well during the races so far but the Barcelona track is very abrasive, especially for the front left tyre. Maybe we?ll do a better job than our rivals in this area.

“The only question mark is our performance relative to the temperature. A pattern started to emerge over the first four races, where we seemed to be more and more competitive in hot conditions. We?ll see.”

Force India

Paul di Resta produced perhaps the best drive of his F1 career so far last time out.

The Mugello test did not go well for Force India as a technical problem cost them almost an entire day’s running. They should be in contention for points here but if the Ferraris do improve this is one of the teams that will find themselves under greater pressure.

Sauber

Sergio Perez, Sauber, Mugello, 2012Sauber are another team who have much to be concerned about if Ferrari take their anticipated step forward. But they have other problems to get on top of.

Not least the curious loss of race pace in their car since Sergio Perez’s superb drive to second place in Malaysia. A substantially revised C31 ran at Mugello which may help them progress.

“We tested a major upgrade to the car in Mugello, consisting of a new front wing and new bodywork, including a different exhaust exit and a new diffuser,” said head of track engineering Giampaolo Dall’Ara. “The results of the test were encouraging.

“However, all the teams had some upgrades, and only the next race weekend will give us confirmation whether we are able to strengthen our position compared to our competitors. Nevertheless I’m confident that we can have a strong performance in Barcelona.”

Toro Rosso

The contest between the two Red Bull rookies continues to fascinate. Daniel Ricciardo remains the quicker of the two in qualifying – brilliantly so in the last race – but Jean-Eric Vergne has held the upper hand in the races.

They’ve slipped to the rear of the midfield battle and are struggling to contend for points. But it’s doubtful how much of a concern that is at ‘Red Bull Junior’.

Williams

Like Schumacher, Pastor Maldonado is another driver who needs a change of luck. While he had only himself to blame for crashing out of sixth in Australia, problems not of his own making ended his races on two other occasions.

The team are in the thick of the midfield battle with Sauber and Force India and need every point they can lay their hands on.

Caterham

Caterham have been close-but-not-quite-close-enough to battling with the midfield runners. Heikki Kovalainen made it into Q2 in the last race, partly thanks to Schumacher’s problems, but did out-qualify Vergne on merit.

Technical problems continue to hinder the team, however, and it’s because of that they find themselves behind Marussia in the championship at this early stage.

American Alexander Rossi will get his first run in an F1 practice session on Friday morning, taking over from Kovalainen.

HRT

HRT will give another driver his F1 race weekend debut: Dani Clos will partner Pedro de la Rosa in first practice, temporarily giving the team an all-Spanish driver line-up at home.

Narain Karthikeyan will return to the car for the second session. The team did not run at Mugello so don’t expect them to be any closer to Marussia.

Marussia

From being 2.8% slower than Caterham in Melbourne, Marussia have been within 1% of them on pure pace in the last two races. Their MR01 finally got its first testing run in Mugello which may help their cause.

Just as interesting is the contest between their two drivers, where the experienced Timo Glock is coming under greater pressure from rookie Charles Pic.

2012 driver form

Q avg R avg R best R worst Classified Form guide
Sebastian Vettel 5.75 4.75 1 11 4/4 Form guide
Mark Webber 4.5 4 4 4 4/4 Form guide
Jenson Button 3.25 8.75 1 18 4/4 Form guide
Lewis Hamilton 2.75 4.25 3 8 4/4 Form guide
Fernando Alonso 9.5 5.5 1 9 4/4 Form guide
Felipe Massa 13.5 12.33 9 15 3/4 Form guide
Michael Schumacher 7.75 10 10 10 2/4 Form guide
Nico Rosberg 5 7.75 1 13 4/4 Form guide
Kimi Raikkonen 10.5 7 2 14 4/4 Form guide
Romain Grosjean 6.5 4.5 3 6 2/4 Form guide
Paul di Resta 13.5 8.75 6 12 4/4 Form guide
Nico Hulkenberg 13.5 12 9 15 3/4 Form guide
Kamui Kobayashi 11.25 9.67 6 13 3/4 Form guide
Sergio Perez 11.75 8 2 11 4/4 Form guide
Daniel Ricciardo 12 13.25 9 17 4/4 Form guide
Jean-Eric Vergne 16 12.25 8 16 4/4 Form guide
Pastor Maldonado 13.25 13.33 8 19 3/4 Form guide
Bruno Senna 14 12.75 6 22 4/4 Form guide
Heikki Kovalainen 19.25 19.33 17 23 3/4 Form guide
Vitaly Petrov 19 16.67 16 18 3/4 Form guide
Pedro de la Rosa 21.67 20.67 20 21 3/3 Form guide
Narain Karthikeyan 23.67 21.67 21 22 3/3 Form guide
Timo Glock 21 17.25 14 19 4/4 Form guide
Charles Pic 20.75 18.33 15 20 3/4 Form guide

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Images ?? Pirelli/LAT, Ferrari spa/Ercole Colombo, Pirelli/LAT

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81 comments on Will Spain produce another new winner?

  1. Alfred (@afya) said on 9th May 2012, 17:58

    Im hopping for a Webber or LH win. They did awesome this season but haven’t scored yet.

  2. verstappen (@verstappen) said on 9th May 2012, 18:37

    I hope for a full wet non safety car race. And a new winner, based more on speed than on tyre management.

  3. AdrianMorse (@adrianmorse) said on 9th May 2012, 18:39

    It’s been too long already since we went racing!

    It’ll be interesting to see whether Ferrari have made any significant progress; if so, a good start might propel Alonso forward among the front runners. I see Red Bull as the favourites for the victory. Their race pace has been consistently strong, in Bahrain their qualifying pace seemed sorted again too. Webber is usually fast in qualifying in Barcelona, but his starts have only improved this season from bad to mediocre, so it’s hard to see him leading after the first corner. That leaves the other Red Bull driver, who will be keen to get to his routine of winning from pole.

    Lotus can challenge for the victory if they are close enough to the front after the first lap. Their qualifying pace has been a bit off that of front runners, but it looked as though they were working on that during the Mugello test. Overtaking will be more difficult than it was in Bahrain, so getting stuck behind Ferraris and Mercedes(es?) in the first stint could be costly.

    McLaren and Mercedes are a bit harder to read. McLaren showed good race pace in Australia and cool China, whereas Mercedes have only been really competitive in China. In general, their qualifying pace has been more reliable than their race pace, but they still cannot be discounted on Sundays. Both McLaren and Mercedes have often been quick at the start, which could come in handy on the long run to the first corner.

    As for the midfield, that is an ever-surprising delight of close competition.

  4. BBT (@bbt) said on 9th May 2012, 21:05

    Whoever managed the black jelly the best will win. It is a lottery.
    I hope Lotus or Hamilton.

  5. Red D said on 10th May 2012, 1:41

    I’m going to guess the podium as being Webber, Vettel, Raikkonen. Personally hoping big mikey gets the mercedes up there somewhere but im not getting my hopes up too much

  6. HoHum (@hohum) said on 10th May 2012, 3:32

    Anyone want to have an informal guestimate, as to which lap the first pitstops to change undamaged tyres will be. I’ll start with lap 5, but it could easily be lap 3.

  7. Elreno (@elreno) said on 10th May 2012, 5:15

    If you look back to last year we have had six different winners in the last six Grand Prix. Going backwards from 2012 Bahrain it’s Vettel, Rosberg, Alonso, Button, Webber and Hamilton. Can Kimi make it seven different winners from seven GP’s? Or even Grosjean? Wonder what the record is for different consecutive winners if not restricted to a particular season? Go to it chaps.

  8. AndrewTanner (@andrewtanner) said on 10th May 2012, 7:40

    Something tells me that the order for this year still hasn’t been set. I can still see a battle between Lotus, Mercedes and Ferrari. The lack of EBD has really shook things up and I think it will continue to do so.

    All eyes on Ferrari for me this weekend. Let’s see if Mugello helped them.

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