Crunch time for 2013’s strugglers in Spain

2013 Spanish Grand Prix preview

Sergio Perez, McLaren, Shanghai, 2013The three-week break since the last race was an opportunity for all the teams to press on with the development of their cars.

But the stakes are especially high for the three who have had the most disappointing starts to the season.

First among them are McLaren, who’ve gone from being the pace setters at the end of 2012 to scrapping in the midfield in the opening races of this year. They were more than 1.5% slower than the quickest car on average over the first four races.

Williams made a step backwards of similar magnitude compared to the opposition since then end of last season. Sauber are also heading in the wrong direction. All three plan to remedy that this weekend.

The beginning of the ‘European season’ means the teams are closer to their bases and can react more quickly to events at the tracks, flying out new parts between races. But this section of the calendar is shortening: just seven rounds will be held in Europe this year. September’s Singapore Grand Prix signals the beginning of another seven-race flyaway stretch at the end of the season.

With the loss of the race in Valencia, the Circuit de Catalunya once again holds Spain’s only round of the world championship. Its succession of high-speed right-handers put severe lateral loads on the tyres, particularly the front-left. That used to be the case in the final sector as well, but the addition of a slow chicane in 2007 means it’s all about rear traction now.

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 Medium

*Fastest lap set during a Grand Prix

Catalunya track data in full

For the second race in a row Pirelli has made a late alteration to its tyre allocation, switching to a more conservative compound. In this case the hard tyre has been changed for a more durable compound similar to the one used last year. On top of that teams will have an extra set of another new hard tyre to run during Friday practice only.

Overtaking has traditionally been tricky at the circuit. Even in 2011, the first year of aggressive tyres and DRS, Sebastian Vettel was able to keep Lewis Hamilton at bay for lap after lap despite a KERS failure.

However the addition of a second DRS zone this year may change that. “I hope that the introduction of two DRS zones at Barcelona will help improve the racing,” said Sergio Perez.

“We saw in both China and Bahrain that Formula One cars can race really closely if they are under the right conditions; Barcelona has always been a difficult circuit for overtaking, so I hope the new regulations will improve matters. It would be great for the thousands in the grandstands if there were some spectacular overtaking along the main straight.”

A lap of the Circuit de Catalunya with Fernando Alonso

Spain Grand Prix team-by-team preview

Red Bull

If Vettel arrives at Barcelona in the same form he enjoyed three weeks ago, he’s going to be hard to keep away from a second Spanish Grand Prix victory.

Red Bull locked out the front row and won here in 2010 and 2011. But they were still grappling with the RB8 at last year’s race and Vettel’s run was scuppered when Jenson Button alerted the stewards he was using DRS while yellow flags were out.

Surprisingly, Vettel has never been on pole position here but Mark Webber has done so twice. It’s the kind of quick, pre-Tilke track Webber thrives on, so look out for another close encounter between the two this weekend.

Ferrari

Fernando Alonso, Ferrari, Shanghai, 2013Fernando Alonso scored a home win in Valencia last year and has led at the end of lap one at the Circuit de Catalunya for the last two years running – though without going on to win the race.

Ferrari are bringing bodywork, floor and wing updates for the F138 this weekend as they strive to find extra qualifying performance. But as the opening races have shown they also have some pitfalls in the races to steer clear of.

McLaren

It was at this circuit during testing that McLaren first began to appreciate just how much trouble they were in with the MP4-28. They are bringing a host of upgrades this weekend and although Button has played down their significance, the team must start to make major gains if they are to be championship contenders this year.

Lotus

Romain Grosjean, Lotus, Shanghai, 2013Romain Grosjean says he’s “feeling much more at home with the car” since swapping chassis at the Bahrain Grand Prix.

But missing out on Q3 was to the detriment of his ultimate result in the last race: “In Barcelona it will be important to qualify well as it will be much harder to overtake than in Bahrain,” he added.

“As a team, this is an area where we can still improve a little bit, but we have some ideas of how to do that and hopefully we?ll be able to make the front row.”

Mercedes

Mercedes have had the fastest car over a single lap at the last three races but making it perform as strongly over a race distance is their goal.

“We have focused our efforts in two key areas; finalising our upgrade package for Spain and understanding our comparative lack of race pace in Bahrain,” explained team principal Ross Brawn. “We have made progress in the latter area and will evaluate some developments over the upcoming race weekends to help improve the situation.”

Sauber

Nico Hulkenberg, Sauber, Shanghai, 2013Sauber’s distinctive C32 with its dramatically tapered sidepods has given little indication of being able to repeat the highs the team enjoyed last year, aside from Nico Hulkenberg’s brief spell in the lead in China.

The team are focussing the efforts on gaining more rear-end grip, with a new rear wing among the changes for this weekend.

Force India

Paul di Resta is encouraged by the team’s efforts after netting fourth last time out: “We took a very sensible approach to the winter and focussed on understanding the key areas that drive performance, which seems to have paid off.”

“It’s important to pick up good points early in the season against our competitors and to be ahead of McLaren after four races is a credit to the team and a nice feeling. Of course we want to be on the podium and it was very close in Bahrain, but I?m sure it will come soon enough.”

Williams

Valtteri Bottas, Williams, Shanghai, 2013Williams return to the scene of their bittersweet 2012 race where they ended an eight-year wait for a race win then suffered the shock of a massive post-race pit lane fire.

They are still seeking their first points of 2013 but Valtteri Bottas is optimistic they know how to cure the FW35’s handling ills: “Following a good aero test last week at Idiada and a number upgrades coming for this race, hopefully Barcelona can be the start of improved performance for us this year.”

Toro Rosso

Toro Rosso believe their struggle in the last race was a one-off due to an error made setting their cars up. But assuming that was the case the STR8 still looking like a contender for the lower reaches of the points at best.

Caterham

Charles Pic, Caterham, Shanghai, 2013After a poor start to the year Caterham fought back at the last race as Charles Pic enjoyed some of the benefits of their first upgrade package and was able to beat the Marussias.

Both drivers have more new parts to work with this weekend. “But it?s not as easy as just putting on the new parts and going faster,” explained Pic, “we?ll continue the hard work on track by making sure we can find the best setup for these parts with the specific demands of the Barcelona circuit, using all the data we?ll generate on Friday and Saturday to put us in the best position for the race on Sunday.”

Heikki Kovalainen will drive for the team during first practice again.

Marussia

Marussia are determined not to let their back-of-the-grid rivals get too far away and will have an upgrade of their own this weekend.

Team principal John Booth expects that to put them in a stronger position: “Bahrain has always been a race that we have struggled at so we are hoping that the Circuit de Catalunya will provide further confirmation of the positive development direction we have been following.??

Rodolfo Gonzalez will return to drive Max Chilton’s car in first practice.

2013 driver form

Driver G avg R avg R best R worst Classified Form guide
Sebastian Vettel 3.25 2.25 1 4 4/4 Form guide
Mark Webber 9 5 2 7 3/4 Form guide
Fernando Alonso 3.5 3.67 1 8 3/4 Form guide
Felipe Massa 3.75 7.5 4 15 4/4 Form guide
Jenson Button 8.75 10.25 5 17 4/4 Form guide
Sergio Perez 12 9.25 6 11 4/4 Form guide
Kimi Raikkonen 6.75 3 1 7 4/4 Form guide
Romain Grosjean 9 7 3 10 4/4 Form guide
Nico Rosberg 4.25 6.5 4 9 2/4 Form guide
Lewis Hamilton 4.25 4 3 5 4/4 Form guide
Nico Hulkenberg 11.75 10 8 12 3/3 Form guide
Esteban Gutierrez 17.75 14.33 12 18 3/4 Form guide
Paul di Resta 10 6.67 4 8 3/4 Form guide
Adrian Sutil 9.75 10 7 13 2/4 Form guide
Pastor Maldonado 16 12.5 11 14 2/4 Form guide
Valtteri Bottas 16.25 13 11 14 4/4 Form guide
Jean-Eric Vergne 15.25 11.33 10 12 3/4 Form guide
Daniel Ricciardo 11.75 13.67 7 18 3/4 Form guide
Charles Pic 20 15.75 14 17 4/4 Form guide
Giedo van der Garde 21 18 15 21 4/4 Form guide
Jules Bianchi 18.75 15.5 13 19 4/4 Form guide
Max Chilton 20.25 17.5 16 20 4/4 Form guide

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26 comments on Crunch time for 2013’s strugglers in Spain

  1. MB (@muralibhats) said on 8th May 2013, 11:34

    Canada pops up between the European season.

  2. Nick.UK (@) said on 8th May 2013, 11:41

    I think at this point Lotus and Ferrari are the only ones who could make a realistic challenge for the constructors title this year (against Red Bull that is). Grosjean says he is happier in the car and Massa has had imporoved performance over the last 8 races or so. Both of them have the capability to score serious points. McLaren maybe too, but only if they are both firmly into Q3 this weekend, otherwise I’d consider them a write off for both titles this year already. They screwed up the car and now they’ll have to just ride out the season until next year, possibly picking up a few token win trophies along the way towards the end of the season.

    Force India will need to keep on their toes to stay ahead of McLaren. Likewise Sauber need to sort themselves out pretty quickly, especially Esteban! As for the back of the grid teams… now this is where the real competition seems to lay this year. Caterham vs Marussia! If Heikki comes back then maybe Caterham can get ahead as I really don’t have faith in their current drivers; and neither do they by the looks of it. This season will be a great chance for Bianchi to really drive the hammer down and prove that a driver who maybe brings a little less money at the start of a season can yeild a greater profit at the end; it’s what you call ‘AN INVESTMENT’! It pays you back at the end, not the begining.

  3. BasCB (@bascb) said on 8th May 2013, 13:00

    After all the time without watching races (china until now) I am really looking forward to it.

    • Traverse (@) said on 8th May 2013, 14:57

      I am really looking forward to it.

      I’m foaming at the mouth!! I can’t wait! If I had my way F1 drivers would be kept in solitary confinement and be forced to watch endless re-runs of every F1 race ever recorded. They would only be let out for race weekends and to partake in F1 related activity (testing, simulator etc..). And if they try to escape, I’ll set Luis Suarez on ‘em…Muahahaa!! *finger pyramid of evil contemplation*

  4. Traverse (@) said on 8th May 2013, 14:40

    For a split second I thought that picture of Perez was a snap shot of Hamilton from last year. His helmet is beginning to annoy me a little, it’s too similar to Hamilton’s (at least it appears almost identical when viewed during a race). Why he opted for a colour scheme so similar to the guy he replaced is beyond me.

  5. M Dickens (@sgt-pepper) said on 8th May 2013, 16:08

    . It’s the kind of quick, pre-Tilke track Webber thrives on

    Glad it’s not just me that though Webber prefers the proper, non-Tilke tracks. Shame Webber was never really in a proper car in the mid-2000s when his career really should’ve started to rise – alas, what might’ve been…

  6. AdrianMorse (@adrianmorse) said on 8th May 2013, 16:36

    Heikki Kovalainen will drive for the team in first practice again, this time taking over Giedo van der Garde’s car.

    Didn’t he drive Giedo’s car in Bahrain?

    I’m a little skeptical McLaren will return to race winning form this year, especially with Red Bull and Ferrari so consistent so far. Of course, anything can happen in F1, so from likely to less likely I would say:
    1. McLaren podium
    2. Mercedes win
    3. Force India podium
    4. McLaren win
    5. Marussia or Caterham score a point.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 8th May 2013, 18:01

      @adrianmorse

      Didn’t he drive Giedo’s car in Bahrain?

      I’ve got conflicting information on that now so I’ve changed the line. He did drive Van der Garde’s car in Bahrain.

    • Colossal Squid (@colossal-squid) said on 8th May 2013, 18:18

      I wouldn’t rule out McLaren winning just yet. Looking at how they transformed their dog of a car in 2009 in a mere 10 races, it’s still highly possible (and with their resources almost probable) for them to get back to winning ways. The only thing that would stop them is the drain on personnel and resources being put to the 2014 car. I still firmly believe that Button and Perez are capable of delivering wins with their talents.

      • panache (@panache) said on 8th May 2013, 21:37

        Keep in mind though that 2009 marked the beginning of a new set of regulations which meant there were a lot of gains to be made by all teams. This year is the last year under pretty stable technical regulations so the top teams will most likely have extracted very near to the maximum available performance under these regulations.

        • Colossal Squid (@colossal-squid) said on 9th May 2013, 12:21

          You’re right, but McLaren can’t be near the performance maximum of this car, unless it’s fundamentally flawed. The Red Bulls and Ferrari’s may not get any significant gains this year as you’ve said, but McLaren could jump up the order if they find fixes to their current woes. It’s got nothing to do with hitting maximum possible performance for McLaren, and everything to do with having the resources to fix a poor design.

    • Traverse (@) said on 8th May 2013, 18:23

      6. Kimi smiles.
      7. The Telemetry system actually works for an entire race.
      8. Di Resta manages to go a whole race weekend without protestations about feeling hard done by.
      9. Pirelli launch a new range of gentlemens personal protective armour to rival Durex that (unsurprisingly) disintegrate without warning; resulting in a major lawsuit filed by Tiger Woods and Keith Collantine that bankrupts Pirelli.
      10. Eddie Jordan wears a plain black shirt.

      • Nick.UK (@) said on 8th May 2013, 20:19

        @hellotraverse

        Pirelli launch a new range of gentlemens personal protective armour to rival Durex that (unsurprisingly) disintegrate without warning; resulting in a major lawsuit filed by Tiger Woods and Keith Collantine that bankrupts Pirelli.

        The intention will be to use them at a slower pace so they/you last longer… haha. People who like to ‘race’ flat out should go with products by Bridgestone.

        • LawFish (@lawfish) said on 8th May 2013, 21:53

          lol…nice!

        • Traverse (@) said on 8th May 2013, 22:28

          LOL!! @nick-uk
          Race drivers having to race to target lap times is one thing, but there’s no way that I would ever “race” to a target time…It’s just not happening bro.

          • BasCB (@bascb) said on 9th May 2013, 6:56

            I understand that. First you would actually be doing any racing, eh.

          • Traverse (@) said on 9th May 2013, 11:29

            @bascb
            I’m currently a test driver ;). I test with different ‘teams’ with the hope of finding the right ‘team’ to join full-time. The ‘team’ I’m currently testing with appear to be quite impressed with my ‘racing’ skills, so fingers crossed I’ll get a full contract with this beautiful, funny, angelic ‘team’. :)

  7. R.J. O'Connell (@rjoconnell) said on 8th May 2013, 17:34

    For all the talk of Hülkenberg making a huge career mistake by going to Sauber – he has more points after four races this year, than in the first four races in his first two seasons combined.

    • vishy (@vishy) said on 8th May 2013, 19:01

      However both the FI drivers have more points than him. 6 and 20. So he is worse off due the switch atleast till now. Maybe things will change.

    • anon said on 8th May 2013, 19:15

      Five points is still a relatively meagre points haul, though, considering that Kobayashi had scored nine points by this same point in 2012.
      Given that Williams and McLaren have been off the pace, there was the potential for Sauber to possibly grab more points than expected – instead, it is Force India that is profiting instead. Of course, we’re only four races into this season and Sauber could end up out developing Force India, but at the moment Hulkenberg’s move looks like it was, at best, a move to another team of the same competitiveness as Force India showed in 2012.

  8. Palle (@palle) said on 8th May 2013, 22:26

    Alonso seriously needs to pit for a new nose on that Ferrari:-)

  9. verstappen (@verstappen) said on 8th May 2013, 22:33

    Drivers have private jets, at least some of them.
    Aren’t there any teams who have them?
    To me it seems silly that they can’t fly parts to whereever they like at will.

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