After an unusually early three-week break, F1 returns to its European roots for round five of the 2010 season, the Spanish Grand Prix.
On the back of exciting flyaway rounds – perhaps Bahrain should be excluded from that description – will Spain live up the expectation? Um, probably not…
What can almost certainly be guaranteed is that a record local crowd will be in attendance to cheer on – for the first time ever – a total of three Spanish drivers in the field: Fernando Alonso, Pedro de la Rosa and Jaime Alguersuari.
After two difficult return seasons with Renault, Fernando Alonso finds himself at the wheel of a Ferrari and with his first realistic shot of winning his home race since 2008. With a patriotic support of tens of thousands of fans around the circuit, expect the Barcelona venue to erupt if he is able to take his second victory on home turf.
|2010 Formula 1 Gran Premio de Espana Telefonica
|Date:||9 May 2010||No. Laps||66|
|Lap Length:||4.655km||Race Distance:||307.104km|
|Lap Record:||1:21.670 – Kimi Raikkonen (2008, Ferrari)|
A fixture on the Formula 1 racing and testing calendar since 1991, the Circuit de Catalunya is a well-trodden circuit for the Formula 1 teams and would rank right up there as one of the most sterile events on the 2010 calendar.
Despite the recent surge in attendance figures by dint of the popularity of their double World Champion racing at home, the circuit has typically offered very processional Grands Prix.
Its overfamiliarity with teams as a test venue – of late, to a lesser extent, if we’re to be fair – generally sees a Noah’s Ark style grid (with each row typically comprising both drivers from the one team), followed by a processional, predictable race. This Grand Prix has typically run to the form book and thrown up very few surprise results.
The crown-shaped circuit has had little in the way of modification since its inaugural race, with the latter half of the circuit being the only sections to have seen any major changes. The tightening of the left-hand La Caixa hairpin did nothing to improve overtaking, and the emasculating advent of a clumsy chicane before the final corner (done in a bid to curb the increasing cornering speeds onto the main straight) has had an equally negligible effect, and proved highly unpopular with drivers and fans alike.
The History Bit
Despite its recent history for particularly lacklustre F1 races, the Circuit de Catalunya has actually thrown up its share of decent races in its early years.
Built as part of the construction for the 1992 Olympic Games, the F1 circus first paid visit to the circuit in 1991. Despite its modern-day reputation for providing next to no overtaking of note, the inaugural race actually gave fans one of the best pieces of racing in F1 history, with Nigel Mansell going wheel-to-wheel with Ayrton Senna down the full length of the main straight. They run literally inches apart, with neither man refusing to yield, but eventually Senna was forced to concede, and Nigel won the wet-dry race to keep his championship aspirations alive for another round.
The 1992 race produced another wet race, and this time Mansell won again, steering his Williams FW14 through the puddles and making the other 25 drivers who started the race look decidedly second-rate.
Michael Schumacher manages a similarly convincing display in 1996 (pictured right), taking his maiden victory for Ferrari as he completely obliterated the opposition.
Of the others Grands Prix to be held at the Barcelona circuit, I could only nominate the 2001 race as providing anything of interest for the fans. After a decidedly lacklustre start to his season, Mika Hakkinen finally sprung to life in Spain, driving a tactically astute race to leapfrog his McLaren past Michael Schumacher’s Ferrari in the second round of pit stops. The Finn looked set to be rewarded with a welcome and popular victory, only for his clutch to explode on the final lap with just a few kilometres to run, surrendering a most fortunate victory to the German champion.
With rain looking a possibility to feature this weekend, could we witness a repeat of the thrilling wet races from the past in Spain? If it’s a dry race and you’ve run out of sleeping pills, you needn’t worry about the effects of insomnia – I can guarantee that you’ll be nodding off on lap two.
What to expect?
Am I perhaps being too harsh in my criticism of the Circuit de Catalunya? Maybe yes, maybe no…
What it does provide is a sensational motorcycle race venue – there have been some thrilling 500cc and MotoGP races held there in the past, but it just doesn’t stack up in anywhere near the same league as a Formula 1 venue.
Overly technical and with poor scope for overtaking, its abrasive surface and long high-speed corners are murderous to tyres. What overtaking does happen will occur in the pit lane – the teams will need to play a very tactical game when it comes to managing the order and use of the prime and option Bridgestone tyres. With passing near impossible, track position is key at Catalunya, and knife-edge decisions to pit early or stay out will be the difference between winning and losing this weekend.
The Circuit de Catalunya is a good test venue and an excellent barometer for a Formula 1 car’s relative performance. Should a team struggle here, they will be in for a very long season.
The home crowd is going to demand an Alonso victory, and anything short of that simply won’t do. Since taking a reliability-assisted victory at the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix, Fernando hasn’t graced the podium since, and it would seem that Ferrari has lost some ground relative to the front-running Red Bull and McLaren teams.
In spite of the lack of 2010 trophies in his cabinet, Fernando has still put in some excellent drives, particularly at the Malaysian Grand Prix, where he was able to extract excellent pace from the F10 in spite of it being stricken with a gearbox that sometimes selected fifth gear, and sometimes selected BBC 2.
His charging recovery drives in Australia (first-corner accident) and China (jumped start) were also impressive.
Fernando is clearly driving as well as ever, but the grey cloud hanging over him is the relative lack of pace and the questionable reliability of his 2010 Ferrari.
The double World Champion is already onto his third engine from his allocation of eight, after smoky engine failures in Malaysia and China.
What we can be sure of is that Fernando will put in a superhuman effort this weekend to delight his home fans. Write him off at your peril.
The three-week break has afforded all twelve teams some crucial development time at their respective factories, with the period condensed somewhat by the Icelandic volcanic ash cloud that grounded personnel and equipment in China for several days.
We could see some considerably different cars at Barcelona, as the teams desperately work to catch McLaren and Red Bull, while that duo will themselves be trying to make sure they stay on top.
Some shuffles in the overall order should be expected. Ferrari’s ‘F-duct’ iteration could see it move further forwards, and Mercedes GP’s longer-wheelbase chassis for Michael Schumacher might be the panacea he needs to improve his rather disappointing comeback from retirement.
Unless it rains during qualifying and/or the race, you’re not going to see a particularly thrilling Grand Prix, and on the form books it should be a Red Bull or McLaren benefit in the dry. However, there’s still plenty to anticipate in seeing what the development upgrades will bring to each team on the grid.
Should Fernando Alonso somehow win, the fans won’t care how dull the race is!