Spanish Grand Prix Preview
Having not had pre-season testing here, more is unclear going into the weekend!
For the first time since 2014, Barcelona did not host pre-season testing, even still this track should present a true representation of the running order in 2021, given the wide ranging corners and straights it has! So, can Red Bull show they are a threat this year, or will Mercedes continue to dominate at this venue?
It is unlikely Mercedes will dominate, but they could well be the fastest car this weekend, they had a really productive day of practice, with their car looking fast, although slightly edgy. The gap to the midfield should not be read too much into I think, as it can probably be explained with engine modes. Once again, the race pace of that car should be where it excels, so if Max can get pole, it could be a tight battle for the win, with pit stops being all important, on a track where overtaking is rare! Bottas is on form in practice, after a tough race last weekend, although it wouldn’t be the first time he looked good on Friday, to then fall off later on!
Where Red Bull stand is not clear, you would have to expect them to be ahead of McLaren and Ferrari, however I don’t get the feeling they have what it takes to challenge Mercedes, on a track they go so well on. The car does look stable, apart from the new Turn 10, where Verstappen really throws the car into it, but we have seen before the unstable Mercedes be faster! Over one lap they may have a chance, if they can nail it, however, the race is where I am worried, that they may fall back. Despite saying that this track would show the running order for the year, if Red Bull can be close, then they are still in with a chance, however Max’s mistake in Bahrain, and Portugal for that matter, may look more panful than before! Perez is settling in well to a car we know is tough to tame, I think that for them to win here, they need to have two cars in the fight this race, which could be possible!
As per usual, McLaren do their fair share of sandbagging on Friday, even more than the top teams, so you have to expect another fairly strong weekend from them, hopefully I’m not jinxing it! The other good news, is that Daniel was near to Lando today, which may suggest that he is starting to unlock the pace of the car, and drive it naturally. This would be a worrying prospect for the other teams, as Norris on his own has destroyed the midfield, so with two of them, who knows what will happen. That being said, the threat from Ferrari and Alpine cannot be underestimated, as they understand their cars more!
Being within two tenths of the top time in FP2, must be very satisfying for Maranello, despite the knowledge that they will pull away come tomorrow. I really feel that there is momentum in the team, which given their focus on 2022 already, plus the extra wind tunnel time, is very ominous for the new regulations. Focusing back on the present, if McLaren are on form again here, it may be hard for Ferrari to catch them, so they need to focus on the start and pit strategy, as well as those medium tyres which hurt them in Portugal! Sainz is already up to speed, so if Daniel is not quite yet, they could try a pincer movement on the lone McLaren, to try and top the midfield here!
The fact that we are disappointed that Ferrari is fourth fastest, but pleased when Alpine is fifth, given they are both big manufacturers, just shows what our expectations are from the French outfit. At least they have a good result in Portugal to build on, which seems to be continuing here, their aim should be points, although with Alpha Tauri on their heels, it won’t be easy! We spent last year, wondering if a year out had cost Ocon his pace, yet it has come back to him now, it just took longer than we expected, and will be keeping Alonso on his toes!
I do feel for Alpha Tauri, we spent all of pre-season testing hyping them up, saying that the rule changes would shoot them to the front of the midfield. But whilst we have seen pace from them, especially on a Saturday from Gasly, it has never materialised into points, and with Alpine resurging, anything more than fringe points may be tough! It is a similar story for Tsunoda, who flew in testing, making us think he would do incredible things in that car; however, he does seem to be overdriving it now, possibly due to them not scoring points! Meanwhile, Gasly is just doing all he can to rack up points, being a solid driver, deserving of more, but lowly points may be all he can aim for again in Barcelona!
Aston Martin and Alfa Romeo are pretty equal in the pecking order, although in much different situations, Aston Martin is dropping due to the rule changes, aimed at the team they were copying, which they have no reason to complain about! Whereas Alfa Romeo are on the up, aided by an improved Ferrari engine, hoping to score some points. However, on a two by two track like this, where drama is rare, I can’t see points being a possibility for them, unless we get some first lap crashes!
Williams have fallen back from the pace we saw in Imola, and Saturday in Portimao, which hints that for most of the year, this is where they will be. At least they aren’t last though, and I hope they are focusing on 2022, to get right back in the fight! Haas actually showed some real promise last time out, with Mick driving brilliantly, saying he could have actually done better, and passed both Williams! He isn’t that far off them here in practice, so who knows if he can get in a tussle with them this weekend!
Spain is not a thriller of a racetrack, at least on Sunday, so qualifying will be crucial, as well as pit stops, however with a long run off the start into Turn 1, the grid order isn’t guaranteed to stay put in the race! Red Bull are 2-1 down so far, and the signs aren’t looking good so far here, but don’t assume anything this year, as we have already had our fair share of drama!