Spanish Grand Prix 2011: Preview


If you have no links with Spain, it is difficult to find much enthusiasm for the Spanish Grand Prix. The Spanish crowd create a fantastic atmosphere at the track as they cheer on Fernando Alonso, but the Circuit de Catalunya rarely throws up exciting races. Overtaking is historically difficult, and all of the teams and drivers know the track far too well for it to be a challenge.

Take Force India for example. This year, as a team, they have already completed the equivalent of ten race distances at the Barcelona track over the course of two pre-season practice sessions. Most of the other teams can boast similar figures.

Because of this, the teams will have a good idea about their optimum set-ups even before they arrive at the track this weekend, and can spend most of Friday testing new upgrades, which they hope will push them closer to the front of the grid.

But this weekend should be different to previous years. Modern F1 (i.e. the sport in 2011) does not do boring races – at least not so far – and thanks to the Pirelli tyres there should be multiple pit stops and overtaking moves in Sunday's race.

In fact, the Circuit de Catalunya was shown in winter testing to be pretty tough on the new PZero tyres, and temperatures this weekend will be significantly higher than they were in February and March. Also, if the DRS (Drag Reduction System) does its job, it could also help increase the normally modest number of passes on race day.

Barcelona is a track that demands good aerodynamics, hence its status as one of the top testing circuits. Most teams will be bringing their first big batch of aero upgrades to Spain this weekend, and some teams could find a lot more pace.

If F1 needs one thing this season, it is for one of the front-running teams, or at least just one of their drivers, to make a step forward. Sebastian Vettel already has a 34 point lead in the Driver's Championship, having taken 93 of the 100 available points this season. Formula 1 can provide races with a century of overtaking manoeuvres and almost as many pit stops this season but, if it cannot provide a contest, then it ceases to become an engaging sport.

Will a challenger emerge in Spain? Last year's Spanish Grand Prix marked the beginning of Mark Webber's title challenge. The Aussie won in Barcelona last year and then took the victory in Monaco a week later. He has shown little evidence of his ability to take on his team-mate so far this year, but will things change as F1 properly begins its European season?

After emerging as a challenger in China, Lewis Hamilton and McLaren were not able to sustain the pressure on Vettel in Turkey. However, it was a mistake from Hamilton that lost him positions in the early stages of the race in Istanbul – and pit stop issues – that ruined his race. He is probably the most likely to prevent Vettel from claiming win number four of the season.

Or it could be Fernando Alonso, buoyed by the vocal home crowd, who takes the fight to Vettel in Spain? Despite an inability to qualify anywhere other than fifth place this season, the Spaniard and his Ferrari team did show signs of improvement in Turkey, with Alonso taking the team's first podium of 2011.

Mercedes are also getting closer to the front of the grid, slowly but surely. Nico Rosberg was the fastest non-Red Bull driver in qualifying in Turkey, and finished in a decent fifth place. Michael Schumacher is also thinks that the team are getting better, and was determined to emphasise his dedication to the cause earlier this week. Mercedes do not seem up to challenging Red Bull for race wins yet, but could be on for a good result in Spain as they bring a new aerodynamic package to the car.

Further down the grid, the development race is also in full flow, and the fight between Sauber, Williams, Force India, Renault and Toro Rosso will be just as hard fought. Also hoping to join the fray is Team Lotus. They have said that the upgrade being introduced in Spain should be the one that puts them within touching distance of these midfield runners.

In summary then, Spain does not normally provide that great a race but, with the new Pirelli tyres, KERS and DRS, it should be worth watching this season. Somebody needs to emerge as a consistent challenger to Vettel as the European season kicks-off; otherwise a second consecutive title for the German is in danger of becoming inevitable. Furthermore, the development race truly gets underway this weekend, and the order established over the opening few races could again be re-shuffled.

  • Qualifying in Barcelona begins at 13:00 BST on Saturday with the race starting at 13:00 on Sunday. Coverage in the UK is on BBC One and BBC Radio 5 Live.
  • Full updates, reports, and reaction will be found throughout the weekend on TheCheckeredFlag.co.uk