Formula 1: Spanish Grand Prix preview

 formula-1-spanish-grand-prix-preview  Round five of the Formula 1 World Championship heads to Europe where the real season starts… At the Circuit de Catalunya, Barcelona, Formula 1 teams are prepared to duke it out at a very familiar track. The Circuit de Catalunya was one of Barcelona’s many building projects during the build-up to the 1992 Olympic Games. It staged the start and finish of the time trial cycling event at the Games, and has been a permanent fixture on the F1 calendar since 1991.

The track’s wide variety of corners make it a severe test of man and machine, which is why it’s a favorite test venue for the teams. An abrasive track surface, combined with high cornering speeds, makes the circuit very demanding on tyres.
Sebastian Vettel won the 66-lap Spanish GP last year, while team mate Mark Webber, who won it in 2010, grabbed pole. This season, Vettel broke the dreadlock at the Bahrain GP last time out; the reigning champion intends to keep up his consistent performance at the first European race of the season, “Of all the current GP tracks, Barcelona is the one that we know the most because we have done so much testing there in recent years. In general, a car that functions well aerodynamically in Barcelona will work everywhere – so it will be an interesting weekend.”

Webber who has been more than a fair runner at Catalan track commented, “It’s the first European race of the season, so it will be all hands on deck after a successful Mugello test. I like the Barcelona track, we do a lot of work there and it’s a track that’s been good to me in the past. I got pole there for the last two years and converted it to a win in 2010, so I’m looking for a strong weekend.”

McLaren is the second most successful constructor in the history of the Spanish GP, the most recent of its eight wins coming in 2005. Jenson Button has one victory in the race, in 2009, while Lewis Hamilton achieved a best result of second last year. “Barcelona can be a funny circuit: we all test there so regularly that every driver knows it like the back of his hand, yet it can still be an extremely tricky place to get absolutely right. You need to have absolutely every box ticked if you’re going to win at Barcelona,” the 2009 F1 champ said.
Hamilton who’s still searching for consistency this season shared, “Our performance at Barcelona during winter testing looked promising – but the form of the season is still very hard to read.”
Last season, Hamilton pushed Vettel all the way to the flag, finishing an encouraging second for McLaren. This year, the Brit believes that McLaren has provided him a more competitive car, therefore a podium finish is the target for the 2008 F1 champion this weekend. “It’ll be interesting to see how straightforward overtaking will be this year. It’s always been a tough place for passing – as I found out last year – but I really hope DRS and KERS-Hybrid combined will make it a little easier. I’ll be hoping for a strong performance in qualifying in order to make it as straightforward as possible in the race,” Hamilton explained.
The Lotus F1 team hope to emulate the fantastic second and third positions at the Bahrain GP. At Manama, Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean trailed home Vettel, securing Lotus’ best results of the season. Raikkonen likes racing in Europe, having won twice at Barcelona in previous outfits. The Finn expects the team to be just as competitive as the four flyaway races at the first European race of the season, “It’s going to be very, very close between the top teams. All the teams have updates for the first European race,which makes it even more interesting and even tighter at the top.”
He added,”The car feels good everywhere we’ve been so far (in the first four races). I am here to race and I race to win. That is the target for me and the team. We want to win Grands Prix. We have a good car and we saw in Bahrain it is good enough to win.”
Grosjean came through at Bahrain with a third place, after two difficult races. But, the last two flyaway races had been good for the F1 returnee, “The two last races have been really good, both for the team and for myself. I’ve only completed four Grand Prix as a full time driver for the season. It’s not too much experience but every Grand Prix I finish is a fantastic experience for me. For sure the podium in Bahrain gives me confidence for Barcelona.”
Fernando Alonso knows he can also count on the intangible benefits of racing in front of a home crowd this weekend, when he will be fighting to close the relatively small ten point gap to the leader of the drivers’ championship. “Racing in Spain is something unique for me that I only have twice a year in Barcelona and Valencia,” said the Ferrari ace. “It’s a sensation I enjoy a great deal, with the support you feel from the people in the grandstand, indeed with the support you feel from the whole country, when you arrive at the airport or when you see the news on the TV.”
Alonso has said that, as a first step on the road to being totally competitive again, this weekend the F2012 has to be good enough to make it through comfortably to the top ten qualifying shoot out on Saturday. “It makes you give the maximum and you get a bit extra for that one timed lap at your home Grand Prix because perhaps you give everything that little bit more attention.”
On the top step of the podium here in 2006, Alonso has yet to win this event in a Ferrari, unlike team-mate Felipe Massa, who was victorious in 2007, one year before the Prancing Horse’s last Spanish win to date which came courtesy of Raikkonen. Ferrari have won a further nine times in Spain.
Williams drivers Pastor Maldonado and Bruno Senna look to build on consistent runs for the team at Barcelona. “It is a very enjoyable circuit to drive, technical but still quick with turns three and nine a real test. It is also difficult to set the car up here because there are high, medium and slow speed corners. We have been working hard since the last race and hopefully the updates we bring will lead to some good points,” Maldonado commented.
Sauber, like the other teams, will provide Kamui Kobayashi and Sergio Perez with updated C31s for the Catalan race. Kobayashi believes that the aero updates at the recent Mugello test would spur the C31 to more competitive results. “The updates are good, but only at the Barcelona circuit will we be able to tell how much of an improvement it really is. Not only because testing never allows for proper comparisons to the competition, but also because the Circuit de Catalunya is special. It has everything – fast corners, medium speed corners and slow corners.”
Perez who’s another fan of the Catalan track has had plenty of experience racing here, “I obviously know the circuit very well from GP2, from last year’s Formula One race and, of course, from testing. It was there where I scored my first ever F1 points last year when I finished ninth. I hope to get some points again this year.”

Force India’s Paul di Resta and Nico Hulkenberg both participated in the recent Mugello test, although the team opted for a conservative session. For Barcelona, both Di Resta and Hulkenberg are confident to be in hunt for some points, should an opportunity presents itself.