So here we are in Spain – on Britain’s general election day. Actually, we were here four years ago for the last election so it’s nothing new. There just might be a few tired people at Williams’s Brit breakfast tomorrow and who knows, they might be a bit stunned too.
But we’re not here for the election but for the continuing World Championship battle. Four flyaways down, subsequent cold and cough mainly chased away and now Barcelona followed by a two-day test.
When we’re here for testing, when asked about their potential and how they rank against the competition, the teams all says ‘ah, but wait until Melbourne.’ Then, when we’ve done Melbourne, they all say ‘ah, but wait until Barcelona.’ Why Barcelona? Because it’s the first European race and the one where all the development work carried out by teams since Melbourne comes on stream.
So in theory, it’s here that the pack is shuffled, but will it be? It’s a circuit which all the teams know extremely well from endless testing here; of the 12 days prior to the start of this year, eight were spent here at Barcelona. Except the highest ambient temperature seen during that time was 21 degrees, and about the highest track temperature was 30 degrees. The air temp, as I write, is pretty much the same as that maximum, but the track temperature is ten degrees higher.
Something else which just might stifle any changes is the fact that it’s notoriously difficult to overtake here. Which is why 18 of the 24 races held here have been won from pole, the highest ratio at any circuit, with Alonso’s fifth on the grid the highest grid position to have won from in the last ten years.
So in the end, it will all come down to qualifying when we shall see who has the best and most efficiently used downforce plus high speed balance and aero efficiency. There are only three corners here under 100 kph – many are fast swerves with the 235 kph turn three particularly notorious as it taxes the front left hand corner. Interestingly, the circuit – according to Pirelli – is now front limited again following development of their rear tyres whereas last year, with the emphasis on traction etc, it was rear limited. There are a lot of these factors which could come into play in Spain.
When talking about tyres, Pirelli also point out that this is the roughest asphalt of the year, but they still expect that the race will be a two-stopper as last year when the life of the rear tyre dictated strategy. Fourth placed Vettel was the highest placed three stopper last year but then he started from 15th on the grid. Pirelli expect the performance gap to be between 0.8s and 1.2s. The lateral forces on the tyres – perhaps due to the high speed nature of corners – is expected to be the second highest of the season – which is another reason why teams test here.
It’s not particularly tough on brakes, although there are eight braking points, two of which are hard. At the end of the 1km long straight, cars have reached about 335kph when the driver stamps on the brake pedal for 1.11s with 168 kilos of force and in 104 meters – according to Brembo – slows by nearly 200 kph to 120kph, being thrust forward in the cockpit at 5.6G. Because it’s downhill and slower, turn ten is also tough: 1.51s and 153 kilos on the brakes to slow from 310kph to 67 kph, once again with 5.0G.
But the gaps between brakings allows the brakes to cool which means that it’s not critical. It may not be here, but it will be in Canada in two races time, and before that comes Monaco, a fascinating test of its own. Safety cars may be seen in both of those races, but safety cars in Spain are relatively rare: only five since 2003 and four of those for first lap incidents.
But the problem is going to be overtaking. It’s so difficult here and in Monaco, of course. The weather is set to be good, teams are already shipping in bits and the cars have finally been back at the factories for some TLC and a paint job after the first four flyaways. Formula One is back in its home-from-home, all the drivers know it well (even Messrs Mehri and Stevens who didn’t test here) and everyone knows the base settings. It’s almost too familiar.
But then the ‘what might happen’ is what keeps us going. This weekend is familiar: third and fourth races of GP2, first rounds of GP3 and Porsche SuperCup. It’s the usual programme – which actually can get a bit tedious for some. But the ‘potential’ is what it’s all about and that’s what will keep us occupied for the weekend. The conspiracy theorists and number crunchers will be working their way through the data and someone, somewhere will have an idea as to what has changed. The rest of us will just keep guessing, hoping for some little hint of a possible change in form.
But everyone just might have developed at the same rate in which case not much is going to change at all. Who knows? That’s the beauty of motor sport. Whereas there are some in the UK who want change in government, there are others who think this lot are doing a good job. I wonder which will become apparent first, the F1 hierarchy or Britain’s next government… Another weekend of unknowns in Spain…
By Bob Constanduros