Formula One’s acid test in Spain

2011-05-19 00:00

LONDON — Fans flocking to Formula One’s most predictable race could be in for a surprise in Spain this weekend, even if Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel ends up winning again.

For years, Spaniards have headed to Barcelona’s Circuit de Catalunya expecting a high-speed procession and only hoping that Fernando Alonso will be leading it to the chequered flag.

While the double world champion will again be the crowd favourite, fresh from his first podium of the year in Turkey, Sunday should offer a very different kind of show.

The season’s new Pirelli tyres and technical rules led to a feast of overtaking in Istanbul, too much for the taste of some, while four pitstops was the norm among leading drivers.

The Spanish Grand Prix has been won from pole position for the past 10 years in a row, with precious little overtaking, and this year’s will be keenly watched for signs that the face of Formula One really has changed.

“I think Barcelona is the acid test,” Mercedes GP team principal Ross Brawn told Reuters.

“It’s a track that normally we struggle at, so if there is some overtaking in Barcelona then I think you’ve got to say the new rules are a great success.

“I think there will be [more overtaking],” he added.

“It’s a high degradation circuit so you are going to have the situation of cars with varying levels of tyre grip. And that’s probably the most significant factor, then helped by the DRS [drag reduction system]. Things are looking up.”

According to the official website, last year’s Spanish Grand Prix featured just 10 overtaking moves. Turkey had 112 two weeks ago.

Red Bull’s world champion Sebastian Vettel has won three of the season’s four races after starting the last five races in a row from pole position.

The 23-year-old German would be considered a racing certainty if he bags another pole, but Australian team-mate Mark Webber can take comfort from the past — distant and recent.

Webber won in Spain last year and his sequence of results this season are all leading in one direction — fifth in Australia, fourth in Malaysia, third in China and second in Turkey.

“I think with the new changes we are going to see a different type of race at the Spanish Grand Prix this year,” he said.

“Tactically at the front [it’s a question of] how we will do the race with the pitstops and how the rear wing will be used to overtake.

“We’ve been seeing that a lot this year at the tracks where overtaking wasn’t such an issue, but this one has been notorious in the past so it will be a real test for the regulations and for sure we will have more entertainment again, no question about it,” he added.

The leading teams are all bringing upgrades to Barcelona, with McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button looking to get back on the podium after being unable to get new pieces on the car in Istanbul.

Alonso is fifth overall after four races, 52 points behind pacesetter Vettel, but paradoxically finding comfort in his situation compared to last year.

“I like playing with numbers — and as I travelled backwards and forwards between home, Maranello and Turkey, I made a comparison between my first four races of last year and those of this year in the corresponding grands prix,” he told the Ferrari website.

“What came out of this little game was that compared to 2010 I’m eight points short [49 to 41], but in the same four races, this year I’ve brought home 13 more points compared to last year [41 to 28].”

This year’s season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix, won by Alonso last time round, was postponed while Turkey was the seventh race of the 2010 calendar.

Alonso was overall runner-up last year after losing out to Vettel by four points. The Spaniard was runner-up in Barcelona last year.

A victory on home soil would really make a change. — Reuters.


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