By Pat Espresso

AFTER an agonising three-week wait, F1 returns to Europe from its flyaway four-race opener. The start to the season has been phenomenal, already outperforming sky-high pre-season expectations and gearing up to be a vintage year for F1. As fans, we can only sit back and savour the intriguing battles ahead.

Now to Barcelona and it’s Question Time for teams and fans alike. Most outfits will be hoping the upgrades they’re bringing to the Circuit de Catalunya can find them the time and speed to edge them towards competitiveness. Engineers at McLaren and Ferrari will be straining every synapse to match and eventually outpace the rock-solid Red Bulls.  That’s just one of the fascinating fights for dominance we can look forward to. As Alonso said, the start of the European campaign is when F1 teams face some hard truths and if a car is found lacking in Spain, teams managers must revise season expectations markedly downwards. The stakes at this race are huge.

It’s clear that if there was a world championship for F1 designers, Adrian Newey would already have a Schumacher-sized trophy cabinet.
Building another pace setting car this year – Mark Hughes of Autosport, the best writer on F1 around, thinks the magic is down to the pushrod suspension system integrating seamlessly into the Red Bull’s downforce-greedy aero design – has added extra polish to his stellar career. In generations to come, Newey’s name will be mentioned among the greats.

As Newey’s reputation soars another legend is battling to save his legacy.
German comeback king Michael Schumacher is facing serious questions about the decision to risk his record by returning to the track. As Nico Rosberg’s million-watt smile gets brighter and brighter with each race, Schumacher falls further into the ranks of the merely mediocre. It’s a new and unwelcome experience for the German. And almost painful to watch a man with the arrogance of an all-time great having to confront the fact that he is not the racer he was. Saying that, it is hard to find anyone in the pit lane who doesn’t think Schumi will get back to winning ways. It seems some way off for now.

For most, the match-ups within the leading teams will remain in sharp focus at Barcelona. Can Webber do anything to halt the apparently unstoppable Vettel? Or will he need to, given the reliability problems dogging Christian Horner’s outfit? Ferrari, as ever, provide a fertile source for speculation. Alonso already seems de facto team leader despite Massa’s protestations. And that pit lane overtake in China?
Imagine the tension Domenicali had to deal with later. Alonso seems to be quietly confident this year, and the Ferrari seems likeliest to put in both decent qualifying performances and have good race pace in the dry to stay with the Red Bulls. It is a crunch year for Massa’s career, I suspect.

Surprise of the season so far has been Button, despite some fortunate weather calls he has outperformed expectations and stealthily heaped pressure on his more highly regarded teammate. Hamilton has, for me, been the driver of the year so far in terms of excitement.
I can only imagine his burning desire to notch up a few victories of his own after having to watch Button celebrate. With two wins to his name this year, the reigning world champion also gets to go home with a stunning girlfriend. How can one man be so lucky? It is worth noting that Hamilton has recorded an astonishing 32 official overtakes in the first four frantic races. The average for Barcelona over the last six years is just four. And in the last two years, only two per race were recorded. Don’t be surprised if we see another Bahrain rather than a Shanghai. We can only hope that Hamilton in his current mood can boost that dismal average.

Looking at our graphic, it’s clear that the circuit will favour the Red Bulls. The good news is that qualifying will be even more important and, because of this, even more exciting. The midfield and rear echelons will be desperate to show improvements at Barcelona, with pressure mounting on Force India to mirror Renault’s competent showing so far. Lotus, too, are hoping for a leap in performance from their upgrades. They are looking good to come out ahead of Virgin in the battle at the back. One of the biggest mysteries is the disappearance of the Saubers and Williams – two teams who surely should be doing better.

After the epic in Shanghai, the F1 circus could fall back to earth with a bang at the weekend. The combined effects of a dry race, a one-stop tyre strategy and a circuit that every team knows like the back of their hand, thanks to their winter testing programmes, could mean a procession is on the cards – unless it rains or a crash triggers the safety car. Somehow, though, I doubt we’ll hear the doomsayers prophesying the end of F1 as happened at Bahrain. We’ve been treated to some stunning races so far and, like you, I can’t wait to see what happens next.

7 Responses to “SPANISH GRAND PRIX”
  1. Oscar says:

    Great post……those stats regarding the overtaking in Barca are grim though! Hopefully the momentum of the season will carry on….As long as its not the McLarens being overtaken I’ll be happy.

    Think Red Bull will be hard to beat in Spain though and they’ll finally banish their reliability issues. The 3 week break came at the perfect time for them.

    Good luck to all and keep up the fantastic season.

  2. If only I had a nickel for each time I came here… Amazing read.

  3. Incredibly interesting writing! Truely.

  4. If only more people could read this.

  5. Efren Hollis says:

    Hah am I actually the only reply to your great read!?

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