After four rounds in Asia/Pacific, Formula 1 returns to Europe for the Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona. Qualifying is at 10:00 PM AEST on Saturday and the race is at 10:00 PM AEST on Sunday.
Barcelona Circuit History
Spain has hosted Grand Prix racing on and off since 1918, with its first Formula 1 event in 1951. Numerous circuits have been used, with the Circuit de Catalunya on the Formula 1 calendar since 1991. It is known for being an all-rounder circuit, with long straights and a variety of corners. What makes this event different is the fact that the teams are so familiar with it. The Barcelona circuit was used extensively in winter testing, and some even argue that the drivers and mechanics are too familiar with it, which will reduce the amount of on-track action.
One key statistic is that in the 21 races at the Circuit de Catalunya to date, 16 pole winners have gone on to win the race. This is a much higher ratio than at the other tracks so far this season. Ten of the past eleven race winners in Barcelona have won from pole position.
Below are the most recent Spanish Grand Prix results:
– Pole position: Mark Webber (Red Bull) – finished 4th
– Winner: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull) – qualified 2nd
– Pole position: Mark Webber (Red Bull)
– Winner: Mark Webber (Red Bull)
– Pole position: Jenson Button (Brawn-Mercedes)
– Winner: Jenson Button (Brawn-Mercedes)
Webber qualified on pole, 0.2 seconds ahead of Vettel who managed to qualify 2nd despite having not being able to use his KERS during qualifying. Hamilton qualified 3rd with Alonso 4th and Button 5th.
Alonso made a blistering start to the race, taking the lead into the first corner. He led for the first 18 laps (of 66), but lost comparative pace when he switched to prime tyres after the first round of pit stops at which time Vettel took the lead. Vettel went onto win despite being hounded by Hamilton for much of the race. Hamilton finished 2nd, 0.6 seconds behind Vettel, with Button finishing over 30 seconds behind in 3rd. Button had managed to get ahead of Alonso and Webber by running a three stop strategy instead of four. Webber came fourth after spending a lot of the race stuck behind Alonso. He managed to overtake Alonso during his pit stop on lap 39, with the Spaniard finishing 5th.
Impressions from the 2012 season thus far, plus other titbits
Given the one week turnaround from the Chinese to the Bahrain Grand Prix, I had anticipated similar levels of team competitiveness, but everything seemed to be reset once again as another team took their turn to dominate a race. In Australia it was Button (McLaren), in Malaysia it was Alonso (Ferrari), in China it was Rosberg (Mercedes) and in Bahrain it was Vettel (Red Bull). How much longer will it be before a driver wins two races this season?
Vettel has a bit of a reputation for being excellent at leading races, but not so strong when he’s back in the pack. In hindsight Vettel was a great bet for race day in Bahrain after he qualified on pole, because he had a strong record of converting pole positions into wins last season. If Vettel qualifies on pole this weekend then he’ll be my pick to win the race.
Since the Bahrain Grand Prix the teams have had a three-day mid-season test at Mugello in Italy. The first day was heavily interrupted by rain. Grosjean and Kobayashi topped day 2 with identical times. Grosjean then went on to top day 3. You can’t read much into the Mugello track times because the teams all set out with different testing goals.
The teams will be featuring numerous upgrades in Barcelona. The Mugello test revealed that most teams have adopted the same exhaust configuration as used by McLaren. It is unknown whether any teams have adopted the double-DRS system that Mercedes have developed, although Mercedes team principal Ross Brawn said that it would be difficult to incorporate the system into a car that was not designed with the system in mind.
Soft and hard tyres will be made available for this race, which means for first time this season there will been a compound in between the two available compounds. Tyre strategy will be even more important for this reason, because the speed and durability differences between the ‘prime’ and ‘option’ tyres will be more pronounced than in previous races.
Paul Hembery, Pirelli motorsport director, has said “the Spanish Grand Prix weekend should present something of a contrast to the last pre-season test in Barcelona, where low ambient temperatures meant that it was difficult to get heat into the tyres. This time we’re expecting warmer weather, which only adds to the many challenges that the tyres will face here… With many teams having expanded their knowledge of our tyre range and tested new components at Mugello, we’re expecting a closely-fought Spanish Grand Prix – and maybe even the fifth different winner in five races.”
Spanish Grand Prix Preview
With four drivers from four different constructors winning the first four races, it’s very hard to make any predictions here, other than perhaps to expect the unexpected. What does differentiate this track from the first four races, however, is the fact that the teams are all very familiar with it. With that being said, the track temperature will be much warmer this weekend than it was during testing, and track temperatures have had a huge impact on the teams’ abilities to manage their tyres this season. Hopefully this race will be a bit more unpredictable than it has been in previous years.
Spanish Grand Prix Betting
The main statistic that stands out for me is the fact that ten of the past eleven pole winners have gone onto win the race. What prevents me from jumping too quickly onto the pole winner for race betting, however, is the huge impact tyre management has had on the season thus far, with qualifying pace not necessarily translating into race pace this season.
Another spanner in the works is the testing and car development that have gone on since Bahrain. Teams will be featuring numerous upgrades in Barcelona, so this may be another race where we have to ignore what happened previously. The result will likely come down to which team can get the most of their Pirelli tyres this weekend. Will we see a fifth driver win a race this season?
Below are the latest qualifying and race winner odds (subject to change):
As always, I will hold off from qualifying and race betting until the practice session 3 times are in. This is especially important given the numerous technical upgrades that have taken place between Bahrain and Spain. Practice 3 will take place at 7:00 PM AEST on Saturday.
Keep an eye out for Grojean and Raikkonen for qualifying, and even perhaps race betting. Lotus have been competitive all season.