May 10th 2012 (F1plus / Chris Cameron-Dow).- The European portion of the 2012 Formula One season kicks off this weekend with the Spanish Grand Prix at the Circuit de Catalunya.
Located 32km north of Barcelona, the track is a favourite on the calendar. It has become something of a second home to the teams and drivers, as it is a popular testing venue with its long main straight and variety of different speed corners. In 2012, the teams have already spent 8 days testing at the track, and so will go into the race weekend very well prepared.
The Spanish Grand Prix is the home race of Fernando Alonso, who will be hoping to reward his adoring fans with victory. Also at home are Pedro de la Rosa and HRT.
Testing and upgrades
Last week saw the teams at Mugello for three days for the first in-season test permitted since 2008. As a result, it is likely that there will be some car upgrades visible all the way down the grid. Perhaps most noticeably, McLaren have a new, higher nose that team principal Martin Whitmarsh has said will probably be used in Spain. Ferrari tested a major upgrade including a revised exhaust, which they hope could turn around their difficult start to the season.
Tyres have been something of a talking point in recent weeks, after Michael Schumacher criticized Pirelli's 2012 offering, suggesting that tyre management has become too influenti al on race day.
Pirelli are bringing their “hard” and “soft” compounds to Barcelona. It's the first time this season that the compounds are two steps apart (the “medium” separates them), and should result in a more significant difference in performance between them than has been seen so far this season. It is possible that the top teams may have to use the soft tyre in Q1, rather than saving a set of new softs for the race.
Overtaking has been rare in recent years in Spain as the high downforce nature of the track makes following another car closely through most of the lap very difficult – any interruption of air-flow to the front of the car will unbalance the car, causing it to understeer and grain the front tyres.
With the introduction of DRS in 2011, overtaking has become more commonplace, but Barcelona remains a difficult place to pass. The high degradation of the 2012 Pirelli tyres could contribute to action on the track, and if there is a headwind down the long main straight, DRS should become extremely effective in assisting overtaking.
McLaren, Red Bull, Mercedes and Lotus should all be in the mix on Sunday. With their strong downforce package and powerful Mercedes engine, McLaren are a good bet for victory. Ferrari could upset the order after a productive Mugello test.
A high downforce set-up makes DRS more effective, which makes a Mercedes pole position likely.
Barcelona is regarded as a good test of aerodynamics, so whoever is quick this weekend should be strong throughout the season.
Lap Record: 1:12.670 – Kimi Raikkonen / Ferrari (2008)
Race winner: Sebastian Vettel
Pole position: Mark Webber
Fastest lap: Lewis Hamilton – 1:26.727
All Friday and Saturday sessions are expected to be dry. There is the possibility of rain during the race on Sunday which, if Malaysia is anything to go by, could upset the order and produce a fascinating race.