As Formula One heads for the fifth round at Barcelona, the question many people are asking is can Fernando Alonso win his home race on Sunday? After three consecutive wins and an outstanding performance at Imola, Alonso is certainly the one of the...
As Formula One heads for the fifth round at Barcelona, the question many people are asking is can Fernando Alonso win his home race on Sunday? After three consecutive wins and an outstanding performance at Imola, Alonso is certainly the one of the favourites to stand on the top step of the podium at the end of the Spanish Grand Prix.
The Spaniard held off Ferrari's reigning champion Michael Schumacher for the victory in fine style at the last race. However, Renault's star, who is currently leading the drivers' standings, is all too aware that he will no doubt face some tough competition at the Circuit de Catalunya.
"Historically, Barcelona has been a much better circuit for the team than Imola, so we have to be confident for this race," Alonso said. "But the other teams are very quick, and we all test there so everybody knows the circuit. I think the competition will be very close, even more than we saw in Bahrain or Imola."
Schumacher had to concede defeat at San Marino but Ferrari certainly showed improved competitiveness -- at least for Michael. While the German had a storming drive through the field to challenge for the win, teammate Rubens Barrichello retired early on with a suspected electronic problem. Ferrari's reliability has been unpredictable so far.
Schumacher, who won in Spain last year, is buoyed by his result at Imola. "It has given us great encouragement and now we cannot wait for Barcelona," he commented. "Our car's performance and, above all, the whole team's and that of our partners, was more than encouraging. It is obvious that our fighting spirit has been reawakened."
BAR also had a difficult start to the season but bounced back at Imola. Jenson Button finished third and Takuma Sato fifth, the first time the team got both cars to the chequered flag in 2005. Sporting director Gil de Ferran believes fighting for the win in Spain is possible.
"If you bear in mind the very successful test we had in Barcelona prior to the San Marino GP, where Jenson broke Taku's lap record, it all seems to be conspiring towards another strong showing, where hopefully we will again be challenging for victory," he commented.
BAR is currently awaiting the outcome of the FIA appeal against the decision of the stewards at Imola, who took no action when Button's car was found to be underweight after the race. The FIA has asked for BAR to be excluded from the 2005 championship if it is found guilty of running underweight. A decision is expected on Thursday.
The 4.6km Circuit de Catalunya, as Alonso said, is familiar ground as the teams test there a lot. It's a fairly technical circuit, with a wide range of corners and a few overtaking opportunities. The track has just been resurfaced -- it was previously quite abrasive -- which may effect tyres.
"Of course this year tyre degradation is a key factor as we can only use one set of tyres from Saturday qualifying on, so it will be interesting to see whether the situation has become better or worse," said Sauber technical director Willy Rampf in regard to the new surface.
The long straight, nearly one kilometre, requires a balance of engine power and chassis set up. "The longest flat out section of the Circuit de Catalunya measures 982 metres," said BMW motorsport director Mario Thiessen. "You therefore need every last drop of power, although aerodynamics and drag also play a role in determining top speed."
Toyota's Jarno Trulli said balance is all important: "To perform well there a car needs to have very good aerodynamic performance. The circuit has lots of corners and many of them are relatively high speed. It all means that a lot of the lap is spent in corners and so the car's balance has to be absolutely right."
Kimi Raikkonen could have won at Imola had his McLaren not failed him but the team is progressing in terms of performance. Juan Pablo Montoya's stand in Alex Wurz scored a solid fourth on his race debut for McLaren. Montoya is back in action this weekend.
"I'm obviously extremely pleased to get back behind the wheel again. It's been so frustrating for me to be a spectator and I'm looking forward to the weekend," said the Colombian, who is recovered from his shoulder injury.
Sauber picked up points at Imola with Jacques Villeneuve's solid drive to sixth and the Canadian is looking for more this weekend. "Scoring three points has helped a lot and has relieved some of the pressure from the first three races," he remarked. "After the way the car went in Imola, I can't wait to get to Barcelona."
Williams struggled at Imola, with both drivers finishing outside the points, although Nick Heidfeld was promoted to eighth after Toyota's Ralf Schumacher was awarded a time penalty. The team tested at Silverstone recently and technical director Sam Michael is optimistic.
"We will have some further aerodynamic improvements on the cars since the last GP, mainly around the front of the car, and Michelin have two good compounds that we have tested," he said. "All of these steps should help us to move the FW27 further up the grid."
Toyota had both cars in the points last time out until Ralf's penalty, but the team lacked its performance of earlier in the season. "We are bringing some significant new aero bits to Barcelona, including upgrades to the sidepods and diffuser, in order to further improve the efficiency of our package," said technical director Mike Gascoyne.
The fight at the front of the grid is still wide open, despite Renault's strong start to the season. The French squad, presuming it maintains its competitiveness, will be tough to beat but the others are making progress. Anticipation is high for another good battle but one thing is for sure; if Alonso wins at Barcelona the Spanish fans are going to have one almighty party.