2010 Chinese GP preview After four 'fly away' races, the Formula One circus has returned to European soil for the fifth round of the FIA (Federation Internationale de l'Automobile) Formula One World Championship, the Grand Prix of Spain at the...
2010 Chinese GP preview
After four 'fly away' races, the Formula One circus has returned to European soil for the fifth round of the FIA (Federation Internationale de l'Automobile) Formula One World Championship, the Grand Prix of Spain at the Circuit de Catalunya, Barcelona. The Circuit de Catalunya has traditionally favored cars with excellent aerodynamic performance, while the long, fast sweep of turn three places a premium on tyre preservation, as the front-left is heavily loaded for several seconds each lap. Changes to the regulations for 2010 that brought in narrower front tyres and heavily fuelled cars, are likely to make tyre preservation a key part of this year's race strategy.
The Spanish circuit hopes to attract a huge crowd with Spaniard Fernando Alonso now racing for Ferrari, for Jaime Alguersuari it will be his first Formula One race on the Catalonian circuit. Alguersuari: "This will be the first time I race in the Spanish Grand Prix and I expect there will be a lot of my friends and fans coming to watch, also because there are several Spanish drivers on the grid this year. One important factor is that this is the first track of the season I have driven on before, so that should make life easier for me."
The Spanish HRT team, owned by Jose Ramon Carabante and led by team principal Colin Kolles, is also looking forward to their first ever home GP. Colles about his expectations: "We have used the time since China to work on the car and to introduce new parts. We hope to understand the car better and need to improve the performance as well as hit a new target and finish again with both cars." Veteran Pedro de la Rosa will be driving for the BMW-Sauber team, and the last Spanish driver, Andy Soucek, will be the reserve driver for the Virgin team.
The FIA has appointed four stewards who will make up the F1 Stewards Panel for the race in Spain: Frenchman Nicolas Deschaux and Australian Garry Connelly will represent the FIA, Spaniard Joaqu?n Verdegay de la Vega represents the hosting country Spain, and ex-Formula One driver 55-year old Briton Derek Warwick will represent the drivers.
Warwick began his Formula One career in 1981 driving for the Toleman team. In 1984 he switched to Renault. He experienced two poor years, he became 7th and 14th in the championship, and decided to switch to Brabham, but again he ran out of luck, he did not score one single point during the 1986 season. After 1986 he drove for Arrows and Lotus before ending his career driving for the uncompetitive Footwork Mugen-Honda team in 1993. He participated in 162 races and scored 71 world championship points and his experience will be of great help for the FIA Stewards.
The first four races
The first race of the season in Bahrain turned out to be a disappointment for drivers and spectators, according to some there was not enough action on track, but having said that, the race in Bahrain was never spectacular during it's seven years of existence. At the end of the race Sebastian Vettel ran out of luck when his Red Bull slowed down and Fernando Alonso won his first race for Ferrari, he also won the race in 2005 and 2006, and team mate Felipe Massa took second place.
The second race in Australia at the Albert Park circuit was quite a different story, it became the most thrilling race so far, an action-packed race with wet and dry conditions, spectacular crashes, safety car periods and constantly changing tyre strategies. Again Vettel ran out of luck and crashed his car because of a loose wheel nut, and this time McLaren's Jenson Button went home with the trophy and the champagne, while Robert Kubica took the second place on the podium.
During the third race on the dry and very hot Malaysian Sepang circuit, Vettel was finally able to bring his car unscathed to the finish line for a well deserved win, team mate Mark Webber took second place. During this weekend, many teams were now very alarmed by the extra straight-line speed the McLaren team had thanks to a new Formula One gadget: the F-Duct. It is a system that uses an airduct which, when it is opened, blows air over the rear wing, stalling the wing and giving some 6 to 8 km more straight-line speed, just enough to overtake someone. Other teams also tested the system, but until now no team has succeeded in getting the same results as McLaren did with the F-Duct.
The fourth race in China was a wet race, which again provided the necessary spectacle. Button outsmarted all other drivers when it came to preserving his tyres, he only used three sets, while others needed four sets of intermediate tyres. Lewis Hamilton took second place, and after Ferrari and Red Bull, McLaren became the third team to land a 1-2 podium position. Mclaren again demonstrated how effective their F-Duct was, at the end of the back straight, Hamilton and Button could easily out-brake other drivers, and the other teams got even more worried about the system.
Bridgestone tyre report
The circuit features one long straight and a variety of different corner types making set-up a compromise. According to Bridgestone it is relatively harsh for tyres, and of particular note, the left front tyre is put under significant stress over the course of a lap. As with any circuit, the compromise between finding low drag for the straights and sufficient down force for the corners is a challenge. Barcelona's numerous bends make for a greater focus on the corners and the high speeds attained here make for significant energy forces on the tyres.
Hirohide Hamashima - Bridgestone director of tyre development: "The circuit is a good indicator of overall car balance and a car which does well here should do well at any track. We often see major car upgrades as this is the first European race of the season. The cars have already evolved a lot so it will be interesting to see the differences from when we were here before the season started. The track surface is in the middle range in terms of abrasion and roughness and we will bring our hard and soft Bridgestone Potenzas."
The FIA has decided to ban the so-called outboard mirrors. These mirrors are mounted high on a support that looks and works like a turning vane (a device used to control the airflow), and drivers have been complaining they can't see a thing in those mirrors. The construction is a bit wobbly, the vibrations blur the image and make it impossible to see something. The whole construction is actually nothing more than a good excuse to use a turning vane, although turning vanes and bargeboards have been banned, the posts are mounted just in front of the sidepods and are aerodynamically shaped, have little winglets, and work exactly like a turning vane.
But teams who use it insist it's a support for a mirror and not a turning vane, and until now the FIA has tolerated the use of those outboard mirrors. Starting from the race in Spain, the mirrors are no longer legal, and the FIA will only approve mirrors which are mounted on the side of the cockpit. The drivers are happy with the decision, but Formula One is still a cat-and-mouse game and engineers will probably figure out something else to guide the air along the sidepods.
Car upgrades in Spain for almost all teams
Traditionally the first race on European soil is also an excellent opportunity for teams to introduce major car upgrades. Mercedes has a new car with a longer wheelbase for Michael Schumacher. It has a better weight distribution, which in its turn will hopefully give the car more traction when exiting slow-speed corners, and will give Schumacher an overall better balanced car. The idea of the longer wheelbase is to shift more weight to the front wheels, Schumacher wants a very sharp and responsive car, it simply suits his driving style better. Mercedes will also bring an upgraded aerodynamic and bodywork package to Barcelona.
Norbert Haug: "The start of the European season in Barcelona will be a very important race to establish whether the competitive order of the field has changed as every top team will introduce technical upgrades. Our MGP W01 will have the first set of significant changes which will be followed by a defined rhythm of further upgrades, all of which are aimed at getting our car to the very top of the field."
McLaren also have announced they will have significant upgrades for the car. Team principal Martin Whitmarsh: "Despite leading both world championships, we are still working tremendously hard to bring additional performance to MP4-25. We feel that the useful upgrades we're bringing to this race, which include new front and rear wings, will help us consolidate our position among the leaders and, hopefully, enable us to close the gap to the cars at the front."
Ferrari also has a number of upgrades for Barcelona, and Fernando Alonso is convinced the 'real show starts now'. Alonso: "Now in Europe it's the moment of truth to show who is going to be in the title fight, and also for the teams to prove they can develop faster than their rivals. It's the start of a nice fight. With the super team that I have, this is just the beginning and I have a real chance to fight for the world championship."
Red Bull driver Mark Webber is convinced the poor results sofar were the result of the unusual weather conditions, and has no doubts he and his team will improve their position in the championship: "We know the points system fluctuates very, very fast. The middle part of the championship last year for me was very, very good, and that is what I am looking to do again, but with a different result at the end. I want to keep going and keep finishing."
Renault and Force India were surprisingly quick during the first four races, especially Kubica showed what he is worth, his second place during the Australian GP was perhaps a bit lucky, but it seems Kubica is always at the right place at the right time when an other driver makes mistakes. Force India driver Adrian Sutil always does well during qualifying, during all four races he qualified for Q3, and during the Malaysian GP he took fourth position in Q3 and ended on fifth place during the race.
Williams and BMW-Sauber had a very disappointing start of the season, Williams already warned they will not have major upgrades before the Monaco GP, so Rubens Barrichello and Nico Hulkenberg will have to struggle on with the uncompetitive Williams during the Spanish GP. BMW-Sauber had serious problems with their Ferrari engines, they have a few updates for Barcelona which will give them hopefully a bit more speed, and new technical director James Key said the team will also introduce a new F-Duct design.
Lotus, HRT and Virgin are still learning the ropes, but their speed was a bit disappointing, they need another two seconds to close in on the rest of the field. But it also must be said that a lot of their problems were caused by the unreliable hydraulics of the Xtrack transmission system. Virgin is trying to recover from their embarrassing miscalculation which resulted in a fuel tank that was too small, and in Spain Timo Glock will get a new chassis with a larger fuel tank, so technically speaking, he can now at least finish a race.
As Alonso already said, the real show starts now with the kickoff of the European season on the Circuit de Catalunya in Spain, and we end with the top seven in the championship: Button is leading with 60 points, followed by Rosberg (50), Alonso (49), Hamilton (49), Vettel (45), Massa (41) and Kubica (40). Because the first place in the new points system is rewarded with 25 points, any of those seven drivers can emerge as the leader of the championship after the Spanish GP.