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View from the Pit Lane: Spanish GP

The Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya is used extensively for F1 testing and motorbike racing.

By Karun Chandhok, C4F1 technical analyst 

Let’s be honest, after the excitement of the opening three corners, the Spanish Grand Prix was a bit of a snoozefest.

But you know what, it usually is – so don’t write off the rest of the season!

Since it moved to the Circuit de Catalunya in 1991, 25 out of the 28 races have been won from the front row. The drivers and teams know the track too well, and the layout of the track with those long-radius medium and high-speed corners means that it’s too hard to follow another car.

Plus, if we don’t have the occasional dull race, we won’t appreciate the good ones!

I do a bit of consultancy work for race track designers and I do wonder whether we ought to be doing something about the circuit to make it more interesting for racing. One of the big challenges, of course, is that nowadays the venue’s bigger earner is the MotoGP weekend, and therefore whatever is done to the layout has to work for the bikes as well.

However, I do think that by changing the width of the track on the entry to some of the corners, and tweaking the layout a bit, we could create some decent passing places by creating some new lines.

The trouble we have now is that with the modern cars carrying so much downforce, Turn 1 isn’t a long braking zone and the only decent braking zone into Turn 10 comes after two corners where it’s very hard to follow the car in front.

The 2019 F1 aero regulations are meant to help cars follow each other. There’s quite a bit of debate over this, with five teams in favour and five against the rule changes.

The teams for the change, including Ferrari and Mercedes, feel that the research that’s been done by the new technical team at F1 headed by Ross Brawn justifies the modifications. Those against, including Red Bull, feel that it’s a bit premature and that more research needs to be done.

On top of this, the cost implications with designing a whole new concept isn’t ideal, especially when the rules are expected to change again in 2021.

There are arguments for both sides of course, but in principle we would all like to see more overtaking. We’ve seen the wings get bigger, smaller, wider, higher, lower and a combination of all of these, but the feeling coming out of the F1 technical camp is that this time the changes proposed have been better researched than anytime before. Let’s wait and see!

As for the Spanish GP weekend itself, Mercedes looked to be on great form.

Despite all the talk of updates, as usual the ultimate performance seems to come down to who can get the tricky Pirelli tyres to work best for them.

In China and Baku, the Mercedes drivers seemed to be struggling to “wake up” the tyres as well as the Ferrari drivers for the one-lap performance they needed in qualifying.  

In Spain, the higher track temperatures, combined with the long radius corners, allowed them to get the tyres into the right window.

The tyres created all sorts of headaches for the teams this weekend. The supersoft tyre wasn’t delivering the grip and peak performance they expected, and in fact the Ferrari drivers ended up qualifying on the soft tyre even in Q3.

This shows that Pirelli still need to make progress in terms of choosing the tyres for the weekends, and I would like to see them have a two-step difference in compounds (for example: ultra, soft, medium). We would then have a true qualifying tyre, which forces a short first stint in the race and therefore a two-stop strategy.

In qualifying, despite the Ferraris obviously not being 100% happy with their tyres, Vettel managed to get within a sniff of pole position. On Sunday, however, Hamilton was in devastating form.

Clearly the Ferrari was eating up its tyres more than the Mercedes, which is why they felt the need to do an extra pitstop. However, Lewis’ pace in that opening stint was absolutely mighty. That alone should make Ferrari and Vettel a bit worried when looking at how they’re going to get back in front in this world championship battle.

On the upside, the Mercedes was particularly strong in pre-season testing in Barcelona and, as we’ve seen so far, the Ferrari has been right up there in Bahrain, Shanghai and Baku, so maybe this level of dominance is a one-off.

For the sake of the championship battle and fans around the world who want to see the fight go down to the final round in Abu Dhabi, I hope that’s the case!

Red Bull once again had a weekend where they couldn’t get the qualifying performance they needed, but the race pace was again very good. I’m very interested to see what happens in Monaco next time out as they should be in better shape in qualifying.

Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo are both pretty awesome around street circuits, and Monaco represents one of their best chances to qualify on the front row and battle for victory in a straight fight. Max finally got his first podium of the season and fulfilled his obvious speed and potential which is good to see.

Charles Leclerc was one of the other stars of the race, backing up his strong performance in Baku with P10 for Sauber. He’s now settled into F1 after a bit of a wobbly start and, with Romain Grosjean having a tough run of races, I can see Ferrari and Leclerc starting to push Haas for a seat for him there in 2019 in preparation for that final step into a Ferrari seat down the line.

Grosjean’s spin which caused carnage on lap one was the only bit of excitement of the grand prix. Why on earth he kept his foot hard on the throttle, spun back into the pack and created that smoke cloud, I have no idea, but it was an extremely dangerous thing to do.

While it was a shame for Nico Hulkenberg and Pierre Gasly, it was lucky that there weren’t more cars wiped out or drivers injured.

On to Monaco next, where I’ve been this weekend driving at the Historic Grand Prix in a Williams that Keke Rosberg won the race in back in 1983.

It’s the jewel in F1’s crown, and Ferrari versus Mercedes versus Red Bull should be well and truly on.

Lewis and Seb have been brilliant there in the past, Kimi took pole last year, Valtteri delivered probably his best quali lap of the season there in 2017, and Max and Daniel are hungry for their first Monaco wins. Game on!

Read more: Spanish GP Stat Wrap - Hamilton's milestones 

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