As Formula1 enters Europe, the Spanish GP has been much anticipated for many reasons. First, teams have tested here pre-season, which gives them extra circuit knowledge and data to make their cars go quicker. Second, many teams plan their updates for the first round of the European leg of the season which again adds to the car’s pace and third, this is double Formula1 World Champion Fernando Alonso’s home GP.
Yesterday’s qualifying was interesting as we saw teams and drivers attempt different strategies with respect their tyre consumption. Here are a few thoughts:
- Red Bull Racing have had the fastest car on track in all the GPs concluded this year, but they have been unable to work around their KERS issues. Thankfully this time it was not Mark Webber but Sebastian Vettel’s car that encountered KERS issues in qualifying. The reigning World Champion was unable to use his KERS in Q2 and Q3 of qualifying. Could this be the reason for the two tenths difference in qualifying laps? Vettel reckons not!
- Nick Heidfeld’s Renault caught fire during Saturday’s Free Practice session and was unable to participate in the qualifying as the team couldn’t get his car ready in time. It was not too long ago that Renault’s innovative exhaust solution was criticized by other teams for being dangerous and possibly explosive. Heidfeld’s start to the 2011 hasn’t been the best with car niggles getting the better of him. His team-mate Vitaly Petrov put together a good qualifying performance and managed to qualify ahead of both the Mercedes cars in 6th.
- Rubens Barrichello suffered gear box issues and qualified a lowly 19th position behind the Team Lotus’s Jarno Trulli. Barrichello’s team-mate Pastor Maldonado on the other hand managed to show pace in qualifying to grab 9th spot on the starting grid.
- Tyre strategy is key and it has been often debated in the past whether the importance of qualifying has now been compromised with teams focusing on tyre strategy for the races only. However, we saw Ferrari push their ‘panic’ button when they sent out Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso on the soft tyres in the Q1 session of qualifying. Lack of confidence in the pace of the Ferrari on hard tyres? However, it did seem like an unwanted move since the 3 new teams and the Renault of Nick Heidfeld would face obvious elimination. Ferraris will have one less set of fresh soft tyres to use the in race.
- We might also see teams and drivers avoid a qualifying run totally to save new tyres for Race Day. I think a compulsory qualifying lap across all three segments of qualifying is important to avoid such a scenario.
- Force India and Michael Schumacher’s qualifying tyre strategy does seem interesting and I will be keep an eye on them. The Force India team only used the hard tyre in the Q2 of qualifying and Schumacher decided to use them in Q3 of qualifying, both saving softs for the race. The Force India cars will be starting 16th and 17th on the grid, with Paul di Resta again out-qualifying his experienced team-mate Adrian Sutil. Michael Schumacher will line up 10th on the grid, 3 spots behind his team-mate nico Rosberg.
- Team Lotus Racing’s Heikki Kovalainen qualified ahead of the Force India cars in 15th position. While there was much celebration in the Lotus camp, one must note that Heikki’s time was set on soft tyres, while the Force India drivers decided to strategically save their soft tyre for the race. Watch the Force India cars zip past the green and yellow Lotus car at the start with their KERS system. Team Lotus Racing’s strategy can be summed up as ‘Win the battle, lose the war’!
- Lewis Hamilton flat spotted a tyre on his hot lap and as per the regulations he will start on the same set. We have seen how flat spotted soft compound Pirellis behave in the previous races and while Lewis has negated the disadvantage, we will only know the damage and performance limitation on Race Day.
- Mark Webber broke Sebastian Vettel’s qualifying dominance of 2011 and he is the only one currently equipped to do so. Webber’s fastest lap was two tenths faster than Vettel’s but a whole second faster than Lewis Hamilton’s Mclaren Mercedes. I think the Bulls will run and hide yet again! The only possibility of mounting a challenge towards their race dominance is at the start.
- Mark Webber will have the luxury of using his KERS in the race and more importantly at the start. If Sebastian Vettel’s KERS issues aren’t solved overnight, we will see him losing ground at the start itself. It will be interesting to see how Vettel’s race pans out should his KERS throw up issues again.
- Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso finally managed to break P5 in qualifying as his favourite starting spot. Up until the Spanish GP, Alonso had qualified in P5 at all the GPs. He will start the race from P4, whereas team-mate Felipe Massa will start 4 slots below in P8. One must also note that Ferrari’s innovative rear wing design was deemed illegal by the FIA and hence won’t be used this weekend. But do expect Ferrari to better (read: make legal) the design and bring it back for use on their car.
- Narain Karthikeyan’s fans will be happy to know that not only did both HRTs make the 107% lap time target, but Narain was only a tenth of Vitantonio Liuzzi’s qualifying pace. Both HRTs will start ahead of the Virgin racing car of Jerome d’Ambrosio.
Red Bull Racing has won 3 out of 4 GPs this year and Sebastian Vettel has propelled them to those multiple victories. Will it be Mark Webber’s time this time around?