Following mistakes and misfortune for Ferrari at Bahrain the Formula one circus travelled to Spain, the first European race of the year. The Circuit de Catalunya, built in 1991, now features two DRS zones and quite long straights (1100m on the main one), a variety of corners, and of course grandstands filled with the tapestry of red and gold. The Tifosi have arrived. Alonso's Tifosi.
Unlike Bahrain, Barcelona is an amphitheatre of vibrant energy, flag waving fans anticipating success of their gladiators, their drivers....
On the grid Nico Rosberg was in pole, Lewis Hamilton 2nd, Sebastian Vettel 3rd, Fernando Alonso 5th and Filipe Massa was relegated from 6th to 9th place for obstruction. Whether or not race steward, 1980 World Champion Alan Jones, will reflect on his decision to relegate Massa down the grid will never be known. Probably not. For me, I felt it was harsh. Webber's time didn't appear to be that quick, he was on scrubbed tyres and Massa was on the inside of the apex. It would be interesting to know if the team had informed him that he was being approached from behind or not. Either way he did a great job.
Engines revving high, the lights go out, the launch control is released, cars scream towards turn 1, late hard brake, second gear, mirrors, position, full throttle into T2 for exit speed into a 4G T3... . Alonso sensationally powers into third and takes Hamilton on the outside. Massa jumps to 7th spurred on by Rob Smedley's "Good boy, you're in the pack, let's go for it!" That for me was the race. With planned three stop strategies there were indeed early pit stops. But the new tyres and degradation turned most strategies into four stops, resulting in a massive 82 in total during the race.
Force India’s Paul di Resta asking “Can anybody tell me what’s going on?” over the in-car radio kind of said it all. The race was a battle of tyre strategies.
Alonso capitalised on his stunning start, his four stop strategy was faultless giving him his much deserved second win at Catalunya, Raikkonen, on one of the few three stop strategies, consistently finished 2nd and Massa a brilliant 3rd, Vettel 4th, Webber 5th and former world champion Jenson Button a well fought 8th for McLaren, in a car still struggling for all-round performance.
Historically the Spanish Grand Prix had always been an indicator for the season ahead. Teams should be well prepared, they are familiar with set up as they have had a lot of testing at this circuit, how much is relevant is debatable of course due to track temperature changes since they were last there. With the new tyres this certainly showed.
Hamilton (finishing 12th) and Rosberg (6th) lost ground by the second during this race. The Silver Arrow is no doubt the best qualifying car but no race pace yet when fully fuelled, especially with these tyres. Hamilton shouting “I can’t go any slower” over the radio was painful. Hamilton's disappointment was only too obvious post race, even tweeting his fans and apologising. A true gentleman.
As per Bahrain, this track suffered wind direction changes that can drastically affecting aerodynamics. Teams corrected understeer in one particular corner only to find oversteer in the same place later in the day. Given tyre compounds worked well when tested yet later were not so good. This created unexpected performances on race day.
Add to this Pirelli's new version of the PZero Orange hard tyre introduced this weekend and the teams had a devil of a track to set up for. The tyre just didn't work this time. The new Pirelli boot had a revised hard compound and allegedly gave a wider working temperature window. As track temps increased the tyre was expected to move towards the performance of the white medium. Pre race Pirelli stated it would 'create new possibilities for strategies'. Post race, Pirelli’s Paul Hembery admitted they got it wrong.
Big car upgrades were obvious. Red Bull introduced their new 43 component front wing. New front wing end plates and a steeper side pod design on the struggling Mclaren, and modified side pods on the Ferrari F138 with more visible downward ducts to name only a few.
Upon reflection I'm not sure how I feel about this race. The build up due to uncertainties was awesome, but it was never going to be an overtaking side by side race all the way through. Alonso's start and constant pushing was awesome, and Massa, who had been relegated to 9th on the start grid only to finish 3rd was magnificent. After all this it was the Free Practice that interested me this week. Red Bull appeared to be throwing everything at their new car and its upgrades. Firstly it was out on track with a pitot tube array attached to the left hand side rear wing endplate. Three laps later the World Champion returned to the pits and the item was removed. A pitot tube is a pressure sensitive instrument mostly used in aviation, used to derive airspeed from pressure.
We then had Vettel's Red Bull out again but this time painted with 'Flow Viz' green luminous paint parading round the circuit. Surely this had to be desperate measures to get the car right. Flow Viz is painted on to specific surfaces of the car, whilst on track the paint dissipates and shows air flow, hopefully showing consistent air flow. It's no secret teams use this, usually in wind tunnels, however McLaren exposed their car in 2010 on track with it applied. If I was gathering data for a different team I would be photographing the Red Bull as much as possible as it returned to the pits. Its airflow signature, good or bad, is there for everyone to see. Tactically not ideal and going by the race result perhaps the aero / mechanical balance wasn't quite right for this one, hence the risk.I can't say I felt this was an exciting race, though only reporting from a comfy seat at Nottingham Graypaul during the race I'm not exactly sat in Alonso's F138, or even track side.
For me, apart from the stunning start of the race, the most excitement of the day came from a second round of canapés courtesy of Graypaul staff and an envious sit in the new F12.
Click here for FIA lap chart.
Stefano Domenicali: “ It was a very tense race, in which the slightest little detail could make a big difference. On this front, we read the race very well, when one considers how tyre management and calling the pit stops today made the difference and I can say without being presumptuous, that the team of engineers didn’t put a foot wrong. I think that is down to Pat Fry, even he wasn’t with us today on the pit-wall. Fernando yet again drove a great race, aggressive at the key moments and conservative when he had to manage his lead. I’m pleased we have closed the gap to all our closest rivals. I am also particularly happy with Felipe’s performance, because on this track, to start ninth and finish on the podium is not easy. After the way qualifying went yesterday, this result is the best we could have hoped for”.
Fernando Alonso: “Even if this is the third time I’ve won a home race, the emotion is still very strong, as if it had never happened before. After a far from easy qualifying, everything went perfectly, the start, the strategy, pit stops, tyre management. At the start, I had to make up some places but after passing the halfway point on the straight, there was no more room to do so. So I switched off the KERS, so as to use it in Turn 3, where I realised, after watching the GP2 race, that it was possible to attack around the outside. We had to bring forward the final stop because of a slow puncture which meant the left rear tyre was losing pressure in the final part of the lap, but fortunately, that had no effect on the final outcome”.
Felipe Massa: “I am very happy with this podium. When you start from far back everything’s more complicated, but I managed to get away well and I immediately had a fantastic pace. On the first lap I pulled off a few overtaking moves thanks to the car being very competitive, which meant I could be aggressive, while at the same time looking after the tyres. Right to the very end, I thought it might be possible to fight with Kimi, but when I fitted my last set of Hard tyres, the ones we thought would be best as they were new, I had oversteer and began to lose the rear much earlier than I had expected”..