F1 Spanish GP: Red Bull Grabs By The Horns

McLaren led the first free practice and that was the last time that anyone was close to Red Bull Racing all weekend. Red Bull led the way in the last two practices, qualifying and walked away with near maximum points. Mark Webber led from the start lights to the checkered flag while Sebastian Vettel overcame more reliability issues to finish third. Meanwhile, teams used their three-week break to make the first major updates to their cars and Mercedes was the most radical of the constructors with their changes.

The Red Bull weekend in the land of matadors didn’t start the way they wanted but it did end well. Mark Webber’s lights-to-flag win was only marred by the fact that he wasn’t able to set the fastest lap of the race.

While Webber may have had a near perfect race, his teammate Sebastian Vettel had a slightly more rough go of it. He looked on pace to finish a distant second to Webber but a bad pit stop and more reliability problems nearly ruined his chances at a podium finish. The pit stop dropped him behind Lewis Hamilton and overheating brakes caused him to keep falling back. In fact, he ran basically without using the brakes. He used the aerodynamic drag of the car and the gearbox to slow the car into the turns. Apparently, the front wing was blocking airflow to the brake ducts which meant that they were wearing down extremely quickly. It was to the point where the team told him that his brakes were going to fail. Vettel then put in what can only be described as the most masterful performance of the first five rounds of the season for a third-place finish.

Lewis Hamilton had an uneventful race for the first 64 laps. Then on the penultimate lap (or as Murray Walker would call it, the last lap but one), his left-front tyre blew and it was straight into a tyre barrier. A damaged wheel was to blame for that outcome. That made the Spanish crowd happy on two fronts: 1) They hate Hamilton, and 2) Fernando Alonso assumed second place as a result. The twice World Champion has disappeared since winning at Bahrain. I wouldn’t go so far that this is a sign of things to come but I would say that Ferrari is showing signs of improvement.

In fourth place was Michael Schumacher who had his best weekend of the year. More on that in a little bit.

•••

The dream of a return of Formula One to the United States was short-lived. In the last three weeks, rumours of a street race with the Manhattan skyline in the background came to a head with a plan being unveiled. Less than 24 hours later, the municipal government killed that idea. Developers drew up plans for a race through Liberty Park in Jersey City. It would run on a 3.6-mile temporary course. It was the closest that Bernie would ever get to a New York grand prix. But the mayor of Jersey City nixed plans after less than 24 hours. He was apparently swayed by citizens who were concerned by noise and pollution. The mayor forgot one important things, though. America is recovering from an economic crisis and Formula One has a massive economic impact where ever it visits. Good politics got in the way of good sense for Jersey City and F1.

•••

All the teams introduced new aerodynamic upgrades for the fifth round of the season. These are likely to be the biggest single updates that the teams are going to throw at their cars during the season so performance at Spain is the best indicator at how the rest of the season will go. Red Bull, obviously, are head and shoulders above the field. Reliability problems will still be the only thing that can prevent them from winning the title. Virgin F1 probably had the single most critical update as Timo Glock was given the new, longer chassis which was designed to hold a fuel tank big enough to last a race distance.

Mercedes, however, threw the most ideas at their car for the first European round of the championship. First, they lengthened the wheelbase of the MGP W01 by 5 centimetres by changing the angle of the front suspension wishbones and moving the front wing forward. The idea was to correct the weight distribution of the car to cure the chronic understeer the W01 suffered from. They also revised the revised rollover structure and airbox (engine intake). They don’t have that traditional intake above the driver’s head. Instead, it’s been lowered, moved back, and split to clean airflow over the engine cover and improve the effectiveness of the blown rear wing. It’s almost a brand new car. Mercedes was able to close the gap to McLaren and Ferrari but not so much to Red Bull.

Interestingly, it was Michael Schumacher’s best weekend of the season. Now that the car isn’t understeering like a truck, Schumacher should start finding his comfort zone. Nico Rosberg had an abysmal race that ended with him in 13th place. One of his brakes caught fire during his first pit stop. He also made a second pit stop which meant that he never had a chance to make the points. Of course, Rosberg’s struggles could be put down to the car. He seemed to love the understeery Merc. If you look at the best drivers of all time, they love cars that tend to oversteer. This car was probably designed to suit Jenson Button’s driving style. Draw your own conclusions from those facts. I don’t want to upset the Butt(on)heads.

•••

If you’re interested, BBC’s Martin Brundle thinks that Lotus was the most improved team on the grid not named Red Bull. Well, it’s hard for them not to be the most improved team because they had a long gap to make up. However, my most improved team has to be Sauber. They got a car to the finish for the first time since Australia and the first finish of the year for Kamui Kobayashi.

•••

The teams have added another important aerodynamic development to the list of things banned in 2011. First, they eliminated the double diffuser from their cars for next season. Heading into this weekend’s race, the teams decided to ban the F-duct. McLaren, naturally, was the only constructor opposed to dropping the pseudo-push-to-pass device. Of course they’ll hate the ban. They likely have the best functioning one on the grid but that advantage will disappear next season. In reality, it’s a cost-saving measure. The backmarkers won’t have to spend to develop them for next season. That and when everyone develops an F-duct, there won’t be an advantage to being the first to develop it. Ask Brawn/Mercedes how much being the innovator of the double diffuser is working out for them this year.

•••

The next round of the 2010 Formula One World Championship is this weekend in the principality of Monaco. The streets on Monte Carlo will once again play host to the crown jewel of F1. We all complained about the misery that were the snoozers at Bahrain and Spain but Monaco seldom has any passing on track. The difference is that Monaco has the history and spectacle that the other events lack. There’s something magical about seeing cars dance through city street with only millimetres to spare before crashing into the Armco. Double diffusers and F-ducts won’t help anybody this weekend. It’s all about who will have enough mechanical grip to lay down a quick lap in Q3. Of course, managing traffic in qualifying will be just as important as actually setting a fast lap.

5 thoughts on “F1 Spanish GP: Red Bull Grabs By The Horns

  1. While NJ didn’t get a race, there indeed will be a US Grand Prix…here in Austin, TX starting in 2012 for 9 years. They’ll be building the track about 5 miles from my house!!!

    Like

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