JOHANNESBURG – OH, no,
Commence the rolling of eyes, the blustery talk of how it shouldn't even be on the race calendar, and the trepidation that we will get a “Noah's Ark” grid and procession race.
All valid concerns.
But maybe it will be different this year, perhaps the duel between Mercedes and Red Bull will result in an exciting weekend, perchance Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen and their teammates give us something to gush about, per adventure we are all wrong about one of F1's most “boring” tracks.
Here we look at four highlights, and a concern, that could make the Spanish GP a memorable one, but also probably not.
It's the Spanish Grand Prix this weekend!
Alpine floors it
The team of Esteban Ocon and Fernando Alonso have quietly been going about their business since the season started. During pre-season, they were generally okay, if not spectacular, and that extended into the first race.
At Imola, however, a turnaround was noticeable, and last weekend in Portugal even more so. Alpine implemented a new aero-package then, and it is slowly paying dividends. In Portimao they finished seventh and eighth, respectively, and they could once again be the dark horses in the midfield at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.
You know, that times … car's saved my Please, Seb, can we have more life quite a few
All eyes might be on the battle between Mercedes and Red Bull, but another intriguing struggle is developing just behind the front-runners – the one between Ferrari and McLaren.
McLaren driver Lando Norris has simply been magnificent in the three races so far. At Bahrain he placed fourth, at Imola he secured a podium finish and last weekend at Portimao, he was fifth. He is in excellent form right now. Just behind him, and in touching distance, are the Scuderia of Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz. 2020 is properly behind the Prancing Horse, and they are showing improvement with every race.
Last week, Sebastian Vettel was in a real pickle, and while this weekend his position is much improved, he will need to be on point again. At Portimao, Vettel seemed to have found some footing in his Aston Martin as he secured a Q3 appearance and 10th on the grid. It was an important milestone, and even though he would eventually finish 13th on Sunday, it showed that he can still eke out the best from what is at the moment a sluggish mid-field contender.
At the moment Lance Stroll – surprise, surprise – looks like the preferred driver, with the team owner's son receiving all of the updates to the RP21. The team says it is because they don't have enough time to upgrade both, but conspiracy theories persist that the team is working against Vettel. The German will need to put any such thoughts into his subconscious, and another ameliorate performance will surely do the trick.
Verstappen must attack at max speed
After a brilliant and flawless performance in Portugal, Hamilton goes into the Spanish GP as the favourite, no doubt about it. He ain’t a seven-time world champion for nothing, and he showed why that is fact in Portimao.
But, and it is a big but, Red Bull are undoubtedly the fastest car over a single lap. Max Verstappen showed it in Portugal – he was the quickest in qualifying, and the quickest in the race. Yes, he fluffed it up by overstepping the track-limits, but it does not change this salient point. Moreover, Catalunya is known for its aerodynamic demands, and the advantage of having a set-up that is favourable to downforce.
And guess what? – That is how Red Bull rolls, while Mercedes had slight problems in that department during pre-season. It looks like Toto Wolff has somehow engineered a solution to that particular problem, but it is possible that Catalunya could expose it once again.
And that concern: La Caixa la nerfed
Strangely, Turn 10 La Caixa has been modified for this weekend's race due to safety concerns. Catalunya is already known for the difficulty in overtaking, and counter-intuitively, the FIA has decided to make it even harder.
Previously, Turn 10 was one of the few places where overtaking could occur. It was a hard-braking corner off of the track's second DRS-zone and mini-straight, making it possible for drivers to pass their rivals. That is no longer the case, instead drivers will be welcomed with a more flowing bend – like Catalunya really needs that sort of press …