Text size:

  • Small
  • Normal
  • Large
Lewis Hamilton takes his McLaren-Mercedes through a corner at the Circuit de Catalunya.
Lewis Hamilton takes his McLaren-Mercedes through a corner at the Circuit de Catalunya.
Lewis Hamilton takes his McLaren-Mercedes through a corner at the Circuit de Catalunya.

It's a whole new race game as upgraded cars rev up in Spain

After four grands prix away from the sport's European heartland, the development race has stepped up a gear.

It was once said that Formula One drivers were almost superfluous at the Circuit de Catalunya, so familiar were the cars with almost every contour. Located 20 kilometres north-east of Barcelona, the track has traditionally been a popular test venue - a detail that tended to limit the spectacle during race weekends.

Almost every team would turn up with its Spanish Grand Prix set-up optimised and few mysteries to unravel. The grid tended to reflect a pre-established hierarchy and races were generally processional. Fans recall iconic images of Nigel Mansell and Ayrton Senna tearing down the main straight, millimetres apart at 200mph, as they duelled for supremacy in Spain ... but that was 1991, during Catalunya's inaugural F1 race. Memorable moments of that kind have since been scarce.

Such details do not, however, dilute the challenge teams face this weekend. Testing restrictions mean the circuit is no longer as familiar as it used to be: the latest cars ran in Barcelona for four days in February, but they have evolved considerably in the interim. After four grands prix away from the sport's European heartland, the development race has stepped up a gear and an extra week off between events has given teams a chance to minimise the impact of the volcanic disruption that delayed return trips from China.

The consequence is a raft of upgrades for almost every team. Mercedes, for instance, have lengthened the wheelbase of the MGP W01 chassis, in a bid to improve the weight distribution and create a better handling balance - something the sport's former king Michael Schumacher has craved since the start of the campaign, when he returned from a three-year sabbatical. The German prefers a car with strong front-end bite, but so far he has been unable to find a set-up that suits him on this year's narrower front tyres. The team hope wheelbase alterations and a package of aerodynamic improvements will enable their talisman to recover his form of old.

The performance quest is not restricted to the higher-profile teams. Virgin, HRT and Lotus, all newcomers, expect to be a little closer to the pace in their maiden grand prix in Europe - although a protracted return from Shanghai left Virgin with time to produce only one revised chassis, which will be entrusted to Timo Glock. Mike Gascoyne, the Lotus technical director, is upbeat about his team's prospects. "Every team is bringing upgrades to Barcelona," he says, "but we started building our car relatively late and froze its initial specification very early in the design process, so we're hoping our changes will be more significant."

At the front, though, tyre wear is likely to be as decisive a factor as any technical upgrades. Barcelona's proliferation of long, fast corners will suit the Red Bulls' aerodynamic finesse, but they also put substantial loads through the tyres, a factor that favours the Ferraris' customary tenderness and gives Fernando Alonso an opportunity to win his home race for the second time. The Spanish GP used to be a quiet event, virtually bereft of spectators because the nation traditionally preferred two wheels to four. Alonso's emergence as Spain's first F1 champion has, however, helped to create one of the most vibrant events on the calendar.

After Shanghai, it's not just the cars that will feel a little different. sports@thenational.ae

Back to the top

More articles


Editor's Picks

 Al Rayyan's Yakubu Ayegbeni, left, tries to escape the attention of Jazira's Khamis Ismail. Karim Jaafar / AFP Photo

Late strike puts Al Jazira on verge of qualifying for the last 16 of Asian Champions League

All to play for across East Asia during final round of group phase.

 Manchester City's Vincent Kompany reacts after being sent off by referee Lee Mason during their English Premier League soccer match against Hull City at the KC stadium in Hull, northern England March 15, 2014. REUTERS/Nigel Roddis

Man City’s Manuel Pellegrini says Vincent Kompany is an important player

Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini defends team captain and talks about team's injuries ahead of clash with Sunderland at home on Wednesday night.

 Supporters of China during the Asian Cup Qualifier match between Iraq vs China at Sharjah football stadium in Sharjah. Iraq won the match by 3-1. Pawan Singh / The National

Asian Cup expanding to 24 football teams in 2019

As part of a regional shake-up, the 2019 Asian Cup will climb to 24 teams but next month’s Challenge Cup in the Maldives will be the last, the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) announced.

 Latifa Ali Al Shamsi of UAE fights compatriot Boshra Ghanem Al Zadjali in their 38.5kg match at the Junior World Jiu-Jitsu Championship. Christopher Pike / The National

Competitors at Abu Dhabi Junior World Jiu-Jitsu Championship target world domination

All of Wednesday’s winners at the tournament, being held in the UAE capital, are ambitious enough to target a black belt and reach the pinnacle of the sport, Amith Passela reports.

 Jacques Kallis top-scored with 72 for Kolkata Knight Riders against Mumbai Indians at Zayed Cricket Stadium in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday. Pawan Singh / The National

Kallis kicks off IPL 7 with fifty as Kolkata thrash Mumbai

South African legend shows class is permanent as Knight Riders beat defending champions by 41 runs. Osman Samiuddin reports from Abu Dhabi.

 Amir Khan, during a workout at the Gloves Community Centre on March 24, 2014 in Bolton, England, says his fight will be the real main event in Las Vegas on May 3. Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Amir Khan says bout with Luis Collazo ‘will steal the show’ in Las Vegas on May 3

British-Pakistani boxer Amir Khan says his fight with Luis Collazo will be the main attraction on same fight card led by Floyd Mayweather Jr and Marcos Maidana, writes Omar Al Raisi.

Events

To add your event to The National listings, click here

Get the most from The National