Sainz is looking to wow at home and all eyes are on improvements – 5 storylines we’re excited about ahead of the 2022 Spanish Grand Prix
After a spectacular first race in Miami, we are crossing the Atlantic again for the traditional start of the European season, the Spanish Grand Prix. Heading to a familiar location, we take a look at some of the talking points that will be making the rounds in the Barcelona paddock.
1. The ebb and flow of the title fight
Who feels brave enough to choose which team will be the favorite heading into the next race weekend? Because I’m definitely not…
The championship battle has seen big swings in terms of competitiveness between Red Bull and Ferrari so far, and it nearly went through another one in the space of a weekend in Miami. Ferrari locked down the front row on Saturday after Max Verstappen’s mistake on his final qualifying lap, but it was the defending champion who was clearly fastest on the first stint of the race.
This proved crucial, as the two teams were very close afterwards, but Verstappen used his advantage to win and ensure he took victory in all races – including the F1 Sprint at Imola – which he completed this year.
However, Charles Leclerc pushed Verstappen hard on three of those four occasions and won the other two Grands Prix himself, with Melbourne perhaps the clearest advantage yet. Red Bull fought back strongly, but in testing in Barcelona it was Ferrari who quickly veered off the beaten track, and the order of competition between the two seems to fluctuate depending on the characteristics of each venue.
So far, it’s been a fight that has been anything but predictable.
2. Sainz in a winning car at home
Fernando Alonso has been a darling of the Spanish crowd for two decades, but Carlos Sainz enjoys his own level of support at Barcelona – and he could just step up a level this weekend.
Even in Renault and McLaren cars that were podium underdogs at best, Sainz had a full grandstand to support him in his home run. But this year he is in a car that is clearly capable of winning races.
Leclerc has won all two wins and three pole positions for Ferrari so far this year, but Sainz has been on the podium in every race he has finished and has come close to taking his first-ever pole on three occasions. It is therefore completely understandable that his home fans also dream of his first victory at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.
The flip side is that there were two races where Sainz didn’t see the checkered flag and that hurts his position in drivers championshipso not only would a first win be hugely popular, it could also prove crucial for any title hopefuls.
3. Mercedes hints at pace
It’s starting to feel like there could be a Mercedes section in each of these features this season, because the situation around the team is so fascinating.
On Friday in Miami, George Russell was quickest and Mercedes – by their own admission – looked a lot more competitive than they have ever been this year. This was helped by some upgrades and setup decisions in Miami, but when FP3 didn’t go as planned, going back to that Friday setup didn’t yield the same results.
And that’s what makes Mercedes so attractive right now. They clearly have a very fast car somewhere, and Miami’s practice pace has proven that beyond the team’s own comments. But they still don’t know how to extract that performance with any regularity, leaving them constantly in a fight for the best in others.
The longer this confusion continues, the less likely Mercedes is to be in contention for the championship. But with 18 races still to go, a quick turnaround could just put them back in the frame.
4. Bigger improvements for teams?
And it’s not just Mercedes who will have their eye on rapid progress and top results this season. All teams are still inquiring about their 2022 cars, given regulatory change which were introduced this year, and the pace of development is expected to be particularly large.
Barcelona has traditionally been a place where major upgrades are introduced, and although this has become less of a trend in recent years as some teams have been able to bring a steady stream of new parts to races, the introduction of the budget cap is likely to see a return to this approach for many.
One of the reasons why Spain experienced such a development was due to its proximity to the headquarters of the various teams, which made it easier to commit to getting the parts to the track on time. Additionally, the track is one they know extremely well, having tested there many times, giving the teams plenty of historical data to work with, as well as a clear comparison between their launch cars and the latest updates. .
5. A real test of the new regulations
This familiarity also hints at a feature that will help judge the success of the 2022 regulations.
The intention was to make it much easier for one car to follow another closely, by reducing the impact of “dirty air” – the disturbed airflow coming out of the car from head – a few car lengths away. This in turn was designed to improve racing, as riders could stay within striking distance without overheating their tires as easily, as they would maintain good levels of downforce.
So far this season we’ve seen plenty of exciting racing across the field, but Barcelona was historically a circuit where overtaking was particularly difficult. This is because all the data the teams have in testing gives them a clearer set-up direction, ensuring they are more likely to get the maximum performance out of their respective cars.
If a rider doesn’t struggle as much as a result, they’re less likely to make mistakes – and when you factor in the number of high-speed corners that require strong aerodynamic performance, in the past a major pace advantage was needed to attempt to overtake.
We may not see wide passing zones, but if the new rules work as expected, drivers will race more closely together, with greater potential for them to find a way to move.
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