George Russell, Mercedes, Circuit de Catalunya, 2022

Does anyone have a ‘killer upgrade’ for Catalunya? Spanish GP talking points

2022 Spanish Grand Prix

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After a brief excursion across the Atlantic, Formula 1 returns to Europe for the Spanish Grand Prix and the traditional start of the ‘European’ phase of the championship.

With so many upgrades expected this weekend up and down the paddock and a direct comparison for teams to make to the first pre-season test in February, this weekend could be the most enlightening of the season so far in terms of how the rest of the year may pan out.

Here are the talking points for the 2022 Spanish Grand Prix.

How will upgrades affect the order?

For many years, the Spanish Grand Prix acted as a major milestone in the annual car development race that is so critical in Formula 1. As one of the earliest European races of the season, often the first, Barcelona was the most cost-effective early-season event for teams to introduce major upgrade packages forged by applying the knowledge learned over first few rounds of the year.

This year will be no different, with many teams having already confirmed they will be running upgrades to their cars during this weekend’s event. Alpine will be applying upgrades to their car after introducing a revised floor in recent rounds, while Aston Martin team principal Mike Krack has previously stated that the team will introduce upgrades to their car around the Spanish Grand Prix.

For Mercedes the race offers an opportunity to benchmark the radical ‘zero’ sidepods with the more conventional design they ran at this track for the first pre-season test. Will that shed more light on the porpoising problems which have vexed them ever since? Could they even contemplate a ‘downgrade’ back to the original specification?

This weekend is also a vital one in terms of data collection, as teams will be able to directly correlate data directly against the three days of running their completed at the opening pre-season test. While the first test was far more about understanding the basics about the all-new cars and troubleshooting reliability issues than it was about actual car performance, it will be intriguing to see how rapid the rate of development on these new cars has been since February and what the difference in lap times are this weekend.

Can Verstappen and Red Bull claim a hat trick?

The Miami Grand Prix broke the streak of Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen trading wins in the early phase of the season, Verstappen claiming a second successive victory around the temporary circuit.

The pair have been virtually inseparable on track so far this season, fighting wheel-to-wheel at almost every race weekend in this young championship. However, Ferrari will have reason to feel a little nervous heading to Barcelona after two races in a row where Verstappen appeared to have the superior pace over Leclerc.

Two main factors have separated the Red Bull RB18 from the Ferrari F1-75 over the last two rounds. The first being the Red Bull’s superior top speed.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Miami International Autodrome, 2022
Verstappen has won two in a row
In both Imola and Miami, Verstappen and Sergio Perez’s maximum velocities through the speed trap on Sunday were faster than Leclerc and Carlos Sainz Jnr’s. And it’s not just an advantage for Red Bull in qualifying: it also has helped Verstappen to pass Leclerc with the use of DRS twice in the last two race weekends – the sprint race in Imola and the grand prix in Miami.

For Ferrari, the bigger concern is their tyre graining problems. Over the last two rounds, Leclerc has been come away from being beaten by Verstappen pointing to tyre graining as a major factor for why the Ferrari has been unable to keep the Red Bull behind it once it found itself ahead. Heading to a track that the drivers all know best in the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, putting what Ferrari learned from testing into practice will be vital if they want to keep Verstappen from a hat trick of wins.

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Can Russell keep his top five run going?

George Russell, Mercedes, Miami International Autodrome, 2022
Russell has finished fifth or better every race
One of the most fascinating storylines heading into the 2022 season was the arrival of George Russell at Mercedes and how the young driver would fare at the front of the field after three seasons struggling to score points in a Williams.

Few may have predicted however that five races in, Russell would be sitting 23 points ahead of his seven-time world champion team mate, Lewis Hamilton, in the drivers’ championship. A fete achieved in large part due to Russell’s unbroken record of finishing in the top five of every race so far this season.

While Mercedes have been totally unable to challenge their rivals ahead of them so far due to the extreme porpoising and lack of overall cornering performance by comparison, Russell has still managed to be the first car over the finish line that isn’t a Red Bull or a Ferrari at three of the first five races of the season – beaten only by his team mate in Bahrain and Lando Norris in Imola. A fortunate Safety Car may have had a big part to play in his fifth-place finish in Miami, but Russell has constantly put himself in positions to take advantage of problems for cars ahead or when a Safety Car offers him an advantageous pit stop.

As Mercedes continue to try and figure out a solution to their performance deficit, having Russell continue his streak in Spain will go a long way to limiting the damage in the constructors’ championship.

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Will Alonso enjoy a change of luck?

Fernando Alonso, Alpine, Miami International Autodrome, 2022
Alonso’s two points from Bahrain are all he has
If Russell has arguably scored more points than many would have expected given his car, than Fernando Alonso amassing a total of only two points after five rounds feels almost too low to believe.

After a ninth-place finish in the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix earned him two points to kick of the year, Alonso was running in seventh in Saudi Arabia when his car overheated suddenly and forced him into a slowdown mode that would ultimately lead to his retirement. He looked on course for a top five grid slot in Australia before hydraulic failure sent him into a gravel trap and ruined his race weekend. Contact with Mick Schumacher in Imola effectively ended his race within second of the start.

What happened in Miami was ultimately down to Alonso himself. After a strong start, Alonso struggled to find a way by Pierre Gasly until ultimately clattering into the AlphaTauri driver in a clumsy move at turn one, earning him a five second time penalty, which Alonso later accepted was justified. Then, he missed the chicane at the back end of the circuit twice in the final five laps, earning another five second penalty to demote him out of the points.

Alonso therefore returns to his home Grand Prix with a full crowd in attendance for the first time since his comeback to the sport – surely the perfect setting for him to finally achieve the strong finish he has probably deserved so far in 2022. And with team principal Otmar Szafnauer having confirmed more upgrades for Alpine this weekend, he may have as good a chance as any this season.

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Will new ground effect cars pass their biggest test yet?

Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren, Circuit de Catalunya, 2022
Will we see more overtaking at Barcelona?
The years of behind-the-scenes development work put into perfecting 2022’s technical regulations ahead of this new iteration of Formula 1 were likely done with circuits like Barcelona very much in mind. After four rounds, of which three were held at “street” circuits and one rain-affected race at Imola, this weekend will be the first at a conventional permanent circuit since the opening round in Bahrain.

While a popular enough circuit with drivers in terms of its variety of corners mixing long, sustained turns, long straights and a slow speed final sector, Catalunya has rarely been among the most exciting of racing venues in Formula 1, mainly due to the dirty air effect making it very challenging for drivers to follow rivals closely enough to take advantage of the various overtaking opportunities that other forms of racing seem to exploit.

The fiddly chicane in sector three may remain, serving to stretch cars out just before the round the final corner and onto the longest straight on the circuit, but with drivers having been vocal about their ability to run closer to cars ahead in the opening races so far, this weekend could prove a striking test of the new cars and whether they truly are more conductive to overtaking and good racing like Formula 1 hoped they would be.

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Are you going to the Spanish Grand Prix?

If you’re heading to Spain for this weekend’s race, we want to hear from you:

Who do you think will be the team to beat in the Spanish Grand Prix? Have your say below.

And don’t forget to enter your predictions for this weekend’s race. You can edit your predictions until the start of qualifying:

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Author information

Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...

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21 comments on “Does anyone have a ‘killer upgrade’ for Catalunya? Spanish GP talking points”

  1. I’m still sure Merc is going to beat Ferrari.

    1. If Nick Chester comes to Mercedes soon enough I think so.

    2. Look out for the killer downgrade. Or old sidepod one side, new one the other.

  2. This race will be crucial in the development race between Ferrari and RB. If the RB is fast at Barcelona as well, then they are in a great position in the championship fight.

    I’m also curious to see how the Mercedes will perform around here. While this circuit should suit their package more than the previous rounds did, I don’t expect a big step forward from them, as Ferrari, RB and also Alfa Romeo announced upgrades for this weekend. Mercedes might again find themselves fighting with Bottas for best of the rest, but let’s see what happens.

    I doubt Max will be able to win this race, at least not on pure pace. The long corners at Bareclona should highlight the strengths of the Ferrari, which has got overall more downforce. I would be amazed if Ferrari don’t finish 1-2 on Sunday.

    1. @srga91 I have a different take in that I think this race will be crucial from a development standpoint for sure, but there will be more developments to come throughout the season, so Spain is not going to write anything in stone.

      I’ve read that Mercedes still don’t understand their car. I’ve read that Ferrari will be bringing upgrades to Spain that will involve the floor and the rear diffuser. I’m sure they’re looking for weight savings too. I’ve also read that RBR have no small number of upgrades for Spain, and yet an even more major set of changes for Silverstone.

      Rumours that were swirling (the quotes I read were from Binotto) that RBR have already spent 75% of their development budget have been shot down and it may be closer to less than 18% of their development budget that has been spent so far as they have not done expensive changes but rather mostly bodywork changes including a 4 kg lighter floor about a month ago.

      I’ve read that RBR is continuing to shed weight and get much closer to the 798 kg minimum and may have removed up to 7kg more for Spain. If so that’s a lot of speed gain right there. There’s also floor leading edge work, and rear wing and diffuser work as they look to get even less draggy at speed.

      I see no reason why Barcelona has to be a Ferrari stronghold and that RBR will be relegated to 3-4 at best, and I will certainly at a minimum be surprised if Sainz beats Max ala your Ferrari 1-2 prediction. Rather I think it should still be a CL/MV race and my money is on Max/RBR/Newey.

      1. It will also depend on Ferrari getting on top of their graining. If not, Max will be there.

      2. Hiland (@flyingferrarim)
        17th May 2022, 13:38

        I’m willing to bet RBR is some where in between the 75% and 18% spent range. None the less, weight savings cost’s a lot of money. It’s not an easy/cheap task to shred weight as it usually means redesign and use of more expensive materials. RBR and Merc have been the main two teams throwing regular updates on their cars and those two are most likely the biggest spenders thus far. Ferrari seems to have a plan and looks as if they are not going to be reactive and stick to their plan. So we will see which method works best. I think RBRs method is a little safer in the sense they can try some things and see what works where as Ferrari if it doesn’t work, it will be a massive blow. So whatever Ferrari brings, it better work for their sake.

        1. @flyingferrarim Fair comment. Who knows how much each team has actually spent of the development part of their budgets, and I’m sure teams have plans and a way to keep some of that money in reserve in case it is needed nearer the end of the season. For sure I agree weight reducing can be expensive, but I am sure if done in a prudent manner it is well worth the money as one would think that even if a car was very problematic, at least being a bit lighter can never hurt.

          I wonder if no team has really spent all that much yet since they have all been learning about their cars and wanting to really confirm what their next moves should be given that they can’t just throw a bunch of money at it and try 5 iterations of something to see which is best.

          Going to be so interesting to see what shakes out from this weekend. Ferrari with what I am envisioning will be their first ‘major’ upgrades, RBR with a continuation of their development with no small number of things tackled and word of an even more ‘major’ set of changes for Silverstone, again from what I have read from one source.

          And I continue to read mainly Mercedes is nowhere with their car and I just don’t believe there is some magic in what they have that they just haven’t found a way to unleash yet. That all sounds to me like trying to make a dog of a car sound like some hidden gem for the sake of softening the blow. To me if there was a gem in there they’d have already found some clues as to where it’s buried.

    2. I can’t agree with being amazed if ferrari don’t finish 1-2, as long as reliability is fine I don’t see how you can expect sainz to beat an unhampered verstappen.

  3. Ground effect or not, Spain is ultimately still going to be Spain. Even before overtaking became a thing you needed DRS for, the track was notorious for being hard to overtake at. I doubt much will change in that regard.

    But ultimately, it’ll still see the same results from the switch to ground effect that we’ve already been proven to see. Closer racing will still be a thing, here as well.

    1. Yes, remember schumacher being stuck behind villeneuve for a long time in 1999 when villeneuve was driving the bar.

    2. I have a feeling it will be more exciting going around turn 3, with a slightly better opportunity to overtake in turn 4. Same with the 2nd DRS section. Might see a few more overtakes there. If anything, I think this year we might see the most exciting racing you can expect on a dull circuit like Catalunya.

  4. How will upgrades affect the order? – Envisioning is difficult, but this event certainly is vital for the remaining season’s competitive order. In the championship battles, whichever one, RBR or Ferrari is faster in Montmelo, will be in a good position on this front.

    Can Verstappen and Red Bull claim a hat trick? – Yes.

    Can Russell keep his top five run going? – Yes.

    Will Alonso enjoy a change of luck? – Hopefully.

    Will new ground effect cars pass their biggest test yet? – Hopefully, although since following proved easier pretty much from the get-go in testing, the same should equally be the case in the Spanish GP, but overtaking is a slightly different matter.

  5. The Dolphins
    16th May 2022, 14:43

    Given the new regulations and the different approaches many teams have chosen, this weekend will be the test of the engineers more so than the drivers.
    – Which team will bring the most upgrades?
    – Which will bring the “killer upgrade” as Will puts it?
    – Which team(s) will bring nothing and is that indicative of their pre-season aero time spent or a sign of the budget cap imposing a limit on their development?

  6. “After four rounds, of which three were held at “street” circuits”

    Indeed. Those circuits are not streets. They are normal, conventional racing circuits, with the only difference being the close barrier arrangement rather than with large run-offs. We could call them “city tracks” or “close barrier tracks”. Monaco and Baku are actual streets tracks.
    This being said, Montmelo doesn’t offer anything new, well apart from its peculiar nature that has always made overtaking harder than everywhere else.

    1. Albert Park is an honest to god partial street track, part of the circuit is a park road open to public.

      1. then spa used to be a street track too in the recent past.
        Thee were parts of the circuit open as a normal road. Not sure when that changed though.

  7. Otmar Szafnauer having confirmed more upgrades for Alpine this weekend

    I bet that even if other teams stay with their current specs, Alpine will still manage to look horrible on race pace and mediocre in qualifying with their meaningless upgrades. Probably, they will stop developing this car after another failure this week and focus on next year… only to build another mediocre car, of course.

    PS: I really hope they’re going to sell the team in a couple of years and never come back. And I also hope that the new management will finally find some better minds to build an F1 car.

    1. Yes, they seem to be regularly disappointing, which is a shame for alonso, he didn’t really have a good car since 2012, and even that had several faster cars.

    2. To be honest.. I expect nothing from Alpine. So, when they are actually battling in the midfield, it comes as a massive surprise. I expected them to be battling Williams this season. The team’s a mess. No proper leadership, all ‘has been’ mediocre heads of departments, poor engineering resources, poor engine development capabilities, poor reliability, inconsistent performances ever since it re-entered the sport. I think Alonso should give Ocon a proper thrashing this year and then retire from the sport. This team is just as waste of everybody’s time. Shocking that even a constructor can perform so poorly.

  8. If RBR will brings upgrades every race, will be impossible to keep up with them. Like Binotto said hope FIA will keep track of the team spendings. Not sure if Barcelona is the track where Ferrari will unleash the extra horse power. Seems like Binotto its all smiles and not worried about it.

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