With the prevalence of street circuits at the beginning of the season due to the cancellation of Imola, Barcelona will be the first traditional European circuit this season. As such, Barcelona will be a proving ground for many teams on the grid including Mercedes, Ferrari, and Alpine especially with the weather report indicating sunny conditions for most of the weekend with a 55% chance of rain on Sunday.
Each of these three teams brought upgrades that were initially to be introduced at Imola but were unfortunately pushed back to Monaco. Monte Carlo is not an ideal circuit to test new upgrades so the teams will be able to test their true potential at Barcelona. At this point, most teams will have a handle on their concepts and the true pecking order will become apparent at the Spanish Grand Prix (though it’s safe to say that Max Verstappen will likely win the race).
Mercedes and Their B-Spec Car
Mercedes performed well at Monaco but how much of that was due to the new upgrades isn’t known. Barcelona has been an ideal testing location for F1 before Bahrain became the pre-season host so it is hoped that Mercedes will gather the information required to start earning regular podiums.
Team principal, Toto Wolff, downplayed their potential pace when speaking to Channel 4.
“… we need to see whether it is going to be a good race [still] because some of the junior series are still struggling with overtaking there and couldn’t get close. For us, this [race] is a data collection exercise. We’re not going to be racing for World Championships so it’s really just about running [the car].”
What we can gather from this is that the expectation is to still be around third or fourth fastest on the grid, but if any opportunity arises they will take full advantage of that, especially if Ferrari drops the ball.
Speaking of which…
Ferrari’s Screaming Tyres
Tyre management has been a huge issue for many teams this season, but none more so than Ferrari. The changes made to the circuit by removing the chicane before the last corner thus creating a high-speed run through the newly named Turns 13 and 14, will only add stress to the tyres.
Ferrari driver, Charles Leclerc, told Motorsport.com, “I think the left front will be crying for the whole race. It’s the same for everybody, it’s going to be a big challenge I think in terms of setup, and also to try and help that left front as much as possible.
“I hope that with the new parts we bring, we will be good in terms of tyre management, because I expect this to be the main thing in Barcelona.”
The left front has been confirmed by most of the other teams as their primary concern in Barcelona. What will be interesting is whether the new parts Ferrari are bringing to Barcelona will actively improve their tyre management. If tyre management improves, Ferrari will have more strategic options come race day where they really struggle. Their pace on a good day is quicker than Mercedes, but they struggle against Alonso’ Aston Martin. If the drivers don’t have to worry as much about preserving their tyres they will be able to push harder and show some pace.
The problem is whether both drivers can take advantage of potential performance improvements. Carlos Sainz has struggled recently as the pressure begins to mount to deliver results. It will be his home race so he will be aiming to improve here, but he was quicker in Monaco than Leclerc, but he made too many errors. If Sainz can get it together, we may see a strong showing from Ferrari.
Alpine are Taking no Prisoners
Alpine struggled early on in the season, but the package they brought to Miami showed that there is some pace in the car. After Esteban Ocon’s podium in Monaco, the team are feeling so confident that Alpine sporting director, Alan Permane, has claimed the team will be ahead of Mercedes in Barcelona.
When asked by the media what Alpine expects in Barcelona, Permane responded, “More of the same, honestly. I don’t think this is a Monaco special car, it is just the upgrades we put on for Imola and also for here… the car is working well.
“I fully expect to be in front of Mercedes and with Ferrari at the next race. Max [Verstappen] is too far away, and when Checo [Perez] is on his game, he will be as well. Fernando [Alonso] is going to be very difficult but I don’t see why we can’t race with Ferrari and Mercedes, which we have done [in Monaco] and as we did in Miami as well.
“They were quicker than us ultimately, but we were in a race with them. That is where we are aiming for.”
“Monaco is, obviously, an outlier of a track,” continued Permane, “and while we’re happy to have done well here, we expect to do well in Barcelona… We’ve got another little upgrade coming there, as we will at most tracks, so that will go on and we’ll be able to measure a little bit more accurately where the car is.”
It certainly sounds like the development race is well and truly underway and whoever gets it right will likely take “Best of the Rest” for 2023.