The Spanish Grand Prix Preview 11 May 2006
Tyre performance is likely to be the critical factor in this weekends Spanish Grand Prix at the Circuit de Catalunya. Thats certainly what Fernando Alonso is hoping as he prepares to race in front of his adoring countrymen.
Just after his defeat at the hands of Michael Schumacher, Ferrari and Bridgestone in Germany, the world champion said: I tried for two or three laps after Michael passed me following my second stop but our laps times were only similar, so after that turned revs down because of the need to race in Barcelona, where I must finish on the podium.
I was not at all disappointed to finish second in Germany, because we went there with some questions about how Ferrari were going to perform there, and we found ourselves not too competitive because we had some grip problems. In fact it was difficult to understand how we were on pole, and in the race we saw the normal picture. We need something more to win these days. It was only a question of time when they would come past us. We need to improve a little bit in all areas of the car. But in testing we have always been quick at Barcelona, and Michelin have always dominated there for the last two years, so I really look forward to winning that one.
It is not a surprise that Ferrari are fighting. I expect McLaren will arrive also. I am not worried at all about the championship. If Michelin are stronger than Bridgestone at the next two races, I think we will see different results.
Schumacher himself remains quietly confident, and that is when he is at his most dangerous. It is no surprise that we should expect to see Renault at the front, he said after his 86th career victory, but neither should we be surprised to see us there, too.
Things are now beginning to develop into a two-horse race, between Renault and Ferrari, with McLaren still running a little bit behind them and Honda now clearly struggling to keep up. Both RA106s will have fresh engines, and Jenson Button said: "It was a tough weekend at the Nurburgring so I'm looking ahead and focusing on Spain now. It's a circuit where you need to be strong aerodynamically and I think our car is good in that respect.
Further back, there isnt much to choose between Williams, Toyota, BMW Sauber and Red Bull, while Midland are improving and continue their chase after Toro Rosso, as Super Aguri focus merely on climbing their own learning curve.
Nobody has had any time to make significant changes to their cars for this race, but it is one where all of them come with plenty of useful data from the testing they have done at the Circuit de Catalunya so far this season. Some of them have done as much as 6000 kilometres of running there already. The track places low demands on brakes and engines (only 61 percent of the lap is at full throttle), but a premium on aerodynamic efficiency and good handling balance. In particular, it is important to preserve the left front tyre, though admittedly slightly less so now that race tyre stops are allowed again.
A switch in position between Renault and Ferrari, dependent on the respective performance of Bridgestone and Michelin, is not out of the question this weekend, but for a rival team to break up the red and blue party, it is likely to take something very special indeed.