The Spanish Grand Prix Preview - day of reckoning for revised cars 07 May 2009
Friday in Spain could be the most important day yet of the 2009 season, as the European leg of the season kicks off. Most of the teams will be trying out heavily revised aerodynamic packages for the first time on track, thanks to the ban on testing since the series began in Australia back in March.
At Brawn, Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello will be desperate to know whether a significant update of their BGP001 - the first so far in a season that has seen them dominant - will keep them at the head of the field.
"The team had to make a tremendous effort simply to have two cars on the grid for the first race in Melbourne, said team principal Ross Brawn, and the success that we have achieved has been a well-deserved reward for all our staff for their hard work which has been supported by the commitment of our engine partner Mercedes-Benz. The short break which we have enjoyed since returning from Bahrain has enabled the whole team to regroup at our factory in Brackley and spend a little time reflecting upon our first four races.
"Jenson, Rubens and the team delivered a first class job to win the Bahrain Grand Prix which is the level of performance that we must sustain if we are to seriously challenge for the championships this year. The field has compressed considerably since the season-opening race in Australia and the performance margins at the front are now very tight indeed.
Whilst we have been away racing over the past few weeks, the factory has been working extremely hard on our upgrade package for the BGP 001 and we look forward to seeing the results of our development work on track in Barcelona this weekend."
Series leader Jenson Button remains cautiously optimistic.
Although the team only completed four days of testing at the Circuit de Catalunya in March this year, I know the track inside out and it feels very familiar to be heading back there for the start of the European season this weekend. You need to have a car with good downforce for a really quick lap there and we are fortunate that our car behaves so predictably which enables you to feel completely confident when committing to high-speed corners.
This can be a very difficult circuit for overtaking so you have to make the most of the run down to the first corner to capitalise on any opportunities at the start of the race. I visited the factory last week to join the team for a small celebration of our successes to date and catch up on the progress with our latest developments. We know that we have a real fight on our hands from here to maintain our lead in the championships but I am confident that we are well prepared for the challenges ahead."
Red Bull will have a big update, though it is not yet known how different the diffuser will be as the RB5s pull-rod rear suspension complicates the necessary repackaging.
Ferrari will have their first iteration of a two-tier diffuser, in a modified and lighter F60 which has other aero updates too. Felipe Massa is desperate to open up his points tally, while it is a year since Kimi Raikkonen last took a victory, here last May.
"At Barcelona in 2008 I had my best weekend with Ferrari: pole position, victory and fastest race lap, the Finn said. Since then I came very close several times, but for one reason or the other I could never make it."
McLaren wont have a major update. Our decision to introduce performance updates at each race rather than concentrate all our developments into a single upgrade package has helped us score some reasonable points in the opening flyaway races, explained team principal Martin Whitmarsh. With our rivals expected to introduce some more substantial improvements in Barcelona this weekend, we once again expect a fight to score points.
And while the high-downforce nature of the Circuit de Catalunya may show up some of MP4-24s shortcomings, everyone within the team remains confident and motivated that we can sustain the momentum we have gathered to push and close the gap to the front this weekend.
World champion Lewis Hamilton, looking for his first win since China last year, added: The schedule for the first four races was very tough for everyone, so going back to Europe almost feels like a fresh start. After such a positive performance in Bahrain, were fully aware that the characteristics of the Barcelona track wont suit our car so well.
In addition, we wont have the bigger upgrades of some of the other teams as we already introduced several new parts during the opening flyaways, so it will be interesting to see where we sit in the order. Nevertheless, the engineers are optimistic that our new diffuser and front wing will once again help us to make progress towards the front of the grid.
BMW Sauber wont be running their two-tier diffuser, but technical director Willy Rampf said: "We will be lining up with an extensive development package for the F1.09. The nose section, more deeply undercut sidepods and the rear wing are all totally new. Added to which, modifications have also been made to the front wing, engine cover and underbody. We expect these improvements to significantly reduce our lap times.
At Renault, Pat Symonds said he is happier with the way the R29 has been going of late, especially now that weve introduced the twin diffuser because the car was quite sensitive and difficult to set-up with the more conventional one. The car used to have a very small sweet spot in terms of set-up, which made it difficult for Fernando and Nelson to get the most from it.
I do believe that this has improved since weve fitted the new diffuser, but its still difficult to judge because we have been so limited with the amount of running weve done, especially in dry conditions. So we still have a lot to learn about the R29, but I do feel its becoming easier for us to get the most from the car.
The whole team is still pushing hard with development and the diffuser and floor that we brought to China was very much a first attempt and over the course of the year we will see several more versions, the first of which we hope to have in Barcelona. In addition, weve got new wheel fairings this weekend with quite a major design change to give us an increase in downforce, and a new rear wing.
This is, of course, Fernando Alonsos home race. Its always very special to race in Spain and Im lucky to have two races at home this year in Barcelona and Valencia, the former champion said. Seeing the support of the fans always gives me a boost and I just hope that I can make them happy and have a strong weekend. It will be difficult to fight for the podium, but hopefully we can qualify well and score some big points in the race.
Toyota and Williams also have some big aero changes, while down at Force India team boss Vijay Mallya confirmed that they wont be using KERS.
I was very pleased to see the clear improvement we demonstrated in Bahrain as a result of the new diffuser and aero upgrades, he said. This was only the first stage in development and for Barcelona we'll have yet more upgrades coming through based on the information we gained in Bahrain. We'll be running a driver-adjustable front wing flap and a further modification for the front wing.
We wont be running KERS in Spain. At the beginning of the year it was our provisional plan to introduce the system for the start of the European season, but we have decided to put the emphasis on aero development where we feel the greater gains can be found. As we've seen, many other teams are not running KERS so we do not feel we are at a disadvantage. We still plan to use it later in the season, but this will be reviewed after each race in line with the other work we have going on in the background.
The 4.655-kilometre Circuit de Catalunya features the very long pit straight and a variety of different corners which make chassis set-up a compromise. The track is pretty hard on tyres - especially the left front which does all the significant work - so Bridgestone are bringing their hard tyre for the first time this year, with the soft as the option.
For reference Raikkonen, who won last years Spanish Grand Prix, took pole position with a lap of 1m 21.813 s.