Spaniard determined to give fans what they came for
For Fernando Alonso his home race is the most important of them all. He may have triumphed in three of the four opening rounds of the 2005 World Championship, but for the Spaniard this is the one he most wants to win. Michael Schumacher, for one, may have other ideas, however...
The San Marino Grand Prix saw Ferrari return to the form we have come to expect, with Schumacher shadowing Alonso all the way to the flag. The Spaniard reached it just 0.215s ahead of the German.
Renault, however, had reason not to be too perturbed by Ferraris newfound speed. Alonso was running his engine for the second consecutive race (indeed, it became the only two-time winning unit so far in this season of two-race engines), and the team had to detune it to ensure its reliability. The Spaniard also had a brake problem towards the end, so Renault believe they will be as competitive as ever at the Circuit de Catalunya.
Ferrari have been testing, testing, testing since Imola, and the Spanish venue has historically been kind to the world champions. Expect Schumacher to be as deadly as ever, and Rubens Barrichello to get his show back on the road after a couple of unfortunate outings.
It is hard to say what to expect from BAR, as the court in Paris will only make known its verdict Thursday afternoon on the subject of Jenson Buttons car being underweight without fuel when it was checked after the San Marino Grand Prix. The fallout from that controversy has cast a pall over what has been an excellent start to the new season, and it is possible that the team may even be excluded. If they are not, it will be interesting to see what effect, if any, the disruption has had on their level of performance. Certainly they were fast in testing in Mugello last week, where, if you believe some reports, Anthony Davidson allegedly set the fastest time using Hondas new two-litre V8.
In the excitement of the Alonso-Schumacher fight it was easy to overlook the fact that Kimi Raikkonen was walking the Imola race for McLaren after starting from pole position. Assuredly McLaren are overdue for a victory to back up the Finns success at Spa last year. The team will also have Juan Pablo Montoya back in harness, recuperated from his tennis injury sustained over Easter. Following tests in Woking and Madrid, the Colombian has been passed fit.
Im obviously pleased to get back behind the wheel again, Montoya said. Its been so frustrating for me to be a spectator and Im looking forward to the weekend. The Barcelona track is physically demanding because of all the fast corners but I have undergone an extensive rehabilitation programme to build up the muscles in my shoulder so I will be well prepared. The Circuit de Catalunya is a complete circuit in that it has a very long straight, quick sweeping corners, tight hairpins, elevation changes, so it keeps you focused all the time.
Appropriately enough in his homeland, Pedro de la Rosa will be the teams Friday test driver.
Toyota can also be expected to get back on to the form they showed prior to Imola, on the fast Spanish track. Like Williams, who need a lift, they will have revised aerodynamic packages in the search for greater performance. Sauber, meanwhile, have been honing their package which proved such a spectacular success in Imola, and are feeling quietly optimistic for a much stronger showing in Spain than in recent years.
Vitantonio Liuzzi will again partner David Coulthard, following his impressive debut in Italy (passing Michael Schumacher on the opening lap, setting seventh fastest race time only a hair slower than series leader Fernando Alonso). Liuzzi and Coulthard had what team boss Christian Horner describes as a valuable test in Jerez last week, and Liuzzi believes the characteristics of the Barcelona track will suit the Red Bull RB01 better than Imola did.
Both Jordan and Minardi also tested last week. Jordan sporting director Trevor Carlin was well pleased with test work with Bridgestone at Silverstone, which built on the excellent performance Narain Karthikeyan put up in Imola. Minardi, meanwhile, got more mileage on their new PS05, which had a technically troubled debut in Imola.
All of the teams know the Circuit de Catalunya well, since the majority have tested there already this year. It can be a tricky place as the temperature change from morning to afternoon requires them to keep chasing perfection as the temperature difference can affect a cars handling balance. There is also debate whether winter resurfacing will affect tyre wear, which was previously high on the old abrasive surface.
Coulthard believes that balance and tyre preservation will be key to strong performance, but Toyotas chief race engineer Dieter Gass says: The Circuit de Catalunya is an extremely well-rounded track which demands ultimate performance from each and every aspect of the car. It simply has to be quick over the entire lap, with more attention on high-speed corners than we have needed at the last few races. Because we can assess the overall package at Barcelona, it is used a lot for testing purposes.
However, the resurfacing will offer a new challenge to everyone, but the basic characteristics remain unchanged. It has had less of an effect on the car's behaviour than it has on tyre performance. Historically, Barcelona has been very demanding on the tyres with a high level of degradation, but now it does not seem to be anywhere near as bad."
The race will be held over 66 laps of the 4.627 km track, and starts at 1400 hours, two ahead of GMT.