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IT’S RACE WEEK: 5 storylines we’re excited about ahead of the 2024 Spanish Grand Prix

Special Contributor

Chris Medland
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Fresh from a classic in Montreal, it’s time to return to Europe and for the season to gather some serious momentum. Five races in six weeks before we hit the summer break kick off with a triple-header that begins in Barcelona, where the competitive picture could be set to change once again.

Can anyone stick with Red Bull?

We focused on Red Bull’s struggles over the kerbs and bumps ahead of the last race in Canada, and while Max Verstappen took an excellent victory, he was pushed all the way in Montreal. In fact, at many stages of that weekend he did not have the quickest car, with a front row qualifying performance coming as a bit of a surprise.

READ MORE: Verstappen beats Norris to victory in thrilling wet/dry Canadian GP

The race was similar, with McLaren and Mercedes enjoying different phases of the Grand Prix where they set the pace, but it was Verstappen who triumphed to open up a significant championship lead once again.

Even before that result, rivals were talking up Red Bull’s likely performance when the European races resumed, with Barcelona a much more traditional circuit in the sense of a wide range of corners and far less need to attack the kerbs.

MONTREAL, QUEBEC - JUNE 09: Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (1) Oracle Red Bull

Fans were treated to an exciting battle at the front of the field last time out in Canada

Red Bull are expected to be far happier on the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya layout, but after being pushed so closely by Mercedes and McLaren in Canada, and beaten by Ferrari twice this season too, the real intrigue is on how big any advantage turns out to be.

If one of the teams from the chasing pack can challenge Red Bull once again, that’s going to be a brilliant sign for competitive racing throughout the rest of the season. But even if not, then the margin will be worth analysing after Red Bull started the year with such a big advantage in the opening few races – but it feels like the others are closing in.

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Ferrari’s response to Canada

Talk of a serious title fight was growing ahead of the last race in Montreal, with Ferrari expected to be competitive and at the time just 24 points adrift of Red Bull. While results can be fickle at times, the whole weekend was a struggle for the Scuderia, as they failed to reach Q3 with either car and then saw both Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz retire.

The mixed conditions and power unit problem suffered by Leclerc makes it tough to read whether Ferrari had truly understood what went wrong in qualifying in Canada. Team Principal Fred Vasseur said after the race he was confident there would be a stronger performance on Sunday, and Leclerc also said the car felt good in the corners, but there are unanswered questions heading to Spain.

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It’s the first real blip of Ferrari’s season after a consistent start to the year, and Barcelona provides the opportunity to prove that it was just a one-off, rather than the sign of a more inherent problem that needs addressing.

Upgrades arriving

The Spanish Grand Prix has traditionally seen a number of teams bringing major upgrade packages in the past, and while the cost cap has influenced the way they approach developments, there are multiple reasons it could be a busy weekend again on that front.

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Firstly, the location of the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya makes it logistically much easier to bring new parts. Manufacturing can be pushed right to the limit, with just a short flight from all of the factories to the track.

Although we’ve already had two races in Europe – Imola did see new parts brought but Monaco is less fancied due to the risk of damage – the paddock stays on the same continent throughout the European summer months from now on.

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F1 teams often bring big upgrade packages to the Barcelona track, which features all corner types

Barcelona also marks the first race of a triple-header – also including Austria and Great Britain – and is the start of five races in six weeks. That means if you bring an update to Spain, you will get significant value out of it in a short space of time.

And the track itself is a good all-round test of a car, with high-speed and medium-speed corners, putting an emphasis on aerodynamic performance and providing a reliable layout to analyse the impact of any new parts.

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Carlos Sainz’s future

The Spanish Grand Prix might be big for the teams in terms of new parts, but it doesn’t get much bigger in terms of interest than for the two Spaniards on the grid, in the form of Carlos Sainz and Fernando Alonso.

Some 23 years on from his debut home race, Alonso already knows where he is driving next season after signing a contract extension at Aston Martin. But for Sainz, his future is still up in the air.

MONTREAL, QUEBEC - JUNE 06: Carlos Sainz of Spain and Ferrari looks on in the Paddock during

There will be plenty of attention on Sainz during his home Grand Prix weekend

The main two options on the table for Sainz appear to be Kick Sauber – who will become Audi in 2026 – and Williams, with the latter pinning hopes on the 2026 power unit regulations helping them make a big step forward in competitiveness.

At the time of writing, Sainz has yet to sign with either team, and Alpine also remains an outside option that can’t be completely ruled out. While a home race would be a convenient time to announce his next move, Sainz is focused on making the decision he thinks will be best for his future, and if confirmation is not forthcoming in Barcelona then the choice he faces will certainly be a talking point.

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The Alpine dynamic rumbles on

I mentioned the unlikely (but not impossible) scenario of Sainz signing for Alpine, and he will be one of many interested observers when it comes to the dynamic between the team and their drivers Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly moving forward.

We already highlighted the situation ahead of Canada, as Monaco had seen an intra-team collision on the opening lap and Ocon squarely blamed for ignoring team instructions, but there was another twist in Montreal.

Top 10 Onboard Moments: 2024 Canadian Grand Prix

After losing a position to Daniel Ricciardo due to an energy management issue, Ocon was unhappy at being asked to move over for team mate Gasly in the closing laps of the race, but eventually did so with a little over a lap remaining. Gasly couldn’t get to Ricciardo in that time, but Alpine didn’t swap the positions back.

Ocon was furious after the race, saying he had been “too nice” and always followed instructions, but Alpine countered that it took too long for Ocon to follow the order and that cost Gasly his best chance of beating the RB. The presence of Nico Hulkenberg close behind Ocon was also given as a reason not to switch the drivers again at the end of the race.

READ MORE: Ocon unhappy with Alpine team orders in Canada as he loses out to Gasly

The disagreement only serves to keep the spotlight on the tension within the team, and with two closely-matched drivers, there’s every chance of similar scenarios in the future.

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