The Circuit de Catalunya: home of the Spanish Grand Prix and the gateway to the European racing season. After a decade of victories from pole, Barcelona rarely offers much in the way of controversy, but this year hinted that change was in the air. F1 had come home with a burble of noise about the racing, and a few other things besides.
Thursday saw Fernando Alonso announce a new contract to keep him at Ferrari until the 22nd Century – or near enough.
“I always said it was my intention to end my career at Ferrari, as I felt at home here since day one. By the end of 2016, I will have been with Ferrari for seven years and maybe for 2017 I can sign another contract with Ferrari if I am not too old and if they are still happy with me!”
Fernando Alonso, Ferrari
It was put to Fernando that Nigel Mansell always thought the roar of the crowd at his home race was worth half a second.
“That might be a bit optimistic – but definitely a 10th.”
Meanwhile everyone was getting excited about the FIA’s decision to ban the blown diffuser, then postpone the ban, then accept a ban would mean having to disqualify most of the grid.
“It became apparent to us that what we thought was a fairly benign feature was turning into something that was being used, in our opinion, illegally – simply because an exhaust system is there for the purpose of exhausting gasses from the engine. When you’re off-throttle, it’s not doing that any more. Therefore it’s being used to influence the aerodynamic characteristics of the car.”
Charlie Whiting – race director and FIA technical delegate
“What’s the rule this hour? You don’t know? We don’t know either, it changes every hour. [A ban] will affect all the fast teams for sure. At the start of the week it was banned, today not. Another Technical Working Group meeting after Monaco… it’s out of our hands mate.”
Mark Webber, Red Bull Racing and director of the GPDA
The other question being asked was whether Webber, off the back of a better performance in Turkey, would be able to challenge Vettel, and if not, why not.
“What’s absolutely clear is that we were very, very, very even on the Bridgestone tyres, and it’s not quite like that on the Pirellis so far, particularly on new tyres. That’s not an excuse, I’m just answering the question. That’s the only thing that’s changed. It’s a big change for the drivers, obviously, to get used to that. Seb’s doing a good job and clearly it’s up to me to do better.”
Once on track, Mark Webber showed why he’s so fond of racing in Spain, topping the timesheets in both FP1 and FP2
“The car ran well today; we’ve still got some work to do, but it was one of our better Fridays. It’s the first time we’ve run the RB7 in Barcelona in these temperatures, so the team’s learned quite a lot. It’s always been a reasonable track for me here, with a good result last year, so I hope to keep that trend going.”
Pirelli were introducing their new, ‘super-hard’ hard compound. It was, apparently, quite hard.
“We said from the start that we would introduce evolutions of the tyres if we believed that they would benefit the sport. The new tyre – which we have tested extensively – reduces degradation and improves tyre wear…. It means there is a bigger gap between the soft and the hard tyre, which will definitely make things even more interesting on race day.”
Paul Hembery, motorsport director, Pirelli
“Yup, I can confirm they’re definitely quite hard.”
“They are significantly slower over one lap and during the long run too.”
Nick Heidfeld, Renault
“It’s difficult to switch on and hard to make last… it’s a disaster!
Lewis Hamilton, McLaren
Saturday morning saw Sebastian Vettel top of the timesheets despite only managing one flying lap due to technical gremlins
“It was nothing big; we had to fix the car a bit and I didn’t get too much of an impression. We planned some things to test but couldn’t do that, but, as I say, it was nothing big.”
But when it mattered, Webber hit back grabbing pole position and ending Seb’s run of five straight P1s. Vettel took second
“Seb did not have the smoothest of days – that can happen; I’ve had plenty of those and sometimes that’s the way it goes. We are both on the front row so great for the team. We can get very, very blasé with these type of performances but it is down to a lot of hard work from everyone at Milton Keynes and also Renault – endless effort from them as well at Viry.”
“Yeah, it was going to be between us and Mark did a better job today – but it’s a long race tomorrow.”
Hamilton was third, a second off the pace, and visibly shocked.
“That was as fast as it was going to go. But I did the best I could with it and the team, as always, did a great job getting us out in good gaps so I am looking forward, hopefully, to a good battle – at least for the first 100metres with the Red Bulls. After that with whoever is behind.”
Next to him was Fernando Alonso, dragging a bad Ferrari up onto the second row by sheer force of will, relegating McLaren’s Jenson Button to fifth.
“I did a perfect lap: I reckon that if I tried to repeat it 20 times, I could not do better! When you do a lap like that it’s hard to put into words what one feels: always being on the limit, in every corner is a really special feeling for a driver. Sure, pole position is still a long way off: Red Bull was once again out of reach.”
Webber had his now-traditional bad start, with Vettel to one side, Alonso to the other and was lucky to hang on to third through the first turn. Alonso led and the crowd rose in delight.
“I don’t think the start was hideous, but it looked like Fernando got a phenomenal one… I was a bit compromised [by Fernando] and obviously Seb got down the outside.”
The pack settled in behind the Ferrari, which adopted a tactic known as ‘slow, but wide’. The DRS wasn’t having much effect, so the passing was going to happen in the pitlane – fortunately most of the front runners did four stops.
“I don’t think his [Alonso’s] pace was very good in the race and basically he stayed in front because people couldn’t overtake.”
Vettel failed to get past Alonso after trying the undercut at his first stop, but made it stick with his second. Hamilton also squeezed through and was right on Vettel’s tail.
“In hindsight if you look at the race we were quite aggressive in order to get past. It didn’t work the first time, then the second time it did.”
Alonso managed to stay ahead of Webber, and the two were nose-to-tail for the best part of an hour. Button, recovering from a bad start, caught them both and, using a rare three-stopper, caught them both on the wrong tyre, and made a double pass to snatch third.
“We went for a different strategy to most people which worked very well. I had a lot of fun overtaking Mark and Fernando. They had been fighting for about 40 laps, I think, so to come up and overtake them within one lap and then pull away was a lot of fun.”
Jenson Button, McLaren
Hamilton tried everything to get past Vettel, but nothing worked. Vettel held on to the flag, and won by 0.6seconds. Button was a very happy third, Webber a miserable fourth, Alonso a brooding fifth.
“It was a lot of fun. Ten laps to go I thought my tyres were going off and with Lewis coming from behind, I could see a similar situation to China. But this time it was the other way around. So I’m extremely happy.”
“I think our raw speed was… we were faster. If I was able to get past I think I would have been able to pull away [but] I never had an opportunity to overtake. I’m thoroughly happy with the job we did. To be able to apply pressure to a Red Bull, considering the circumstances, is quite an achievement."
“We made the three-stop work. Two weeks ago it wasn’t the right call, but this week it was and it is good to get some nice points and also to have fought my way through. I really felt like I raced today.”
Webber finally passed Alonso to grab fourth, while Alonso faded and was lapped before finishing fifth.
“It goes to show you how fine the margins are when you’re off a little bit on strategy and can’t clear people at the right time. When that happens you get exposed. At certain stages I was quick; in others I wasn’t.”
“Being lapped hurts. It’s even more painful after seeing a driver of Fernando’s calibre putting on such a breathtaking display.... We need to provide him and Felipe (Massa) with a car with which they can fight all the way to the end.”
Stefano Domenicali, team principal, Ferrari
And so on we go North to Monaco and into Europe. Red Bull and Sebastian Vettel increased their leads in both championships, but maybe McLaren will be the happier team heading for the Riviera; the gap has definitely been closed. Meanwhile Ferrari have a lot of thinking to do. With thunderstorms forecast for Monte Carlo, it should be an interesting weekend.
- Download the Red Bull Racing podcast
- Six great F1 overtaking moves
- Jaime Alguersuari on the changes in F1
- More on the Spanish F1 Grand Prix at redbull.com
- Sebastian Vettel looks forward to the rest of the season