Featured Image by Mutari on Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain)
The Portuguese Grand Prix, held a week ago, saw Lewis Hamilton & Mercedes emerge victorious once more, extending their leads in the Drivers’ & Constructors’ championship. Max Verstappen finished 2nd, with Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas rounding out the podium.
This weekend, we find ourselves at the Circuit De Barcelona-Catalunya. Coming into Spain, the top 3 in the Drivers’ Standings are: Lewis Hamilton (69 Points), Max Verstappen (61 Points) and Lando Norris (37 Points). The top 3 in the Constructors’ are Mercedes (101 Points), Red Bull (83 Points) and McLaren (53 Points).
Ahead of the first on-track action later today, we have compiled a list of things to look out for, as the weekend unfolds.
The Circuit – Circuit De Barcelona-Catalunya
The Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, simply referred to as Catalunya, serves as the venue for this weekend’s race. Located in Montmeló, Catalonia, the track opened in 1991, hosting it’s first Spanish Grand Prix in the same year.
The track features a total of 5 major layouts, of varying lengths. These include the Grand Prix Circuit, Motorcycle Grand Prix Circuit, National Circuit, Motorcycle National Circuit, and the Club Circuit. Formula One will use the Grand Prix circuit for this weekend.
With a mixture of straights and fast corners, the Grand Prix Circuit is considered to be a balanced circuit, placing emphasis on several key aspects of the car. Across the years, the Grand Prix Circuit has undergone several layout changes. The first came in 1995, with the bypassing of the high-speed Nissan Chicane, following the introduction of the back straight. The layout would see no changes for nearly a decade, until 2004 saw Turn 10 (La Caixa) tightened from a sweeping corner, into a hairpin. The next change came in 2007, with the installation of a clumsy chicane ahead of the penultimate corner.
For the 2021 racing season, La Caixa has been reprofiled once more, restored into a sweeping corner. As Formula One has never run on the reprofiled circuit, the lap record stands at 1:35.797, set by Roman Rusinov in the Aurus 01 LMP2.
Things to Watch:
How will changes to the circuit affect overtaking? If anything, it’s a hard question to answer.
The reason for the reprofiling of Turn 10 in 2004, was to create an overtaking opportunity. This time, the reprofiling was done for safety reasons. Speaking to the media, drivers have expressed differing viewpoints on the topic of overtaking with the track changes.
Some drivers, in particular, Lando Norris and Charles Leclerc expressed concerns that the track had lost an overtaking point. Others approached the topic with caution, remaining neutral on the topic, with Carlos Sainz Jr and Valtteri Bottas falling into the category.
In contrast, Pierre Gasly was more positive, stating that more racing lines were available for drivers, which could create overtaking opportunities. Whereas Fernando Alonso expressed doubt there would be any impact on overtaking at the track.
Mercedes v Red Bull
Barring any exceptional circumstances, no other team apart from Mercedes & Red Bull appear likely to win at Portimao. As of the Portuguese Grand Prix, Mercedes has taken 2 wins, while Red Bull has taken 1. Between the two teams, both appear to be equally matched, with . Despite this, Red Bull trail Mercedes in the standings by nearly 20 points.
At this juncture, Red Bull has still failed to pull off a clean weekend, and there is a rightfully growing concern that it could cost them both championships. Prior to the Portuguese Grand Prix, the gap between Red Bull & Mercedes stood at 7 points. Following the Portuguese Grand Prix, this gap has widened to 18 points.
Before this gap begins growing into a chasm, Red Bull need to maximise the points scored on every race weekend. Both cars will need to deliver on both Saturday and Sunday. Last weekend was a perfect demonstration of how a front-row lockout is vital to either team, after Verstappen made a good start, only to be cut-off by Hamilton, preventing him from battling Bottas for the lead.
The Battle for Third in the Constructors
Behind Mercedes and Red Bull, Ferrari and Red Bull sit in the background, locked in a battle for third. . As of the Portuguese Grand Prix, McLaren has 53 points, while Ferrari trails closely with 42 points.
Based on performances shown in testing, and at the rounds so far, both teams look to be definite contenders for the “best of the rest”. Both teams have carved out a significant gap to the rest of the midfield, with Ferrari having a 29 point lead over Alpine.
McLaren’s strong form showed that the car had seemingly lost no pace despite the numerous changes necessitated by switching to Mercedes power. At Ferrari, the engine team appears to have successfully clawed back the power losses that led to the 2020 struggles at power tracks. On the chassis side, the SF21 also appears to be a step forward compared to its predecessor.
The Battle for Fifth in the Constructors
Further behind Ferrari and McLaren, are Alpine and AlphaTauri, who are locked in a fight for 5th. Alpine had a slow start to the season in Bahrain, but an update package was introduced at Imola. At Imola, the package had limited effect, but in Portimao, both Alpines shined. With a double points finish, it was sufficient to leapfrog AlphaTauri to take 5th in the standings. With its wind-tunnel issues recently resolved, there is renewed hope that Alpine can continue to improve and potentially bring the fight to Ferrari and McLaren.
On the opposite spectrum of Alpine, is AlphaTauri. A team that started the season strong, but have seemingly struggled to produce results. In both Qualifying and the race, AlphaTauri has demonstrated strong pace. Especially in Qualifying. However, come race day, AlphaTauri has seen trouble each weekend thus far. Mirroring the struggles faced by sister team Red Bull, but to a greater magnitude. Such is the struggle the team faces, that the team is in no position to be fighting for 3rd, despite having a car that is capable of doing so.