From the top two in the championship to the top tier to the potential for different strategies; and from a clearer picture of progress from Mercedes to Fernando Alonso with all that to go, we pick out some of the key areas to watch in Sunday’s Grand Prix at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya…
1. Title rivals in Turn 1
With a feeling of deja vu, the race towards the first corner promises to be very exciting for the second consecutive year in Barcelona, thanks to the composition of the front row.
READ MORE: Leclerc skips Q3 rotation to take pole in Spain as technical glitch sees Verstappen out
One of the two protagonists of the title is the same as 12 months ago, when Max Verstappen fought his way past the slightly faster Lewis Hamilton in Turn 1 and took the lead, putting on an exciting race. This time, Verstappen must do the same with Charles Leclerc, who starts from pole position for the fourth time this season.
Leclerc failed to convert his last pole victory in Miami, when the Red Bull proved faster in the first stint. But with a bit of uncertainty over the pace of the race, but on a hard-to-pass track, the struggle in Turn 1 could once again be crucial.
The driver coming out of the early corners will likely have a good advantage – although the cars are able to follow much closer this year – so it could be a more aggressive battle than usual once the lights are out.
Spain 2022 qualifying: Dominant Leclerc takes pole position in Barcelona
2. The strategic battle between Ferrari and Red Bull
Another thing we saw in a recent race at Barcelona is two different teams opting for different strategies which collide in the later stages of the race. Last year it was Hamilton who made two saves to claim victory, the strategy helping him pass one-stop Verstappen who had taken the lead at the start.
The potential for a similar scenario to happen again was quite high at the end of Friday’s race, when Ferrari were slightly concerned about their race pace, and in particular the amount of degradation they were experiencing compared to Red Bull.
READ MORE: Verstappen unsure if DRS issue cost him Spanish GP pole, as he seeks long-term pace to topple Leclerc
The concern was so great that Ferrari put in long runs in FP3 – unlike any other team on the grid – and it seemed to pay off with Leclerc saying “it’s like we’ve found something”.
Whether that’s enough to really fight Red Bull on the same strategy remains to be seen, but 2021 has shown that there are strategic options available that can succeed by making more pit stops, even if that results from higher level tire degradation.
3. Mercedes Pace
We’ve been referring to Mercedes’ pace all season because there’s always been this potential for the defending constructors’ champions to take a clear step forward – and that seems to have happened in Barcelona.
It’s not that the order of competition has changed drastically – in fact, the gap to pole position is only 0.1s less than it was in the race. opening in Bahrain – but George Russell’s fourth place in qualifying is the team’s best result of the season so far and their most competitive in terms of lap times too.
READ MORE: “It’s a big step”
More than that, however, the car feels more stable and the team’s rebound problem less severe, suggesting they are headed in the right direction. So far we’ve been used to seeing Mercedes maximizing race results, as evidenced by Russell’s consistent top-five results, but sometimes that came from modest qualifying places.
Now, with a place on the second row and a stronger package, we will see how much progress has been made in terms of race pace and whether Mercedes can put pressure on Ferrari and Red Bull over a longer distance.
4. Alonso with a mountain to climb
Home fans have been coming to Barcelona regularly to support Carlos Sainz in recent years, with Fernando Alonso taking a two-year break and the double world champion’s return in 2021 in front of an almost empty circuit due to COVID-19 restrictions.
This year they have come out strong with 110,000 expected on race day – but Alonso will have to produce something particularly special if he is to be the Spaniard to give them something to cheer on.
READ MORE: Alonso blames ‘misunderstanding’ with Alpine pit wall for Q1 exit after qualifying 17th at home
The Alpine driver thought he had little time to start his final lap in Q1, so he started directly behind Lando Norris, only to find he actually had plenty of time ahead of him, but by then, his race was ruined and he qualified 17th.
We pointed out that Esteban Ocon was out of position in Miami and the Frenchman duly moved up in the points, but the bad news for Alonso is that the Alpine don’t look as competitive this weekend, with his team-mate just 12th. . We’ve seen a lot of Alonso magic in the first round already, including in Spain, so don’t rule it out.
2022 Spanish GP qualifying: Traffic forces Alonso out in first quarter
5. Feel the heat
Can you monitor the heat? I’m not so sure… Anyway, the drivers will feel it on Sunday as the heat wave continues to hit Spain.
It’s been a hot weekend already and we’ve seen several issues that could be attributed to this, including Mick Schumacher’s right rear brakes catching fire and exploding as he returned to the pits in FP3, and the heat shield issue of Pierre Gasly who excluded him. of the final training session.
If these issues are a sign of the difficulties teams will face in the heat – including with tire life – then there could be more to come as it’s likely to get even hotter. Temperatures are expected to continue to climb on Sunday and reach 34C or even 35C, tough conditions anywhere F1 races.
At a track where overtaking and following have been notoriously difficult in the past, whether or not the race is tighter due to the new regulations, there could be reliability issues for the teams to deal with throughout the race. ‘afternoon.
HIGHLIGHTS: Watch qualifying action in Spain as Leclerc seals fourth pole of the season