Friday, 25 April 2008

Spanish Grand Prix Preview

After three weeks of preparations and frantic testing the Formula One championship battle will recommence this weekend at the Circuit de Catalunya on the outskirts of Barcelona. Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa will go into the race as red hot favourites for the race victory after their dominant display in Bahrain. The key point of interest of the weekend may turn out to be seeing who is the team most capable of challenging Ferrari. McLaren took a real mauling last time out, not just at the hands of the Scuderia, but from BMW too. Will Hamilton and co be in a position to fight back, or will BMW again show the consistent pace that has seen them jump to the top of the Constructor's Championship table?

Whilst the tabloids and pundits worked themselves up into a frenzy over certain salacious allegations relating to the FIA President during the past few weeks, most teams spent vital time racking up the testing mileage in Barcelona. This first race of the European season traditionally sees the first major updates and revisions to the cars of every team, and we will see just who has been the most effective in the windtunnels and laboratories back home whilst the race teams had their fun globe-trotting.

As well as the usual fine-tuning of race and qualifying setups, several of the teams used the track time to trial some rather, erm, "interesting" aerodynamic updates. A wide variety of wings, sails and other more bizarre protuberances sprouted out of certain cars, most notably Renault's Red Bull-esque engine cover 'sail', Honda's nose-cone 'bunny ears', and Ferrari's hole in the front nose-cone. How many of these will make the race set-ups of the cars, and whether they will yield any significant performance gains remains to be seen, but at least they had F1 fans talking about something other than Max Mosley's sexual predilections for a while! It was pretty hard to ascertain who had made progress from the testing times alone as most teams also got to trial some Bridgestone slick tyres in anticipation of the 2009 rule changes, which threw the timing sheets on their head for much of the test days.

The other big story over the three week break was the continuing trials and tribulations of the Super Aguri outfit. As with the run up to the Australian Grand Prix they were seemed on the brink of collapsing before again being bailed out at the eleventh hour, this time by by Honda. Whether this will allow SA to come up with a long term strategy or merely provides a stay of execution remains to be seen. However, they are in Spain and ready to race, which is great news for all concerned as they are one of the most popular of all the teams, both within the paddock and with the F1 fans. Shame that there's not much hope for them out on track with Force India looking like they may have made a step forward away from the foot of the grid.

Lewis Hamilton needs a big weekend. He would be the first to admit that Bahrain was the worst weekend he has yet had in his young career in F1, and it came at exactly the wrong time with Ferrari and BMW both finding some great form. Incredibly, there have even been some people voicing their opinion that perhaps Hamilton isn't the real deal after all. Bizarre given the absolute masterclass he gave in Australia three races ago. Such is the fickle world of Formula One...

One thing's for sure, Hamilton will not be the most popular guy amongst the vocal Spanish crowd. The Spanish F1 fans seem to hold Hamilton personally responsible for the downfall of their hero Fernando Alonso last year, and show no signs of being willing to forgive and forget just yet. Unfortunately for them, it seems that there will be little to cheer in terms of home interest as Alonso's Renault seems to be well off the pace. He'll do well just to scrap his way to a points finish; any thoughts of victories or even podiums will be right at the back of his mind. Alonso himself has already begun to voice his obvious disquiet at the current state of play at Renault, seemingly issuing a "come and get me" plea to Ferrari, a plea that has been rejected in no uncertain terms by Ferrari's Luca di Montezemolo.

So finally all thoughts of prostitutes, spankings and insinuated Nazi overtones can be put to the back of people's minds for a few days at least, and we can (hopefully) have some great racing to talk about. Hallelujah.

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