The results are misleading, we’ve no clear winner yet and there’s plenty of potential for further intrigue over the next couple of days. No, it’s not the British general election- it’s the 2010 Formula One season. Friday practice in Spain provided more stories and interest than a marginal seat going through its third recount- here’s how day one at the Circuit de Catalunya went. If you’ve missed the action check out the full results of practice here.
This morning’s session saw the return of Christian Klien to F1 action, with the Austrian joining Hispania for first practice today and beyond. He replaced Karun Chandhok in the Spanish team’s car and, tellingly, ended the morning session nearly half a second quicker than regular driver Bruno Senna, despite the fact the Austrian had never driven the car before today. That’s F1’s test ban in full-effect.
In that first session it was McLaren who set the pace, with Lewis Hamilton leading Jenson Button at the top of the timesheets. This isn’t the first time McLaren have been on top in practice and previous form suggests it wont translate in to qualifying pace, though a bit of rain would do them a massive favour.
Next up was Michael Schumacher- yes, Michael Schumacher- who had one of his best sessions of the year. Completing the top five were the Red Bulls of Webber and Vettel, both of whom will enter tomorrow’s qualifying session as favourites for pole. Ferrari had a quiet session, though they’ve not tended to chase times in practice this season. They’ve been evaluating a new rear-wing system this weekend and plenty of today’s running was geared towards coming to a decision on that.
Practice two was topped by Red Bull’s Sebastien Vettel, two tenths quicker than teammate Mark Webber. Red Bull to make it 5 poles out of 5? Don’t bet against it. A top aerodynamic package is key at the Circuit de Catalunya, and if anyone’s got one of them it’s Red Bull.
Next up was Schumacher- yes, Michael Schumacher, again- who really looks to have found his feet in the Mercedes. The upgrades on the car seem to be working in Michael’s favour- could we be about to see the Return of the King? Teammate Nico Rosberg ended up 7th, and the team will be hopeful of another haul of points this weekend.
After a quiet first session Ferrari were closer to the front this afternoon with Fernando Alonso 4th and Felipe Massa 8th. Don’t rule these guys out- Massa’s won here before and Alonso’s desire to claim victory at his home circuit will give him a few extra tenths in qualifying.
McLaren didn’t blaze a trail in practice 2, having done their quick laps in the morning, but were solid with Hamilton in 5th and Button 9th.
On to the stories of the day, and there are a few. Almost all of the teams have major upgrades this weekend. Red Bull and Mercedes have been particularly busy, both introducing a raft of changes, whilst Lotus are hoping to make up as much as 1.5 seconds per lap with their new package. It’s the Mercedes boys who’ve gone the most radical though- check out their unique looking shark fin double air box (below). The most controversial upgrade? Sebastien Vettel’s new hairdo, a high-maintenance affair that Mark Webber is bound poke fun at sometime this weekend.
The practice times suggest that, as expected, Red Bull are the men to beat in Spain. If it stays dry it’s very difficult to see anyone beating them on the track- technical issues would need to come in to play. McLaren, Mercedes and Ferrari all looked solid today, but an Adrian Newey-designed car at a circuit like this one simply has to be favourite.
Kubica did a good job for Renault again, 7th in the first session and 6th in the second. More points will be the aim of the game for him. Force India were solid too, running mid-pack times that should see Adrian Sutil line-up between 9th and 12th tomorrow.
Not a good day for Williams though. Having disappointed so far this season Rubens Barrichello suffered oil pressure woes in P1 whilst Nico Hulkenberg had what looked like an engine-related failure.
Hulkenberg then had an accident in the second session, getting very wide and losing the car through Campsa corner before spinning in to the barriers on the other side of the track. It’s going to be a tough weekend for Nico: Rubens will be running all the upgrades this weekend while he will be running with the same car the team have used all year.
A mixed bag for Sauber. There were gearbox problems for Pedro de la Rosa in session 1, limiting the local man to just 3 laps. However Kamui Kobayashi managed far more running, and was trading fastest laps with the frontrunners for a while. The second practice was better all round, with de la Rosa 11th and Kobayashi 13th. The team would probably bite your hand off if you offered them that for qualifying.
Speaking of taking a bite there was also some good news off the track, with Sauber confirming a sponsorship deal with Burger King. That’s right, the natural connection between Formula One cars and cholesterol ridden meat sandwiches has finally been realised. A Burger King spokesman said the deal spoke to the company’s commitment to ‘permanent innovation’, though how innovative you can be with a burger- a foodstuff that has changed little if at all since its creation- is lost on Badger.
Of the new teams Lotus’ development will be the most interesting to chart, with the revived legends looking to get amongst the established team as the season develops. Jarno Trulli was their quickest driver in practice 1, and told the team how he felt about the changes: “more together” was his highly technical assessment of the green machine. However the changes don’t seem to have brought Lotus any closer to the pack- there’s still work to do. Meanwhile Virgin have one car with a new, full-sized fuel tank- Lucas di Grassi misses out- whilst Hispania have made modest updates with more planned for the coming races.
So despite a good showing from McLaren this morning make no mistake: Red Bull are the team to beat here in Spain. It’ll take some doing, and the McLaren boys aside the man who looks most capable of making is Michael Schumacher. His impressive display will certainly have tongues wagging in the paddock.
From an entertainment point of view F1 fans might want to start doing their rain dances- Red Bull could well walk this one if it stays dry.