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Round 5 Preview - Spain 11-13 May 2012

Barcelona - 2011 Results

Pole Position:

Mark Webber (Red Bull Renault); 1:20.981 = 206.937 km/h

1st: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Renault) 1:39.03.301

2nd: Lewis Hamilton (McLaren Mercedes)

3rd: Jenson Button (McLaren Mercedes)

Fastest Lap:

Hamilton, 1:26.727 = 193.227 km/h on Lap 52

Does familiarity breed contempt?

The Circuit de Catalunya has not only been a GP venue since 1991 – this will be the 22nd race there – but most of the current drivers have driven countless laps there in testing. Maybe not for much longer: as cash problems sweep Europe, Spain is one country looking at a time-share option, either with two circuits alternating as in Germany, or even by staging a Spanish GP only in alternate years as it seems France will do from 2013.

Speaking of testing, Mugello has recently staged the first in-season F1 test since 2008. Australia’s Mark Webber lent enthusiastic support to the Italian venue, which is between Florence and Rome. “I have to say this is a fantastic track,” Mark said after his first session there. “It’s very challenging for the driver and very quick. I don’t know if we’ll ever race here in the future, you never know, but to see the crowd here today was very special. A lot of people came to watch and that’s great.”

“This is traditionally a time when teams introduce new parts, and with the competition now being closer than it has ever been before, understanding how the tyres interact with the latest car developments will be key to establishing an advantage,” said Pirelli’s Paul Hembery at Mugello. Webber’s Red Bull teammate Sebastian Vettel set the fastest lap overall.

Missing from Mugello was the HRT team, which chose instead to complete its move to a new Madrid base ahead of its home race. “It’s the first Grand Prix we travel to after having moved into our new headquarters, starting a great new chapter in the history of the team,” says team principal Luis Perez-Sala. For driver Pedro de la Rosa it will be the race of 2012: “We’re playing at home in front of the best fans in the world. We’re looking forward to it and it’s something historic so I’m going to enjoy it as much as possible”.

Staying down the back end of the field, the vastly experienced Heikki Kovalainen sums Barcelona up nicely: “Barcelona’s a good circuit where the main challenge is to nail everything absolutely perfectly,” says the one-time McLaren winner now with Caterham. “ It’s a track with a lot of high-speed corners, some where you have to be really on it to save time, and you have to be pretty committed going into the braking zone in T1 as that's where there is an overtaking chance.”

Webber also weighed into the debate on Pirelli’s 2012 tyres ignited by Michael Schumacher’s criticism of their excessive degradation and its effect on this year’s racing. “Everybody has the same stuff to deal with, so you have to get on with it,” says the down-to-earth Australian. “We would all love quicker lap times and extremely consistent tyres like we did in the old days, but that wasn’t the most exciting thing for the racing. Trying to find somewhere in the middle is always hard but at the moment we have a pretty good show for the crowd.”

As Sauber’s Head of Track Engineering Giampaolo Dall’Ara observes, “It's the first time this year that there are two steps between the tyre compounds, which makes it interesting. We expect the soft one to be good in qualifying, while the hard compound should be strong in the race. The limiting factor is the wear on the front axle. However, at the same time the track characteristics stress the rear tyres, therefore the challenge will be to find the best compromise for the set-up of the car.”

In the previous 21 years the current ‘engine war’ between Ferrari, Renault and Mercedes has been well reflected at the Circuit de Catalunya. The first five World Championship races staged there were won by Renault-powered cars, and Renault now totals nine victories; Ferrari has seven; and Mercedes five to date.

While Michael Schumacher has excelled there with seven wins, no fewer than seven drivers in the current field – Schuey himself, Raikkonen, Alonso, Massa, Button, Webber and Vettel – have already enjoyed success at the Spanish track. Webber has also been on pole for this race in each of the last two seasons. But last year he finished… fourth, his default position in the four 2012 races so far!

Last word about Webber: once again the F1 rumour mill is linking him with a one-season drive for Ferrari, as partner to his good friend Fernando Alonso as an interim measure while Ferrari wait for Sergio Perez to acquire more F1 experience. Will the goss motivate Mark to excel again at Fernando’s home track?

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