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Aussie watch ahead of the F1® Spanish Grand Prix 2024

Matt Clayton
Thursday, 20 June 2024

There’s nowhere to hide at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, the track that routinely shows which cars have best long-term prospects – and which don’t – in Formula 1®. Here’s what to watch for Round 10 this weekend.

Is Red Bull Racing really under pressure? It’s a sentence that we’ve rarely pondered for the past two-plus years, but it’s one that has to be considered given the way the past four Grands Prix this Formula 1® season have played out.

From Miami to Montreal, we’ve had three different winners, and at the most recent race in Canada, you could mount a convincing argument that either Lando Norris (McLaren) or George Russell (Mercedes) should have won, but Red Bull’s Max Verstappen did. The Dutchman’s dominant opening to 2024 means he still has a 56-point lead over the best of the rest, but in more recent times, it’s far tighter than that.

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So why is that relevant? Simply because this weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix (June 21-23) at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya is about as foolproof a proving ground for the true pecking order in F1® that exists. Long-radius corners that torture tyres (and drivers’ necks), a couple of big braking zones, a one-kilometre front straight … if your car shines here, as Verstappen’s did last year when he won by (gulp) 24 seconds, it’s a good portent of what’s to follow.

Saturday might just be the most important qualifying of the season, at least statistically; this race has been won just once outside the front row of the grid in the past 10 years (by Verstappen in 2016, after front-row duo Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg took one another out), and the pole-sitter has saluted seven times in the past decade.

That’s something to consider when you’re watching this weekend, as are these talking points.

Piastri on the verge

Those past four races we mentioned? McLaren (116 points) has scored 10 points more than any other team in that span despite Verstappen winning two of the four, mostly thanks to teammate Sergio Perez no-showing in Monaco and Canada. With that said, it feels like Oscar Piastri is right on the cusp of a big result … but to do it, he’ll have to defy McLaren’s baffling Barcelona hoodoo.

It's not since 2005 (Kimi Raikkonen) that the Woking team has won in Spain; while its former talisman Lewis Hamilton has the most wins (six, along with Michael Schumacher) in Catalunya, all of those victories came after he’d decamped for Mercedes in 2013. Meaning it’s time for that breakthrough, right Oscar?

Like all single-seater drivers who find their way to Europe, Piastri has plenty of reps in Barcelona, having first raced there in the Formula Renault Eurocup in 2018. The Australian was a lapped 13th from ninth on the grid a year ago, a time of the year that McLaren was just a bit-part player; now, with the MCL38 set to feature even more updates this weekend, much more is expected.

Ricciardo’s quest to kick on

Someone who’d like a Spain weekend that’s as successful as Canada but with significantly less noise? That’d be Daniel Ricciardo, after the RB driver scored four points while seemingly being part of 44 different headlines. A spat with Jacques Villeneuve, his best qualifying of the season (fifth), a jump-start in the race and a fighting drive in the rain back to eighth meant life was rarely dull (or dry) for the 34-year-old in Montreal.

Canada was important for Ricciardo for two reasons; one, because he finally stopped the skid of non-scores in Grands Prix that was beginning to become an albatross, and two, because, in a week where the spotlight turned to him after Perez and RB teammate Yuki Tsunoda had their futures confirmed, Ricciardo needed to dig in and show that his season story hasn’t yet been written.

Ricciardo missed Spain last year as he was still on his half-season sabbatical, and he has a couple of third-place starts (2014, 2016) and a third-place finish (2016) on his Spanish CV across 11 races. Qualifying inside the top six for a second race running is probably overly optimistic at a more ‘traditional’ circuit, but overcoming Aston Martin duo Fernando Alonso and Lance Stroll for the minor points would represent another big tick.

Are Mercedes back?

Steady on, Silver Arrows fans … we need more evidence than one strong weekend, good as Canada was. But Spain comes up at an intriguing time for a team that seems to have found a pathway to something better after repeated false dawns in this 2022-on ground-effect era.

A Montreal haul of 28 points for Russell (third) and Hamilton (fourth) represented Merc’s best single-race result since … Spain last year, when Hamilton (second) and Russell (third) joined Verstappen on the podium. Russell took pole (just Mercedes’ third since the end of 2021) and led for 20 laps (the only laps he or Hamilton have led all season) last time out, meaning the signs are solid.

Mercedes’ technical director James Allison was buoyant after the W15’s new front wing clearly proved a step forward in Canada, and while he was optimistic Montreal wasn’t a one-off, he wasn’t getting carried away. “In Barcelona, I think it’s more likely we’ll be competitive, but not right at the front because the next tracks are a little bit of a sterner test of a car … hot asphalt, wider cornering speeds,” he said. “However, I also know what we have got coming.”

A fourth team fighting with the three that have split the past four Grands Prix between them? Sign us up …

Spain fast facts
Circuit name/location: Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, Montmelo
Length/laps: 4.675km, 66 laps
Grands Prix held/debut: 33, 1991
Most successful driver: Michael Schumacher, Lewis Hamilton (six wins apiece)
Most successful team: Ferrari (eight wins)
2023 podium: 1st: Max Verstappen (Red Bull Racing), 2nd: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes), 3rd: George Russell (Mercedes)

The Formula 1® Spanish Grand Prix 2024 will be available to watch live on Foxtel and Kayo. See our article What time does the F1® Spanish Grand Prix 2024 start for Australians? for your local timings.