Can sensational Leclerc win Spanish GP, after beating Verstappen in pre-race?

F1 Spanish GP: Pre-Race Action:

Hola Amigos, Buenas Noches. The F1 Spanish GP officially started on 20th May 2022. The teams showed off their upgrades in the first Free Practice session, followed by some action. The circuit requires a slightly more downforce than Miami; hence the upgrades were revolved more around the wings and floors of the cars.

All the teams flaunted their upgrades as a mandatory presentation before FP1, but there was one team whose upgrades stood apart from the rest. It was Aston Martin. They unveiled a very different car, dubbed – “THE GREEN REDBULL”. The team’s designs bore strong similarities to that of RedBull’s RB 18. The resemblance was clearly apparent in Aston Martin’s revised sidepods, which are now steeply undercut. Most of Aston Martin’s designs followed the lead of its supplier – Mercedes, since the take over of the team by Lawrence Stroll back in 2018. Even in the 2020 season, when the team was known as Racing Point, its car was closely modelled on the world championship-winning Mercedes W10. At that time, it was dubbed – “THE PINK MERCEDES”.

RedBull has launched an internal investigation into this matter, and it remains to be seen what would the outcome be.

Now, let’s see how the upgrades fared in the free practice sessions.

Free Practice Sessions and the Upgrades:

In Free Practice session 1 on 20th May 2022, the Ferrari of Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz emerged as the quickest as the Italian team introduced a package of performance upgrades. The local hero Carlos Sainz was at his best and had a 100% scoring record at his home race. He was definitely the one to watch. RedBull’s Max Verstappen was third quickest. The team to watch out for was the Mercedes Petronas AMG, whose upgrades seemed perfect during the free practice with George Russell emerging P4 and Lewis Hamilton’s P6. Sergio Perez did not participate in the first session. That chance was given to Yuri Vips, the RedBull Junior team driver from Formula 2. He officially made his F1 debut with this opportunity. Also, there was another Formula 2 driver, Nyck de Vries, who filled in the shoes of Alex Albon of Williams. Alfa Romeo’s reserve driver Robert Kubica also made his comeback in this first session, filling in for Guanyu Zhou. The New regulations oblige teams to run young drivers in two practice sessions this season, with de Vries and Vips meeting those requirements.

In the Second Free Practice Session on 20th May 2022, Charles Leclerc again emerged as the quickest. But the attention was not aimed at him but rather at the Mercedes. With both the Mercedes of George Russell and Lewis Hamilton being P2 and P3, it looked like the upgrades that Mercedes bought with them worked. Lando Norris went into the gravel in the early part of the session and had to retire the car. There was also a problem with Valtteri Bottas’s car, which took him back into the pits. Gasly also had issues with his car and didn’t run much in this session. Fernando Alonso was in the top 10, looking very strong for his home race.

The final practice of the F1 Spanish GP on 21st May 2022 saw some exciting times. The spot was tight at the top, with the top three teams being within a tenth-and-a-half seconds of each other. Charles Leclerc was again the quickest man on the track. Max Verstappen was not far behind this time, being just seven-hundredths of a second slower than the Monégasque. George Russell emerged third and Hamilton behind him, clearly showing that the upgrades are working. Mercedes managed to bring down their porpoising to a great extent. Kevin Magnussen was officially back to his best in this session, managing a P8. Things were quite not the same for Mick Schumacher as his right rear tyre caught fire due to the overheated brake ducts. The German’s session was over within 15 minutes. Despite the upgrades, Aston Martin were struggling for grip and pace. Smoked poured out the Pierre Gasly’s AlphaTauri, and the Frenchman was out again.

Qualifying – Leclerc on the Front, HAAS the Dark Horse:

Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc takes pole position for the F1 Spanish GP, ahead of Max Verstappen and his Ferrari teammate Carlos Sainz.  

F1 Spanish GP qualifying was underway on 21st May 2022 afternoon, in scorching heat with a temperature of 47°C. With Mick Schumacher’s car catching fire in FP3, there was a gearbox change on his car for the qualifying. The qualifying starts with Zhou setting the first time of the session at 1.21.065. Mercedes put up impressive times, with the legendary Roger Federer watching them from their garage. The Haas of Kevin Magnussen and Mick Schumacher put up very strong times and easily breeze past Q1, Magnussen finishing ahead of Hamilton in Q1. The Aston Martins fail to impress yet again with their upgrades. Daniel Ricciardo puts an impressive lap time and stays ahead of his teammate Lando Norris. Falling at the first hurdle were both the Aston Martins, Fernando Alonso, and both the Williams.

The second round of qualifying (Q2) starts in a while. FIA issued a new pit lane rule. Usually, the drivers go to the end of the pitlane and wait for the cars ahead to go, thereby letting them have cleaner air in front. FIA banned this rule for this qualifying, and every car that leaves the garage has to go to the track immediately without stopping at the pitlane exit. The Ferraris, RedBulls and Mercedes easily breeze past this round. Kevin Magnussen of Haas just kills it with a superb lap and gets into the top 10 and, thereby, into Q3. It is at the end that a small mistake by Lando Norris that turns things around. Lando Norris’s lap time gets deleted as he exceeds the track limit. This, by default, puts Mick Schumacher into the top 10 as he was the driver in danger before the elimination. Both the Haas get into Q3, Yass!!

Image Credits: dailysport.co.uk

The third round of qualifying gets underway in the next 5-7 minutes. Leclerc is flying on the first run of the lap, but he spins at the final chicane and cannot put a competitive time. This puts Max Verstappen on top, with Carlos Sainz following him closely from behind. In the last run, Charles Leclerc just flies past and puts up an impressive 1.18.750. Unfortunately, Max Verstappen fails to catch up due to a loss of power in his RB 18. Carlos Sainz also fails to put up a substantial lap time and finishes P3.

The Final Order in Qualifying for tomorrow’s start is – Leclerc, Verstappen, Sainz, Russell, Perez, Hamilton, Bottas, Magnussen, Ricciardo, Schumacher, Norris, Ocon, Tsunoda, Gasly, Zhou, Vettel, Alonso, Stroll, Albon and Latifi.

Conclusion:

With Charles Leclerc on Pole, it will be very tough for Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz to attack him at the start. The statistics at Barcelona show us that the driver who starts from the pole has usually won the Spanish GP. Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz have to be on their toes from the very start to catch up to him. Also, with the last-minute trouble on Max’s car makes us wonder whether RedBull’s reliability issues have really been solved or are still figuring it out. Let’s not forget that both the Mercedes are right behind Sainz and Verstappen, and the start can go berserk.

With such a high track temperature at Barcelona, tyre management will be the key tomorrow. We might easily see 2-stops or even 3-stops as the tyre degradation might be high. It will be interesting to see how the teams navigate this challenge tomorrow. Super soft tyres are definitely out of the equation here, unless it’s a last-minute stop for getting the fastest lap in case of a strategy misjudgement by the top teams. Overall, it will be a fun race to watch with all the drivers managing their tyres, teams strategizing with high probability, the midfield battles and the most crucial aspect of the race – whether Carlos Sainz can pull off a home GP win. Stay tuned with The Sportsway for more updates!

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