Back in Barcelona


By Lee McKenzie

As you drive towards the circuit in Barcelona on Thursday, everything comes flooding back. You count the number of times you’ve been to the Circuit de Catalunya, the number of cold, long days you’ve spent looking forward to the season ahead at pre-season testing, and add in all the other races you’ve covered there.

And then you get to the paddock and it’s all about Formula 1. Europe brings an old fashioned glamour to the sport. Historic tracks with years of history and the palatial super-motorhomes that we call home for summer in the northern hemisphere.

Personally, I love the European leg of the calendar. The atmosphere is great, the paddock is bustling with sponsors, former drivers and other sportsmen and the grandstands are packed with fans. Sadly, Europe now makes up just over a third of the calendar. Losing the German Grand Prix is a blow and losing Monza or any other iconic circuit would be a game changer for the sport. Many fans would believe that it really has lost its heart and its soul.

I am not saying that every European circuit is a classic and the Spanish Grand Prix tends to be a predictable affair. After the race Lewis Hamilton spoke about how important it is to make this race exciting again. Teams and drivers know the place better than any other track on the calendar and with overtaking limited, the opportunity to entertain is too.

Qualifying at least threw up a few surprises on Saturday and with Hamilton failing to find his comfort zone in the Mercedes this weekend, this was the chance that Nico Rosberg had been waiting for. We saw his coolness returning and the fight we saw from him this time last year pumping through his veins.

The other outstanding performance was that of Toro Rosso, which continues to embarrass its more illustrious and hugely better-funded big brother Red Bull. The junior team’s junior drivers are jumping at every opportunity presented to them. Carlos Sainz, at his first home grand prix, was slightly disbelieving about how well his qualifying had gone. Starting in front of his mentor and idol Fernando Alonso – albeit with an ailing McLaren – was one thing, but to be ahead of Räikkönen and Massa meant that this was a huge moment in Sainz’s career. Max Verstappen didn’t drop the ball either and that intra-team battle gets more interesting at every grand prix. They knew the race would be a different story, and it was, but they showed their speed and their racecraft. Job done.

Rosberg won easily, dominating from start to finish to become the ninth different winner from the last nine Spanish Grands Prix. Is theirs a battle for the drivers’ championship? Mathematically, of course there is, but unless Ferrari finds some speed then it could be only Rosberg who is able to challenge Hamilton if he is able to maintain his Barcelona form.

It certainly wasn’t a good weekend to be a front jack man. Fernando Alonso couldn’t stop in his pitbox after a brake issue and his man was forced to jump out of the line of fire. For the local hero though it was game over. Then Romain Grosjean bowled through his box scattering men like skittles. The front jack man is probably speaking with a slightly higher-pitched voice after an impressive leap through the air and an unfortunate landing on the metal jack. Two other member of the pit crew were also slightly hurt. Those incidents basically sum up the fortunes of those teams.

Jenson Button described the first 30 laps of the race as some of the scariest laps he’s ever driven. Topping his list of complaints were excessive wheelspin and a lack of balance. McLaren seems far away from the points promised us by now.

Lotus got points thanks to Grosjean, but for the fourth time in five races this season Maldonado didn’t see the chequered flag. This weekend the team had gearbox issues, engine covers exploding off the car on track and rear wings holding on for dear life. The fact that Grosjean has finished in the points in three consecutive races seems like a mini miracle!

Then there is Red Bull, more often than not able to get both cars to the chequered flag, but at huge cost: it has used all of its engine allocation already this season. How much it can get out of these ones is the key, but as Daniel Ricciardo said, taking an engine change penalty at Monaco would be very frustrating. Sadly for Ricciardo and Kvyat, those 10-place penalties are just around the corner. Hopefully the corner will come later in the season than Rascasse.

The other nice thing about European races is the flight back home on the Sunday night. Packed with drivers and team personnel, the conversations tend to be “so what happened to you then?” or “you guys looked quick”. Engineers have laptop screens full of data, different coloured squiggles and graphs while others write up reports and lists of what can be learned or improved.

We then stand around luggage belts, saying what a long day it’s been and looking forward to getting home. In just over a week we excitedly head off and do it all over again. Next stop Monaco.

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