I’m struck by the contrast in the start to the season of Sebastian Vettel has enjoyed compared to last year. He has reached 93 points already after 4 races, something it took him 9 races to achieve in 2010. A sixth place or better will take him past 100 points from five races.
Also interesting is the stat about him leading team mate Mark Webber in qualifying by 4-0, which is quite surprising, given how the pair matched up last season.
“Seb looks pretty happy on the tyres particularly on a Saturday afternoon,” Webber told me in Istanbul. “He’s had four poles in a row and he’s certainly on a roll when it comes to understanding the tyres.”
The odds on Vettel setting a new record for poles in the season (it’s at 14 currently) are a miserable 7-4.
Combine that with Red Bull’s ability to use the DRS wing in mid corner, which other cars aren’t able to do and you can see that Vettel’s got a firm downpayment on pole position at the moment. He’s four from four so far and with Barcelona being the ultimate track for rewarding cars with downforce and aerodynamic efficiency, he’s going to take some beating this weekend. Webber will be buoyed by memories of his dominant pole and win last year, however.
Interestingly the two other team mate comparisons which show a whitewash are also ones you wouldn’t expect to be so one sided; Alonso is also 4-0 up against Massa as is Kovalainen over Trulli at Lotus.
But as we’ve explained here before, Red Bull’s advantage over others in the race, where the DRS can only be used in one place, is less.
This weekend will see some significant upgrades on many cars. Several other teams have been trying to copy Red Bull’s original exhaust exit design and Red Bull need to keep one step ahead. They had a new floor with a modified version of the blown diffuser on Vettel’s car in Turkey, but we never really got to see what it could do as it was damaged in his Friday morning accident. For this race one would imagine that both cars will have it.
McLaren didn’t have the upgrades in Turkey, which is why Ferrari and Mercedes caught them up on pace that weekend. For Spain they will have some of the things which were originally planned for Istanbul. Williams will also debut its exhaust design this weekend.
Mercedes found a step in Turkey thanks to a new rear wing which worked better when switching in and out of DRS function and to some general set up work. With the package stabilised, they will push ahead with some aerodynamic upgrades this weekend in Spain. All eyes will be on the exhaust area, where they are still to make the move towards a Red Bull type of exhaust exit design.
Returning to the statistical analysis some other things are noteworthy; FORIX report that Istanbul featured 79 overtaking moves, tying the all-time record with the 1983 Long Beach GP (a race in which John Watson and Niki Lauda finished 1-2 from 22nd and 23rd on the grid). However, Sean Kelly, who does stats for many F1 broadcasters, suggests the actual number was as high as 82, “depending on how you define a proper overtaking move”. According to Sean, “The amount of overtaking is such that, on lap 12 and 13 combined, there were 16 (sixteen) passes on-track, and lap 17 was the first lap in the entire race that elapsed without a single pass.”
Everyone is agreed that Barcelona will be the acid test of the new adjustable DRS rear wing project as it is traditionally the hardest race of the year to overtake on and races there have habitually been very dull.
The last four Spanish Grands Prix there have seen 5, 2, 4 and 10 overtaking moves in the entire Grand Prix. The polesitter has won the last 10 Spanish Grands Prix (a worse record from a sporting point of view than Monaco).
“There’s not a lot of overtaking chances around the lap and we’ll see if the DRS plays the same role in Spain that it did in Turkey, ” said Jarno Trulli. “If it does then tracks like Barcelona will suddenly have overtaking chances and that’s got to be good for the fans.”
Tyres will again play their part in the overtaking, with Pirelli experiencing severe degradation during the winter tests there. Four stops were the norm in February and March, now with higher temperatures this could be dropped to three stops. Pirelli will race the new developmental hard tyre this weekend, which is has tested at recent events and which should last a little longer than the old hard tyre.
Sauber has a completely new front wing, updates to the front and rear brake ducts, new bodywork, new devices around the floor leading edge and under the chassis, and we’ll be testing the new exhaust system again.