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Who's doing what with new cars in Spain
Who's doing what with new cars in Spain
Posted By:   |  05 May 2009   |  5:33 pm GMT  |  37 comments

This weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix at Barcelona will almost feel like the start of the season again, with so many teams bringing substantially updated cars. In most cases this is a response to the ruling that double diffusers, as used on the Brawn car, are legal. It will be fascinating to see who goes up and who goes down. Here’s my take on the things to look out for.

The reigning constructors’ champions have had a disastrous start to the 2009 campaign in terms of results and the car has not shown strong performance at any track, really. They started the season ahead of McLaren, but were overhauled by them. So for Spain, they badly need a major boost. One is due to come from the revised car which was straight-line tested at Vairano last week.

It is a lighter chassis, better to accommodate the extra weight of KERS and it has a double diffuser and other modifications to give the car extra downforce, the vital commodity it has been lacking. Reliability aside, there hasn’t been anything particularly wrong with the Ferrari so far, it’s just that it has lacked downforce. It’s too strong to say that this weekend will define Ferrari’s season, they have until November to win races, but if they don’t move up to the pace of the front runners with this update, then it is going to be tough for them to think about winning either world title.

They introduced the twin diffuser in China on Alonso’s car and both drivers had it in Bahrain.

Pat Symonds says it has helped a lot, not just in terms of lap time but also in setting up and balancing the car, “Because the car was quite sensitive and difficult to set-up with the more conventional diffuser. The car used to have a very small sweet spot in terms of set-up, which made it difficult for Fernando and Nelson to get the most from the car.”

They opted not to bring new parts to the car on a race by race basis during the early fly-away races, something team boss Mario Theissen now accepts was a mistake. They have been working on a big step for Spain, hoping to reverse their alarming decline in performance. An updated car which is built lighter to accommodate both the heavier driver, Robert Kubica and the KERS system, is in the pipeline. For Spain neither car will run KERS and they will not use the double diffuser either, as they don’t feel that there has been sufficient development on it.

“There is no time limit set for when we will introduce the double diffuser in our car,” says Theissen.

“We will have an substantial update in Barcelona, from the front to the rear wing, affecting also the sidepods, there will be improvements in every detail.”
“There is no time limit set for when we will introduce the double diffuser in our car.”

The Brawn team started the season with a car which has had over a year of development and was optimised around the double diffuser and other aerodynamic refinements. The downside is that they had a very late switch to the Mercedes engine, so that was not the best it could be and they suffered a bit from that in Bahrain where the car ran very hot, due to problems adapting the radiators.

Barcelona always rewards the best car aerodynamically so the Brawn will be in great shape and at the pre-season test they were mind-blowingly fast on the long runs, on the cars’ first proper run out.

They have not really updated their car since Melbourne but always planned a major upgrade for Spain, I’m told they expect between two and three tenths of a second from the package. Certainly Button and Barrichello will need it if they are to keep their noses in front. “We know that we have a real fight on our hands from here to maintain our lead in the championships, ” says Jenson. “But I am confident that we are well prepared.” With Ross Brawn in charge of planning and allocating resources, you can be sure that is the case.

Williams have reason to feel pretty upset with the first four races. One of the three teams with a double diffuser, they are the one which has managed to profit least from it. Nico Rosberg has certainly not made the most of his opportunities in the first four races, failing to turn a competitive car into tangible results.

He led impressively in Kuala Lumpur, but there hasn’t been much else and in Bahrain he did not make the most of a package of upgrades the team had worked hard to produce on his car only, qualifying barely a couple of tenths up on his team mate who did not have the same equipment. The team will have more new pieces in Barcelona, but the fear is that they will be outdeveloped by the likes of McLaren, Ferrari and Renault, now that the playing field has been levelled. As the only team with the revolutionary flywheel KERS system, it’s a shame they haven’t got it race ready yet.

The McLaren team has taken a different approach from many of the others in that they have been updating their car on a constant basis, the idea behind that being psychological as much as anything else. Martin Whitmarsh believes that it’s important for the drivers and everyone in the team to see progress on a regular basis as this adds to the motivation to push harder and find more. It seems to have worked as the car has been steadily marching closer to the front of the grid.

In Spain they are due to run the double diffuser, so expect a big step, but Whitmarsh argues that this in itself is not a silver bullet. There are other areas which can yield a lot and McLaren is quietly confident it has some big steps in the pipeline.

Red Bull/Toro Rosso
Red Bull have a chance of fighting for the world championship this year and they know it. The fastest by far of the cars without double diffusers, they have been forced to develop one and technical boss Adrian Newey has been flat out on it in recent weeks. It’s not likely to appear in Spain, it could be Monaco and will probably be Turkey when we see it. They will have upgrades for Spain, though and as the car is the best performer on high speed corners, Spain is likely to be quite a strong track for them as it features some critical high speed turns, not least the endless turn three, which the cars spend 8 seconds negotiating.

The Toro Rosso package has not been as strong as the main team this season, the opposite of last year. That said, Sebastian Buemi has pushed it up the field on a couple of occasions. They have some updates on the car this weekend and Buemi believes that they will be closer to a Red Bull level of performance from now on.

It’s been an odd start to the season, where in three races, three different teams have dominated the time sheets, Brawn in Melbourne, Red Bull in China and Toyota in Bahrain. The Toyota team should have won Bahrain, but messed it up on race strategy. One of the teams to benefit from a double diffuser at the start of the season, they have a package of aero upgrades coming for Barcelona.

When I saw the car in testing there before the season I was very impressed with its performance on the Montmelo track. They did lose the ‘flexi’ rear wing at the first race, of course, but it doesn’t seem to have slowed them down much and I think they will be very strong this weekend.

Force India
Force India also ran with a new diffuser in Bahrain, quite an achievement for a small team and in Barcelona they will have an update to the front wing. They will also introduce the driver adjustable front wing for the first time, something other teams have been using since the start of the season. They are not quite ready yet with KERS.

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The fastest by far of the cars without double diffusers, they have been forced to develop one and technical boss Adrian Newey has been flat out on it in recent weeks. It’s not likely to appear in Spain, it will probably by Turkey when we see it.

Red Bull will be introducing their interim diffuser in Monaco with the final version due in time for Silverstone.


I just wanted to say thanks James, for yet another top piece of work, the most informative and interesting F1 site on the net.


Looks like BMW are going to miss their first target since taking over Sauber.
I was expecting much bigger things from them this year, they really shouldn't be as far back as they are considering they were one of the teams to switch their development to this year's car early.
Perhaps they should quietly hire Mike Coughlan and stuff him into a cupboard away from the eyes of the media.


James, can you elaborate on the use of the adjustable front wings this season? For such an interesting development, I have not heard much discussion of how the teams are putting this to use.


After four very different races, the remarkable difference in success ratings of the three double diffuser teams can probably be put down to several factors. Strategy, tactics, sheer racing nowse......

And expressed in two words.

Ross Braun.


Excellent and informative as usual james - thank you. I'm currently watching arsenal v man u..... they are 2 nil down (3 of agg) and your article has given me a glimmer of happiness as I didn't realise mclaren had the dd ready!


I am curious to see what the new BMW F1.09 will look like.


The year in the first sentence in the "Ferrari" section is wrong... yeah, amazing how time flies huh.


Really enjoy your blog.

Please may you spell check it before you publish!!


Thank you James for a very informative and interesting article. I enjoyed that! Good work!!!


Thanks for taking the time to give us a run down on the various updates we will see this weekend. Nice insight, which is lacking on many of the other f1 sites. This race should be very compelling.... Can't wait!!!


I am starting to get the feeling that the strict corporate approach which was adopted by BMW, and which has helped them in great leaps and bounds up until now, has started to strangle them and hold them back in this time when quick thinking and reaction is needed.

They are apparently not running KERS in Spain because “it was a case of lining up with either a comprehensive aerodynamic update or KERS. The tuning time on Friday would be too short”. So both could not be done perfectly so you forget about one?

People often comment about the corporate attitude adopted by Mclaren and criticize it, but this year they have shown that they are racers though and though, a team with guts and spirit. Can the same be said about BMW?

I guess only time will tell which developmental approach will be more beneficial, but I cant help feeling that BMW will move backwards in their attempt to "tick all the boxes".


Great work James, really enjoyable read.

I am only dissappointed in your review of Renault, as it's just rehashed information and says nothing about the updates for Spain, and whether they can vault fowards or not. After China they looked to have made a step but in Bahrain they were nowhere. At least you remembered them, unlike ITV season preview. :p

Still, it's nice to have my fave team on your radar in RBR as a top team this season. It will be interesting to see how the RBR vs Brawn battle fits in during the next 3 races, and whether or not anyone has caught them.

I believe.. to expect a giant leap from either Ferrari or McLaren is asking alot in one update, but you never know it may happen. Have to wonder what's up with BMW though, they were expected to start season ahead in development (running interim car the most last season and ditching last years car early) and they only seem to be falling further behind in development cycles, rather then catching up.


I've got a sneaky feeling that we'll see Ferrari out perform McLaren in Spain. All their updates are coming in one big alteration rather than the incremental style of McLaren development. I wouldn't be surprised if they came up with perhaps the second or third fastest car on the grid in Spain. Ferrari have had some real let downs in reliability in recent weeks, but fundamentally I think they have a reasonable car. Kimi proved that in Bahrain and Massa was flying through the field in China before his car died on him, neither of those things happen if the car is terrible. I think the press have made more of this than is perhaps true.

I'm a little concerned about BrawnGP, yes they updates but my real concern is the lack of KERS. The McLaren Mercedes system appears to be about the best on the grid, so the sooner Brawn can get that and negate the advantage KERS teams have off the grid the better. I was staggered at it's compact size when they showed it to the BBC during the last race weekend. Fingers crossed Ross Brawn and co can get the Mercedes Engine/Suspension issues sorted out too, as I'm sure their is more to come from the BrawnGP cars.


James Allen Says: "In Spain they are due to run the double diffuser, so expect a big step"

Haven't McLaren already run this part like Renault did in China? I.e. without tailoring it for the rest of the aero package?

Dermot Keelan

I think Force India's progress is worth mentioning. They were pretty impressive in Bahrain. I can't see them nicking a point this weekend but if we get rain in Monaco maybe Sutil will finally get the points that he deserved there last year!

Hopefully Ferrari can leap back towards the sharp end this week. Without doubt Kimi is the most naturally talented driver of his generation and i think F1 needs the likes of Kimi, Lewis and Fernando all challenging with Button and Vettel.

Roll on the european season!


Who do you think will be the top 4 teams in Spain? Do you think the current leaders will change? Maybe Ferrari, McLaren or BMW leapfrogging others?


James, do you have the feeling as some of us do that Mclaren would actually perform far better in Barca than they have been letting on.



Really love your very informative blog, it really is the best place to come for F1 news and comments.

You mentioned that Ferrari have “tested at Vairano last week”. I was under the impression that testing was prohibited this season? Or is “straight line testing” simply putting the car in a wind tunnel?

Charlie F Smith

I'm interested by this idea of Mclaren 'overtaking' Ferrari. It's certainly true that they have but I wonder whether it will last. As I see it Mclaren were aware that their car was a shocker about 2 weeks before the start of the season. Presumably panic stations were adopted straight away. Ferrari didn't really know they had a bad car until the second race (perhaps later). Melbourne is always a funny race and the Ferrari wasn't exactly doing all that badly in terms of race pace before their problems. Then in the wet it was a bit rubbish (as it was last year) and then in Bahrain we saw that Renault and Mclaren had overtaken it. I reckon that Mclaren had about 3 weeks head-start on Ferrari in terms of sorting out a bad car. Since the Ferrari was about 0.400 faster than the Mclaren in Melbourne I reckon they've got less distance to go to sort out the F60. I think their updates in Spain will therefore surprise a few people...but not for any reason other than I think that everyone's overestimated their poor form. It's not that bad.


Hi James
Just wondered if you had heard anymore on whether Toyota are even developing a kers system. they have said they dont have one at present but have not mentioned this.
Any insight bcause they seem to be going quite well at present and not developing this could be to their detrement later in the season what do you think


I 've always assumed Bernie's medals/winner idea, however ill thought out and damaging to the sport, was backed by Mosley as a quid pro quo for Bernie's support for him for another term as FIA President. But then that's a cynical way of thinking isn't it?


It was called their "interim diffuser". If you compare it with the diffuser ran in Australia, it was just a simple evolution of their conventional one.


They are certainly developing one, but the impression I get is that they calculated the gain would be quite small to start with and focussed on getting the 2009 car right.


So how do they turn around when they get to the end? 😉


Will be interesting to see if McLaren or Ferrari can get on the pace of Brawn, Toyota and Red Bull there. Hard to say without any testing. I don't think anyone knows..


No you are allowed to drive up and down airfields in a straight line, under the test ban rules


Jenson mentioned in Bahrain that his adjustable front wing wasn't working, and seemed to imply that it hadn't been working for a while. It obviously didn't slow him down too much though!


Well they haven't really used them much so far - a bit in Bahrain coming onto the pit straight, but Alonso said that he's not used it as much as he thought he would and other drivers seem to say the same. They trim the wing a little on a hot lap at some places, but it's not something they do all the time. The idea is that you can adjust it when you follow another car so you don't lose downforce and so can get closer through a corner then be able to pass.


BMW are not the worst team in history in terms of ugliness but they're certainly the most pathetic TEAM in my opinion. Have you ever seen the team which spent half a season to help one driver to heat the tyres while other guy was fighting alone for the WDC title and big points for the same team? Now they get what they deserve. BMW are the dead last.

Peter Freeman

Well be fair its not as ugly as the current 5 series... Do you think they got Bangle to work on it?


That's according to reports from Bahrain, but things could change from now and Monaco. They are working flat out but RBR don't have the manufacturing power of someone like McLaren. Hopefully, it will be Monaco.

Peter Freeman

I agree, I think James single handedly is more informative than the whole of the rest of the F1 web put together. Other websites give us news, James tells us whats going on!

Peter Freeman

Didn't they throw mountains of time and money at it every year?


Hopefully now i can look at it without vomitting.

Ugliest. Car. Ever.


Err no. It can be put down to Honda spending $400mn+ last year concentrating on the 2009 car.

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