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How hard will the F1 drivers be able to push at Barcelona?
Posted By: James Allen  |  08 May 2012   |  7:03 pm GMT  |  114 comments

[Updated] Last year’s Spanish Grand Prix at Barcelona was widely heralded as one of the most exciting race finishes of the season, largely due to the way race strategies played out, with an intense battle for the lead in the final laps of the race between Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton. Vettel managed to hold on to take the win.

However tyre degradation was very severe last year and after the recent Bahrain Grand Prix there were complaints from Michael Schumacher, as well as from many fans, that the racing is suffering from drivers not been able to push to the limit. Schumacher told CNN this week that it’s “like driving on raw eggs”.

So how will this weekend’s race pan out and what will the team strategists do to ensure that their drivers are able to get the maximum out of their package?

Pirelli have made the same tyre selection as last year with the hard and soft compounds, but this year’s specifications are a step softer than last year. They are also much closer to each other in performance than last year, which means that the strategies will not be as polarized as they were, with multiple stops. The soft tyre looks on the edge, but here’s how we see the situation this weekend.

Once you’ve read up about the situation, remember to have a go on out Race Strategy Calculator and see if you can find the fastest strategy to do the race. You can try it here at Race Strategy Calculator

Track characteristics

Circuit de Catalunya; 4.65 kilometres. Race distance: 66 laps = 307 kilometres, 16 corners in total, considered the best test of an F1 car’s aerodynamic efficiency due to combination of medium and high speed corners.

Aerodynamic setup – High downforce. Top speed 317km/h (with Drag Reduction System active on rear wing) – 305km/h without.

Full throttle – 60% of the lap. Total fuel needed for race distance: 154kg (quite high). Fuel consumption: 2.34 kg per lap.

Time spent braking: 12% of the lap (quite low). 8 braking zones. Brake wear: Medium/low.

Loss time for a Pit stop = 19 seconds
Total time needed for pit stop: 24 seconds.

Fuel effect (cost in lap time per 10kg of fuel carried): 0.40 seconds (high)
Circuit de Catalunya is the track on which the F1 teams and the tyre supplier have the most data as they test there at least once before the start of each season.

Form Guide

The Spanish Grand Prix is the fifth round of the 2012 FIA F1 World Championship.

Qualifying has historically been critical in Barcelona; 10 of the last 11 races on this track have been won from pole position while overtakes have been rare, although the DRS and the tyres contributed to there being 90 overtakes last season, whereas in three of the previous four races there were less than five overtakes in 66 laps of racing.

This season we have seen four different race winning cars and drivers in four races, the first time this has happened for 30 years and there have been three different polesitters.

Barcelona is likely to see many teams bring through some major car developments, largely around the exhaust area, but also there are aerodynamic updates to most cars in the field. Force India and Ferrari are two teams hoping to make significant steps forward.

As far as drivers’ form is concerned at Barcelona, Felipe Massa, Jenson Button, Michael Schumacher, Fernando Alonso, Sebastian Vettel, Kimi Raikkonen and Mark Webber are all previous winners. Lewis Hamilton has never won the event.

Weather Forecast

The forecast looks good up to Saturday with temperatures around 20 degrees and a low chance of rain. However on race day there is a 60% chance of rain, with lower temperatures forecast, so this could play into the hands of Mercedes in particular.

The wind is usually a significant factor at this track, sudden crosswinds at the higher points on the circuit can upset the balance of the cars.

Likely tyre performance and other considerations

Pirelli tyre choice for Spain: Hard and Soft.

Catalunya is a tough track on tyres, with the long Turn 3 the most difficult corner. It is taken at 240km/h and the corner lasts for four seconds, which puts a heavy load on the left front tyre. The surface is also quite abrasive.

Last year the soft tyre showed a degradation rate of 0.1625sec per lap in the first stint, which is quite high. This year the soft tyre is again expected to be a little bit on the edge for this track, so Friday practice will be vital in establishing how long a set of tyres will last in the first stint in particular. The drop off will come quite quickly.

On paper the difference between the soft and hard tyre will be 0.5s to 0.8s per lap depending on the car. In the race this will reduce to 0.2s per lap.

In the winter testing at Barcelona, the hard tyre performed pretty well so the picture is quite different from last year’s race when the teams wanted to avoid the hard tyre which was 2 seconds per lap slower than the soft.

A new set of soft tyres should last up to 20 laps, with a set of hards lasting between 24 and 27 laps..

With some high energy right hand corners, the limitation will be with the tyres on the left side of the car when their performance starts to drop off it will be time to pit.

Track conditions in Barcelona are notoriously changeable from morning to afternoon due to changes in temperature and wind conditions. This will make it particularly tricky to set the cars up for qualifying and the race.

Number and likely timing of pit stops

Going into the 2011 race if a driver had new tyres available after qualifying to use in the race, a three-stop strategy was four seconds quicker than a four-stop on paper. We also saw that new tyres carried a premium in Bahrain this year for example with Kimi Raikkonen, so teams will be assessing the value of saving at least one set of new soft tyres and a new set of hards.

This year the degradation will again be decisive in picking the moment to stop. Three stops is likely to be the preferred route, the plan that Jenson Button followed last year. The key is to keep the tyre alive until around lap 14, for the first stop, which few drivers could manage last year.

As the performance gap between the soft and hard is likely to be as low as 0.2s in the race, teams will not be trying to avoid using the hard tyre and this will mean fewer stops than last year, as they will be able to run the hard tyre competitively, rather than attempt to spend as little time as possible on it. In fact the hard tyre’s performance in Malaysia shows that it was a popular race tyre and we should again see a mixture of strategies.

Chance of a safety car

There have been 5 Safety Car periods in this race since 2003, and 4 of those were for first lap incidents.

Recent start performance

The 700 metre run from the grid to the first corner at Barcelona is the second longest of the season after Sepang, Malaysia. So a fully functioning KERS is vital.

Starts are crucial in race strategy and can make or compromise a race.
Glock, Massa and Alonso are consistently good starters who gain places off the line at most races.
As far as 2012 start performance is concerned drivers have gained (+) or lost (-) places off the start line this season, on aggregate, as follows –


+16 Massa
+12 Alonso, Kovalainen
+11 Glock 

+10 Raikkonen
+9 Maldonado
+8 Perez
+6 Kobayashi, Senna
+5 Schumacher*
+3 Pic 

+2 Di Resta, Karthikeyan, Vergne
+1 Button, Hamilton, 
Grosjean**, Petrov

Held position: None
-1 Rosberg , Vettel,
-3 De la Rosa
-4 Hulkenberg
– 6 Webber
-13 Ricciardo
* Senna, Ricciardo and Hulkenberg were all involved in accidents on 1st lap in Australia
** Schumacher and Grosjean collided on Lap 1 in Malaysia, Senna and Perez pitted for wet tyres on opening lap

Pit Stop League Table

Of course good strategy planning also requires good pit stop execution by the mechanics and we have seen tyre stops carried out in less than two and a half seconds by F1 teams. It is clear that the field has significantly closed up in this area, as well as on track performance, with 7 teams within 1 seconds of the fastest pit stop by Mercedes. This is much closer than last season and shows how much work has gone on in this area.

The league table below shows the order of the pit crews based on their fastest time in the Bahrain Grand Prix, from the car entering the pit lane to leaving it. The 2011 league table positions are in brackets.

Worth noting is that Force India continues to perform above its championship table position and within 0.2s of the best team showing that they’ve done a lot of work in this area. Also worth noting is that HRT did a faster stop than Marussia for the first time.

1. Red Bull 21.705 (1=)
2. Mercedes 21.888s (1=)

3. Ferrari 21.963s (5)

4. Force India 22.069 (4)

5. McLaren 22.270 (3)
6 Toro Rosso 22.295s (8=)
7. Williams 22.310 (7)
8. Lotus 22.362 (6)
9. Sauber 22.758 (8=)
10. Caterham 23.323 (8=)
11. HRT 23.420 (12)
12. Marussia 23.423 (11)

THe UBS Race Strategy Briefing is written by James Allen with input and data from several of the F1 teams strategists and from Pirelli.

Now you’ve read up about the situation, remember to have a go on our Race Strategy Calculator and see if you can find the fastest strategy to do the race. You can try it here at Race Strategy Calculator

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“How hard will the F1 Drivers be able to push at Barcelona?”

Answer: Depends on who wins the Pirelli lottery.


Continually staggered by your excellent strategy guides. They are without doubt the most informative pieces of F1 journalism I’ve ever read. It does show though how hard it is to predict the top 10 finishers…damn you Castrol Predictor!


Especially this season…


MSCs forte was to drive fast with low fuel and lots of stops.

I think he had five stops in one race and still won.

This is a different game which does not play into his strengths. I have some sympathy for his position, but these are the rules and you have to manage them the best you can…DRS included



This might seem like going backwards given the cost saving measures F1 is all about these days but I think if they bring back refueling during the race and make tires that allow drivers to push then the racing might be better given we now we have DRS and KERS.

Or bring back multiple tire makers and allow the teams/drivers to choose any tire maker during the race weekend. Yes, costs more but may make for good racing.


You have to feel a little for Pirelli in this debate. The tyres produced have been exactly what was asked of them by the FIA. It surely must be a concern for their management.


As much as I too dislike these Pirelli tyres, I cant help but think that if they (or anyone) were to produce tyres which drivers can really sprint on, we may end up with something similar to the Bridgestone like tyres. And in turn, processional racing.

However, I do feel Pirelli can find a happy medium. A set of tyres which give the drivers the ability to really push but at the same time, not so durable where they can run them for the majority of the race. Lets hope such tyres can be produced for 2013! 😀


Since it started Formula 1 has been dominated by one or two drivers in every season. Reasons : driver, car , driver -car , other. Now we have started a season with 4 races 4 winners. I think this way Formula 1 racing will become a favorite with people that bet on sports, real fans will go some where else . I am sure horse racing is more predictable rigth now than F1.I insist ,it is like if swimmers for the olympic games going to use swimming trunks that degrade if they go too fast and they will be forced to make stops ,go to to the changing room and back.

The gold medal will be won by the guy with the better shoes to go to the changing room.Is this racing ?????????????


can’t believe we have people defending the current tyres in f1, when you have real drivers, not just schumacher but others + brundle (source, brundles column on sky) all saying the same thing.

when you have drivers not being able to drive to their own limits, let alone the cars, just to nurse some tyres home, pre – determined by a computer calculating tyre wear versus laptime that they have to drive to.

when you have drivers who cannot even consistently run behind another competitor for fear of using up their tyres too much

(ironically, the scenario that f1 has changed so many rules for, so that a car behind can follow closer)

when you have drivers who have just 1 shot to overtake, and cannot persist or their tyres fall apart (kimi at bahrain)

how can you be defending that and calling it exciting racing?

close? qualifying is close yes. very close, the cars are closer than they have ever been in terms of performance, and that comes out in qualifying. And we are robbed of it completely in the race, due to drivers not being able to push like they do in quali.

‘4 different winners!’ well if you enjoy your f1 being a lottery, determined by nothing but track temperature and teams who happen to be in that ‘tyre setup window’ then youre in for the best season ever.

for those of us who like to see the best drivers in the world, driving the best cars in the world, trying their absolute best, trying to maximise their own performance and go as fast as possible (because thats what….racing is) – you’re in for the worst season yet.



F1 is just not F1 anymore.

Not sure what it is now however i’m sure if SENNA were just starting now he would have give F1 a miss. What would be the point, round peg trying to fit into a square hole. A fast dynamic driver in a sport that supports the slow and the people that can manage tires. B-O-R-I-N-G.

There is simply no place for his, Senna or Hamilton or Shumacher, TYPE of racer in F1 anymore.

Is F1 run by a bunch of old men, sure sounds like it?


I doubt Senna would ‘give it a miss’. F1 is still considered to be the pinnacle of motorsport (and I believe it is), certainly of open-wheel racing. Senna had such a pathological need to win (NOT intended as an insult) at the highest and most elite level. There is no way he would choose to race in another league or category if given that choice.


You miss the point he is making


We’ll get into this in detail in the BBC Radio 5 Live coverage across the weekend.


This one has Red Bull written all over it.

The high speed and medium speed corners will suit their package with it’s ultimate downforce.

Mercedes will struggle.

Tornillo Amarillo

Excelent report!

I feel Schumacher is winning this GP, maybe he finally deserves it.

James, it is like McLaren is going backwards with the low-nose desing? Mistake?

flippys pants

I think Schu has a point, but I think it’s a bit more subtle than people are making out. I’ve been trying to explain it to myself, and here’s how i see what he’s talking about, and why not everybody is unhappy.

Imagine a car going round a corner. Its speed is ultimately governed by grip from the tyres. That goes up if the car has more downforce, better suspension etc, but ultimately it comes down to rubber gripping the road.

So imagine a scenario where the car can do 100mph round the corner before it starts to slide. So let’s say 100 is the ‘limit’. All drivers like being at or slightly over this limit as that’s where the fun is and that’s where skill can play a part.

Now this limit is not like the limit put on the car by the engine or the aero, its a whole zone in which the car can perform, differently for each corner depending on loads of factors, not least the skill of the driver.

Some drivers are better than others at the limit, and for arguments sake, might be able to get the car round at 110 mph by sliding it judiciously. Others are not so comfortable and can only get it round at 105, perhaps. so that’s 5% over the ‘limit’. A complete numpty can drive it at 99, of course, because there is no sliding going on and it’s just physics.

Now comes the fun bit. Schu, Ham etc, the ones who pride themselves on car control at the limit (or over – somewhere in that 10%), really like to do that because they are so good at it and it gives them an advantage over the rest of the field. Problem is, with these tyres, one or two laps driven like this means the tyres are finished. So they have to drive at 99% which they hate doing, and wait and watch as the tyres smoothly degrade (can they really work it out to one ten-thousandth of a second?) til they hit the cliff and pit for fresh rubber. Button and the other ‘smooth boys’ take a different approach, which i think is just as impressive a skill, but is less spectacular. They attempt to get ever closer to the 100, but never go over it, 99.9%, if you like. So they are operating in this very tiny window, being ‘gentle’ or ‘careful’ in one set of words, or ‘ultra precise’ , ‘freakishly delicate’, ‘obsessively perfect’ in another. They take a delight in this ability, and great satisfaction from it when it works. They win not by being fastest, but by still having grip when others have lost theirs. That’s one of the reasons there is so much overtaking. The ‘racer’ types just hate this approach. They’d rather be sliding it in under braking, booting it out under a dab of oppo, showing what a hero they are. Which we all love as well, obviously. Now imagine that this precision applies not just to every corner, but every braking event, every traction event, every time the tire is asked to do work, basically. Those who can get it to 99.9% and not go over 100% are the ones who will do best.

So the tyre design has probably gone too far in favour of the smooth guys, but that’s not to denigrate them in my opinion. Question we want to ask ourselves is what kind of racer to we want to win? How much overtaking do we want to see? The answer I think will be to ease back a bit on the deg of the tyres, but not much.


Kudos on the EPIC post.

I think Alain Prost would have excelled in today’s F1.


Hi James,

Any idea if Pirelli are going to be pushing for the use of qualifying tyres next year?

Seems like they have been hinting at it for a while, and it could solve a lot of the current problems (drivers choosing not to run in Q3 etc).


They really need to open up all qualifying with unlimited tires…let them run what ever


Good question, I’ll ask


Would also like to know what changes would be made to starting tyre since currently you have to start with the tyre you used to get your grip spot. Or if Qualifying format would be changed.

Luke Clements


I don’t like all the ‘resource restrictions’ that F1 has imposed on itself…but if we have to have them, why doesn’t F1 just give the allocation for engines, gearboxes, tyre sets (with an extra allocation of hards to cover the safety argument) at the start of the year and just let the teams do whatever the heck they want, whenever they want?

It would be fantastic for its unpredictability, but come November, the best teams will always be there and will have managed their allocation of resources better while the “one hit wonders” who maybe win a GP at the start of the year with new engines and super soft tyres, struggle to limp home with blown up engines and rubbish hard tyres.

Just my two cents, I hate seeing drivers/teams get penalised grid spots for changes of this and that, with my idea they will pay in the long run! Also hate the stupid 2 tyre types per race rule, again this idea fixes it, they will suffer at the end if they have used their best tyres up.


Fair point. But sponsor money is hard for teams to come by at the moment, despite the sport having $billions of future income guaranteed, so if you had unfettered spending there’s no way it would be as close as it is today and that makes for interesting racing

I’d love to know if there was another way..


Another race where drivers will be driving to the very limits of caution, pushing to achieve the highest speed possible in super cars equipped with Pirelli ballet shoes.

May the most gentle, kind, (cautious, even) driver win!


Yes, God forbid we would ever have to watch a race with brave young men, full of testosterone and adrenaline, aggressively fighting each other tooth and nail, while pushing the limits of man and machine.


That type of racing…danger, excitement, aggression, pushing to limits, daring, fast, sliding, power, edge of your seat sennesque..

…um, are you crazy, this is F1, there is simply no place for that sort of thing any more…i mean really.

…F1 now…it must be elegant, slow, polite, dull, boring, a gentlemens sport…with a global TV viewing of about 300 and fast declining.

F1 was a tag or an omega watch in 80’s,90’s, 2000’ its a patek worn by andre reiu fans.


Hallo James , you have written:

“The league table below shows the order of the pit crews based on their fastest time in the Bahrain Grand Prix, from the car entering the pit lane to leaving it.

1. Mercedes 21.888s (1=)

2. Ferrari 21.963s (5)

3. Red Bull 22.017s (1=)”

Now, could you please have look at ?

As we can see there

3 1 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull Racing-Renault 39 16:09:10 21.800 1:06.534

3 2 Mark Webber Red Bull Racing-Renault 39 16:09:31 21.705 1:06.590

The RBR have done there fastest pit at 21.705s . That were faster than Mercedes 21.888s in your table.

best regards,



Thanks, yes. Good spot. Updated


It looks like there are a few banned words in F1 2012 like ‘out and out racer’, ‘out-driving the car’ or ‘to be on the limit’…We seem to equalise the field with name it crazy pirelli tyres or luck, there is no any other secret of seeing different cars finishing on the podium in all of races so far.

Mike from Medellin, Colombia

And what about the knock on effect in terms of driver nicknames from the 2012 tip-toe F1 era:

Brambilla: The Gorilla

Prost: The Professor

Hakkinen: The Flying Fin

Raikkonen: The Iceman

Schumacher: The Red Baron/Schumeister

Mansell: Il Leone

Lauda: The Rat

….and for the 2012 era

Rosberg and Button: The Nurses ?


LOL! Yes.

Craig in Manila

James, I don’t want to move too far into the Pirelli discussion again but is Schumacher the only driver or “insider” that has made negative comments about the tyres ?


Nope he isn’t.

Brundle says he spoke to 2 drivers that had similar critisism of the tyres, Brundle himself was critical of them on the Sky coverage at Bahrain.

Also been told by some of my old FOM mates that they hear a lot of discussion on team radio with teams/drivers “Really laying into the tyres”.

Craig @ Manila

Yeah, and I thought I saw Button quoted as saying something to the effect of him not understanding the tyres at all.


That I’ve heard, yes


Oh really James, are you 100% sure on that?

Perhaps you go and speak to Martin Brundle, James .

He clearly stated that 2 CURRENT pilots were in the car with him after the last race and they compared driving with the tires similar to something “their nanny could do”. TheY were apparently very negative.

So like all things in life, I think we see and read what we want to read and simply ignore the rest.


They mentioned all that off the record

Does he name them?

James doesn’t report on off the record.


Excellent as always, James, thanks!

Will not be watching here in Australia until our local provider puts it back on the HD channel (get in Rusty’s ear, will you 😉



I usually view your site using my iPhone and there is niggling problem. The red ‘more’ link is very close to the link that allows you to make a comment. Due to the tiny size on screen I often end up clicking the comment button by mistake.

Your pages tend to take longer to load than mist other sites (perhaps because of the sidebar content) and so it’s very annoying to end up pressing the wrong link, waiting for it to load, pressing backspace and then taking greater care to press the right link and then wait for that one to load.

Can you please find a way to move the links so that they do not interfere with one another?

I like your site but the navigation and load issue mean that it’s no longer the first site that I go to when I want insightful F1 news. Other than that, my thanks for a great site!


Try clicking on the title of the article instead of the more link.


You can expand the page on an Iphone. I’ve got one too and that’s what I do. I even post stories from it and believe my the risks of pushing the wrong button there are greater!


So in one department where drivers make a direct difference, Schumacher sucks?

Pack your bags old man, before even more doubts regarding your ability start surfacing again.


It’s not where the drivers make a direct difference. Is the setup of the car that makes that difference.

The direct difference that the drivers would make is exactly where Schumacher is complaining. Is their skill of driving flat out..which at this stage they (the drivers) cannot do it because of the tyres.


Come on Kimi!!!


How hard will the F1 drivers be able to push at Barcelona?

Not very hard, I expect the fastest drivers in qualifying to become ominously slow during the race.


I know people have tossed up the question before, but can’t remember the reason against it – but wouldn’t unlimited tyres on raceday be a good compromise? This way drivers can drive flat out if they want to knowing they can pit for fresh tyres if necessary and try to find a proper balance between the time needed for a pitstop vs pushing too hard


Each driver should get 3 sets of each of the 4 compounds for the whole weekend and these should be allowed to be used in whatever configuration the teams and drivers wish.

It can only be described as utterly ridiculous when a driver experiences a puncture in one tyre in practice thus rendering the WHOLE set unusable. The other three (possibly highly valuable supersofts) are perfectly fine.

Any configuration should be permitted; any tyre anywhere on the car, front, right, left, rear. It should be up to the teams and their drivers.


Bad idea. If the tyres go on after 8-10 laps of driving flat out..unless that driver is 2.2 sec faster a lap than the not worth doing it because the 24 sec to change tyres will put him way back.


That’s oversimplifying it a bit, as the track rubbers in frequently mostly by half distance and used harder tyres are often 2.5 sec slower than brand new softs etc. but I do understand the cost issue


unlimited fresh tyres I mean


I think the argument from pirelli is that would require a vast number more tyres manufacturing and shipping to each race – essentially it would drive the cost up enormously for both them and the logistics.

Unlimited anything in formula one equals no control of costs – hence no unlimited testing mileage etc.

I presume that’s the argument against anyway. I’d be a big fan of dedicated qualifying tyres so Saturday’s don’t end up being a save a tyre don’t run exercise.

James Clayton

To be honest you don’t even need unlimited tyres. Considering the massive amount of tyres they bring anyway, surely bringing an extra 2 sets of each compound to each event wouldn’t be a massive burden.

They could also save some money (and they environment, if they really care) by NOT MELTING DOWN AND RECYCLING TYRES THAT *HAVEN’T EVEN BEEN USED* AT A MEETING, as they apparently do now!

Andrew Carter

The number of tyres for a race weekend were limited for envrionmental and financial reasons.

William Wilgus

If F-1 really wanted to be environmentally friendly, it would go back to the 1 tire set for the entire race. That would also reduce costs.


Ahh, environmental reasons. What a load of cr*p!

When I watch formula 1 I want to see cars spitting flames, burning rubber and screaming with power, not hug the bloody trees!

All this environmental awareness cr*p has no place in formula 1 or motor racing. Smaller engines so they are more fuel efficient and better for the environment! What a joke!

What about all the huge trucks and jumbo jets that cart the teams all over the world?? Right, so 24 RACING FORMULA 1 cars being slightly more fuel efficient will really offset that lot!

BRING BACK THE V10’s!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Pirelli need to change these tyres…quickly turning formula 1 into a joke….looking forward to Sunday’s lesson in tyre management, be nice to see some racing instead.


Pirelli have changed things up by providing softs and hards as the two tyre choices.

I think you’ll see more racing than you think this time around (even if I agree that the tyres degrade a bit too readily).


“Qualifying has historically been critical in Barcelona; the last 11 races on this track have been won from pole position…”

With the exception of last year of course where Webber was on pole but finished 4th.

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