Will dusty Spain give title clues?

2013-05-09 07:59

BARCELONA, Spain - Formula 1 returns "home" this weekend for the first European race of the 2013 season with a familiar scenario unfolding amid hopes of an upset to match that of last year, unexpected dramas at the Spanish GP.

Defending triple World champion Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull), who won at the Circuit de Catalunya in 2011, is leading the title race again, this time with 77 points and 10 point margin ahead of second-placed rival Kimi Raikkonen (Lotus). Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) is third with 27.

Each will arrive at the track, around 25km up in the hills behind Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia province, with high hopes that improvments to their respective cars can bring them victory in Sunday's 66-lap race on a circuit they know better than any other because it is used so much for testing and hosted two-thirds of the pre-season work for the 2013 title race.


Last year's winner Venezuelan Pastor Maldonado has zero points after four races and isn't expected to ignite again the widespread celebrations of a Williams victory that ended with a serious blaze in the team garage.

A tight scrap between the leading teams is expected and that should go some way towards indicating which drivers are likely to emerge as the most serious contenders for 2013 championship glory.

Vettel and the Red Bull team are setting the pace, despite a spate of intra-team scraps initiated by the 25-year-old German's decision in Kuala Lumpur to ignore team orders and take victory from team mate Mark Webber.

That drama set the tone for much of the season to date as it arose from the teams' need to preserve tyres and car performance in demanding conditions - a feature that may be replicated this weekend if hot weather again plays havoc with Pirelli's supply of rubber and turns the race into a strategy contest again.


Since the Catalan track was introduced to the calendar in 1991, replacing a Spanish race held at Jerez, it has earned a reputation for offering a broad examination of the cars and drivers, thanks to its mix of medium and high-speed corners, a low-speed complex and a long straight.

In 16 of the past 22 seasons, the winning team in Spain lifted the Constructors' trophy.

Additonally, in 18 of those races, the driver who started from pole position was triumphant. Maldonado won, from a 'lucky pole', in 2012 only after Hamilton was excluded from qualifying because of fuel problems afterwards. He had had the fastest lap.

Demanding, predictable and exhaustive, the circuit is also usually hot, dusty and dull - producing races with little overtaking and not much incident. However it is sure to create fervour around home favourite and double World champion Fernando Alonso (Ferrari) but might not deliver a contest to remember.

Alonso, fourth in the title race and enjoying the prospect of racing in a competitive car through 2013, is expected to mount a challenge to Vettel, Webber, Raikkonen and Hamilton at the front of the field.


Raikkonen, whose future has already become the subject of much conjecture, will be hoping Lotus has found the developments it needs to stay in the title race after a promising start but this week's loss of technical director James Allison, who has been approached by a host of teams, among them Ferrari, McLaren and Williams, might be a blow.

He's been replaced by the promotion of Nick Chester from within the ranks and it remains to be seen if that change will hve any effect on Lotus' performance as the season unfolds or the future of Raikkonen, one of five World champions in the field this year.

Lotus team chief Eric Boullier said promoting Chester from his current role as engineering director would minimise the damage. He said:

"Nick is well known to everyone, having been with the team for more than 12 years. He is already directly involved with this and 2013's cars, ensuring a smooth transition which has been under way for some time.

"It's an illustration of our strength and breadth of talent that we can draw on personnel of the Nick's calibre and it's something of a tradition for new technical directors to be promoted from within."