2010 Spanish Grand Prix (Barcelona, Round 5, May 7th – 9th)

©FIA, The Circuit de Catalunya
With four races of the nineteen completed, reigning World Champion Jenson Button leads the Drivers Championship, some ten points ahead of Nico Rosberg who in turn is only just ahead of Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton.  Red Bull had a difficult time in China and will be looking to stamp their authority back in Europe, but with teams bringing a large number of car updates, we may see a change in order of things for the foreseeable future. As with the previous events, some of the smaller teams have introduced a third driver to run the first Friday morning session, as Force India and Lotus have done already this season and at Barcelona, HRT joined that list. Rather than Sakon Yamamoto, it was the team’s fourth signing of the year, Christian Klien that took Karun Chandhok for the opening 90 minute run – the need for experience outweighing youthful vigour as the Spanish squad seek to understand their Dallara chassis a little better. As per usual Paul di Resta sat in at Force India; this time the young Scot replaced Adrian Sutil.
Of all the upgrades unveiled upon arrival, the most significant were featured by the Virgin and Mercedes teams.  Timo Glock received a slightly longer Virgin chassis with a new fuel tank and an improved fuel pick-up; thereby allowing the German to get to the end of a race, however his team mate Lucas di Grassi keeps the old chassis for now. Mercedes on the other hand, developed a startling new engine cover design that moved the air box from the roll hoop down to the sides of the cover behind the drivers head, with a view to improving engine cooling and airflow to the rear wing. The development helps Schumacher early on as he secured the third best time of the session just behind the similarly powered McLaren duo of Hamilton and Button – the 2008 Champion leading the way on the time sheets. Schumacher’s Mercedes partner, Rosberg claimed the 6th best time – the two German’s sandwiching both Red Bull drivers, with Mark Webber pipping Sebastian Vettel to 4th on the sheets.  Alonso did not have the best of sessions at his home track, scoring 8th in his Ferrari, but his opening morning was far better than that of fellow Spaniard Pedro de la Rosa – an early spin and a gear box problem denying the Sauber peddler an opportunity to set a time. Both William’s drivers suffered mechanical issues as Nico Hulkenberg stopped on track with an engine failure and Rubens Barrichello had an oil leak problem.

Sutil and Chandhok get back into their respective seats come the start of the second session and immediately hit the track. They were not the only ones though; with greying clouds drawing in, a number of other drivers ventured out on circuit to get in banker miles. Not much time has elapsed when Sutil spun halfway through turn 8 and Chandhok found himself having to take the exit road at turn 10; however neither driver suffered any damage through their various offs. Unfortunately the same could not be said for Nico Hulkenberg – the young Williams driver ran wide exiting the fast turn 9 and pitched his car head on into the tyre barrier at the top of the back straight.  Red flag.  With some very significant damage done to the front end of his FW32 machine, Hulkenberg’s session is done early.  It takes 10 minutes for the session to restart and as the field poured out once again and in slightly cooler conditions, the times began to tumble. Eventually the Red Bull, piloted by Vettel, topped the session; the German being only driver to complete a lap under 80 seconds, although his Australian team mate, Webber runs him close.  Schumacher maintained the progress started in first practice by setting the third best time of the afternoon; however as the clock ticked down, the temperatures go up slightly and the faster times stall. It didn’t mean that drivers stop pushing though, as shown by Chandhok (again), Bruno Senna and Vitaly Petrov – while Petrov may have gone wide trying to go faster, it appears as though the poor balance with the HRT is catching out both its drivers under braking. The session ends with the Toro Rosso of Jaime Alguersuari pulling off in turn 6 – small plumes of blue smoke rising ominously from the rear of the machine.

Heavy overnight rain had made the Catalunya circuit quite green for the start of Saturday morning practice and with precious few venturing out for laps early, the track took some time to properly rubber in.  Although with the sun out and temperatures rising slowly, there was little in the way of dampness on the circuit surface, the same could not be said for the kerbs on the entry into turn 4.  Situated under a pedestrian passover, a couple of inches of overnight water collected in the grooves between the red and white concrete stripes and caught out both Kobayashi in his Sauber and the Renault of Petrov.  Kobayashi, the first at the scene, spun harmlessly into the gravel trap, but his fellow rookie over-corrected his sliding car and slammed backwards into the tyre barrier, shedding the Renault of its rear wing and connecting assembly.  For the second time over the course of the weekend, the red flag was out.
A five minute stoppage ensued and a quaint silence shrouded the circuit – a silence eventually shattered by the roar of the Cosworth at the back of Bruno Senna’s HRT car as he made his way back on track; the green light shining brightly at the top of the pitlane.  Nearly as quickly as Senna had left the pits, the young Brazilian returned – a leak from the rear of the car curtailing his session.  Sutil joined Senna on the sidelines when his Force India suddenly lost drive halfway around the circuit and ground to a halt – the German driver will be hoping this is not representative of the rest of his weekend.  The frontrunners emerged from their hideaways to begin qualifying simulation runs – the times begin to peel away as fast time is bettered by fast time.  An air of resignation drifts amongst the team when it quickly becomes apparent that they may be chasing the Red Bull’s in qualifying rather than competing with them – Sebastian Vettel registering a time nearly one second faster than the nearest non-Red Bull; the young German even has a large gap over his experienced team mate of 0.7 seconds.

Saturday was turning into a dire day for HRT – with Senna’s reliability issues, the team’s second driver Karun Chandhok was handed a five-place grid penalty in qualifying for having a change of gearbox before the morning session got under way.  There were also penalties for the Virgin team too – an error saw them not issuing their gear ratios to the stewards in time and both drivers picked up five place grid penalties as well; however considering all three penalised drivers reside at the rear end of the field, there may be little change of regular form come the end of qualifying itself.  One potential grid alteration could come from Vitaly Petrov – his morning accident necessitated a gearbox change and the five place penalty that goes with it.  With multiple penalties being applied to the newer teams, there were no real surprises at the far end at Qualifying 1; however the regular bottom six find themselves joined by Barrichello – the veteran claiming traffic cost him a good lap.  Despite the updates that his Williams has for this weekend, Barrichello’s young team mate, Hulkenberg, set a time 0.3 of a second quicker in the old car – a very disappointing result for the Brazilian – starting from so far down, Sunday may be a very long day. Liuzzi went out early to get in a Qualifying 2 banker, but the Force India driver struggled to set a competitive time and the Italian had to settle for 17th position.  The second Force India car with Adrian Sutil planted his machine firmly in 11th and was joined by Hulkenberg, Petrov, de la Rosa and both Toro Rosso’s as the second session rejects.
In the third qualifying session, the Red Bulls hit the track and were instantly 1 second up on the 3rd and 4th place McLaren’s – headed by Hamilton on the first run; at this stage pole position seems so certain for the Austrian squad.  The drivers all pit in to take new tyres and fuel for their final runs – this is battle for pole between Vettel and Webber regardless of what anyone else does.  It was during is final run that Vettel drove what looked like a near perfect lap and went fastest, but Webber runs close behind and goes even faster – in fact the Australian was the only driver in qualifying to get into the 1 minute 19 second bracket and finished nearly one second ahead of Hamilton, in a distant third place.  Button put the second McLaren in 5th place sandwiching the Ferrari of Alonso who qualifies on the outside of the second row.  For the first time this season, Schumacher in 6th out-qualifies Rosberg, with Kubica a solid 7th between both Mercedes.  Massa and Kobayashi put their cars 9th and 10th on the grid respectively; however the real story lies with the blue and red duo at the front of the grid.

The driver with the pole position had yet to win in 2010 – by 2.40pm UK time, Mark Webber had altered that fact with a drive so utterly dominant, it left the rest of the field scratching their heads in his wake.  Occasionally one wonders if this tactic of total control may indeed be hurting Red Bull; in terms of television advertising, his car was hardly seen all day long – all the interesting battles were happening behind him, far behind him.  Over the course of the 66 lap distance, the Australian never lost the lead – even during the pitstops.  Judging from the pre-race interviews, there was an air of confidence about him that had been missing all season long; all he had to do was get into the first corner ahead of the pack and the race would be his.  When the red lights did go out, it happened – Webber got away well and secured the lead heading into turn one and with that the race was as good as his.  Thankfully for both TV viewers and the fans, Webber’s Red Bull teammate had a rather more interesting race – Vettel got off the line well and battled hard with Hamilton and Alonso through the first turns and emerged out ahead of the trio – by the end of the first lap it was Red Bull, Red Bull, McLaren and Ferrari leading the way; however it would be some time before this fight began to heat up.
Both Heikki Kovalainen and Bruno Senna must be wishing that they could have a battle along those lines – even if it were further back.  Sadly for the Finn, he did not even make it onto the grid as a failed hydraulic system meant his Lotus would take no part.  Senna for his part did get off the grid, but the Brazilian only lasted three corners, before being punted off circuit and into the tyre barriers – the contact with the rubber wall was not heavy, but it was enough to end his race.  Unfortunately Senna was not the only driver to face difficulties through the long right-hander.  A hard charging Kobayashi ran side-by-side on the outside of turn three with Petrov’s Renault in the corner, but went too far wide and lost momentum – in a flash, the Japanese rookie dropped from 10th down to 16th, but this was the beginning’s of another poor day for the Sauber team.  Starting from 12th on the grid, Pedro de la Rosa was tapped from behind by the Toro Rosso of Sebastien Buemi, shredding de la Rosa’s left rear tyre and breaking Buemi’s front wing.  The veteran Spaniard went back on track; however it was clear that his car had further damage and by the 18th lap, de la Rosa pulled into the garage citing his car to be undrivable – a great shame for the former-McLaren tester, left visibly upset at his home race.  If one Toro Rosso had a bad start, the other had a wonderful one – Jaime Alguersuari started 15th and sliced down the middle of the pack approaching turn one; by the 5th tour, he was already up to 9th place chasing Adrian Sutil and being chased by Robert Kubica.  This battle became quite frustrating for Kubica – as much as the Pole tried, there was simply no way past the younger driver as the curse of the Barcelona circuit became more and more apparent.  For the first time this season, Kubica looked well and truly stuck.  A recovering Buemi gave the impression that there were passing opportunities aplenty, but on closer inspection his moves past the two Virgin’s of Timo Glock and Lucas di Grassi, Jarno Trulli (Lotus) and Karun Chandhok (HRT) simply showcased the gulf in speed between the current midfielders and the new teams.

Thirteen laps was all it took to get the first pitstops under way; Vitantonio Liuzzi making the early move, but the Italian came close to a nasty incident upon pit exit.  As Liuzzi rejoined the track, Buemi came into view attempted a move around the outside of turn 1 – it failed and the Toro Rosso driver took to the escape road and back onto the circuit after turn 2; a move that would earn the Swiss driver a penalty shortly afterward.  Over the course of the next six laps, the rest of the field take their turns to get new tyres; however not all are as clean as they would have liked.  The slow starting Nico Rosberg lost four places on the opening lap and this was compounded by an even slower stop.  The German had all four tyres changed, or so he thought; his right front wheel was not properly attached and despite his best efforts to get away, the car was pulled back to box to have it properly secured – all the while both time and more importantly other cars pass him by.
Up front, the leaders dive into their respective spots for new rubber on laps 17 and 18; upon entry the top 5 still reads as Webber, Vettel, Hamilton, Alonso and Button – on exit, it’s Webber, Hamilton, Vettel, Alonso and… Schumacher.  A stuck wheel holds the reigning World Champion in the pits for only an extra moment, but it’s enough to let Schumacher through; however the legendary German doesn’t have it easy.  As Button rejoins the circuit, he is momentarily wheel-to-wheel with the 7-times World Champion and it’s Schumacher’s aggression and craft that wins out and takes the place away from the McLaren driver.  It all played out rather differently for Hamilton – a slow stop for Vettel gave Hamilton enough extra time to close up when the Briton stopped; however as the two rivals closed in on eachother approaching turn one, neither could surely have anticipated a slowing Virgin on the apex of the corner.  Both are baulked badly, but the loss of position is confirmed for Vettel when he runs onto the escape road, essentially giving the position away; now Hamilton was on the chase and sensing Webber.  While Hamilton chased, both Button and Schumacher fought and it was quite magnificent – for lap after lap, the McLaren driver hounded the 41-year-old with nods into turn 1 and decisive flicks into turn 5; all strategies that may have worked on a driver of lesser quality, but unfortunately Button was up against Schumacher and there was no way Button could get through.  This is not to say that overtaking is completely impossible though as on the 24th lap, a fired up Alguersuari picks up a draft on Nico Hulkenberg and swings around the outside of the Williams driver – a repeat of the move Jaime pulled on the German in Malaysia four weeks ago; however the  brilliance of that overtake was equally matched by the youngsters’ poor judgement a few laps later.  While attempting to lap the Chandhok, Alguersuari pulled out of the draft of the HRT and swept across the front of the Indian; taking of Chandhok’s front wing and sending both off track and although both were able to rejoin, Chandhok had to pull off the following lap – the damage was just too great.  With both Hispania Racing cars out before half distance, a poor weekend had come to a close.  Alguersuari, meanwhile, received a drive through penalty.  Oddly enough, it was not the first time that HRT driver had nearly been taken out while been lapped – a quiet Felipe Massa attempted an ill-conceived move approaching the last chicane and very nearly caused an accident.  The incident cost Massa part of his front wing, but rather than slow him down, he managed to go half-a-second per lap faster; however the Ferrari driver was by now stuck well and truly behind the Schumacher-Button battle and unless they hit some extraordinarily poor luck, Massa was simply never going to pass.

Unlike Massa, Webber didn’t have to find extra speed – he already had it and spent most of the second half of the race pulling away from his followers.  By two-thirds distance, it was 11 seconds, but with every tour of the course, the gap got larger until it was up to 18 seconds; it would surely take a failure on the Red Bull to give this away and as the laps ticked by a Red Bull was indeed shackled with failing brakes; alas it was not Webber, but his team mate Vettel.  A trip through the gravel trap in the turn 7/8 section was the first sign and the ominous message from the pit wall confirmed – Vettel won in Malaysia, but was denied victories in Bahrain in Australia and now he was under pressure to guide the Red Bull home in Spain.  Come the end of the lap, Vettel pitted for new tyres and a new front wing, replacing the battle scarred aero piece – it was a relatively quick stop, but it was enough to let Alonso through into 3rd place.  The Spanish fans went wild with this – Alonso had spent the race putting in some relative quick laps, yet was generally having an uneventful race and while still fast, he was not close enough nor fast enough to threaten Hamilton; it would take a failure to elevate the home favourite into second place and on the 65th lap of 66, that is exactly what he got.  Lewis Hamilton in his McLaren had run a very solid race behind Webber, when a wheel rim let go on his left front tyre – his Bridgestone tyre delaminated and pitched the Englishman into the tyre barriers in turn 3; as with Senna at the beginning of the race, it was not overly tough contact, but definitely enough to retire him on the spot – now Alonso was up to P2 and the Spanish faithful went wild.  Behind the Ferrari, Vettel receives constant messages to take it easy and the young German is able to keep within three seconds of Webber’s top pace – thankfully, the Red Bull has such a large gap over the now 4th place Schumacher, that the threat is largely minimal; however the worry on the pit wall persists.
It needn’t have though – Webber brings his Red Bull across the finish line first followed by Alonso and Vettel; his gap to Schumacher just 11 seconds by the flag.  Button took fifth place with Massa, Sutil and Kubica close behind.  Rubens Barrichello picked up a 9th place finish and two points in a race where he was virtually invisible; while Alguersuari salvaged 10th spot on the last lap thanks to Liuzzi’s Force India giving up the ghost on the final lap.  In every way, Webber trounced the field – he was hoping for a boring race and for the most part, he got it.  Indeed, there were flashes of excitement and quality racing – mainly from Button and Schumacher, but the 2010 Spanish Grand Prix will join the long list of races at Barcelona that ultimately failed to truly excite or invigorate.  From here, the team will pack up fast and rush to Monaco – the jewel in the crown begins in only four days time.  It’s the race that everyone wants to win and Mark Webber will take to the streets ultra confident and on a roll.
Race Rating: 2 out of 5


Barcelona, Spanish Grand Prix (Round 5, May 9th)
1  WEBBER       Red Bull     66 laps
2  ALONSO       Ferrari      +24.0s
3  VETTEL       Red Bull     +51.3s
4  SCHUMACHER   Mercedes     +62.1s
5  BUTTON       McLaren      +63.7s
6  MASSA        Ferrari      +65.7s
7  SUTIL        Force India  +72.9s
8  KUBICA       Renault      +73.6s
9  BARRICHELLO  Williams     +1 lap
10 ALGUERSUARI  Toro Rosso   +1 lap
11 PETROV       Renault      +1 lap
12 KOBAYASHI    Sauber       +1 lap
13 ROSBERG      Mercedes     +1 lap
14 HAMILTON     McLaren      +2 laps
15 LIUZZI       Force India  +2 laps
16 HULKENBERG   Williams     +2 laps
17 TRULLI       Lotus        +3 laps
18 GLOCK        Virgin       +3 laps
19 DI GRASSI    Virgin       +4 laps
R  BUEMI        Toro Rosso   +24 laps
R  CHANDHOK     HRT          +39 laps
R  DE LA ROSA   Sauber       +48 laps
R  SENNA        HRT          +66 laps
R  KOVALAINEN   Lotus        +66 laps (DNS)

Barcelona, Qualifying (May 8th)
3rd Session
1  WEBBER       Red Bull     1m19.995s
2  VETTEL       Red Bull     1m20.101s
3  HAMILTON     McLaren      1m20.829s
4  ALONSO       Ferrari      1m20.937s
5  BUTTON       McLaren      1m20.991s
6  SCHUMACHER   Mercedes     1m21.294s
7  KUBICA       Renault      1m21.353s
8  ROSBERG      Mercedes     1m21.408s
9  MASSA        Ferrari      1m21.585s
10 KOBAYASHI    Sauber       1m21.984s
2nd Session
11 SUTIL        Force India  1m21.985s
12 DE LA ROSA   Sauber       1m22.026s
13 HULKENBERG   Williams     1m22.131s
14 BUEMI        Toro Rosso   1m22.191s
15 ALGUERSUARI  Toro Rosso   1m22.207s
16 LIUZZI       Force India  1m22.854s
1st Session
17 BARRICHELLO  Williams     1m23.125s
18 TRULLI       Lotus        1m24.674s
19 PETROV       Renault      1m22.139s (* Penalty; originally 14th)
20 KOVALAINEN   Lotus        1m24.748s
21 SENNA        HRT          1m27.122s
22 GLOCK        Virgin       1m25.475s (* Penalty; originally 21st)
23 DI GRASSI    Virgin       1m25.556s (* Penalty; originally 22nd)
24 CHANDHOK     HRT          1m26.750s (* Penalty; originally 23rd)

Barcelona, 3rd Free Practice (May 8th)
1  VETTEL       Red Bull     1m20.528s
2  WEBBER       Red Bull     1m21.232s
3  HAMILTON     McLaren      1m21.348s
4  BUTTON       McLaren      1m21.376s
5  SCHUMACHER   Mercedes     1m21.583s
6  MASSA        Ferrari      1m21.749s
7  ROSBERG      Mercedes     1m22.013s
8  ALONSO       Ferrari      1m22.091s
9  KUBICA       Renault      1m22.242s
10 SUTIL        Force India  1m22.377s
11 BUEMI        Toro Rosso   1m22.400s
12 KOBAYASHI    Sauber       1m22.412s
13 DE LA ROSA   Sauber       1m22.527s
14 HULKENBERG   Williams     1m22.634s
15 ALGUERSUARI  Toro Rosso   1m22.926s
16 BARRICHELLO  Williams     1m22.953s
17 LIUZZI       Force India  1m23.597s
18 PETROV       Renault      1m23.896s
19 TRULLI       Lotus        1m24.610s
20 KOVALAINEN   Lotus        1m24.745s
21 GLOCK        Virgin       1m25.722s
22 DI GRASSI    Virgin       1m25.855s
23 CHANDHOK     HRT          1m26.611s
24 SENNA        HRT          1m30.246s

Barcelona, 2nd Free Practice (May 7th)
1  VETTEL        Red Bull      1m19.965s
2  WEBBER        Red Bull      1m20.175s
3  SCHUMACHER    Mercedes      1m20.757s
4  ALONSO        Ferrari       1m20.819s
5  HAMILTON      McLaren       1m21.191s
6  KUBICA        Renault       1m21.202s
7  ROSBERG       Mercedes      1m21.271s
8  MASSA         Ferrari       1m21.302s
9  BUTTON        McLaren       1m21.364s
10 SUTIL         Force India   1m21.518s
11 DE LA ROSA    Sauber        1m21.672s
12 LIUZZI        Force India   1m21.904s
13 KOBAYASHI     Sauber        1m21.931s
14 BUEMI         Toro Rosso    1m22.184s
15 BARRICHELLO   Williams      1m22.192s
16 PETROV        Renault       1m22.435s
17 ALGUERSUARI   Toro Rosso    1m22.449s
18 HULKENBERG    Williams      1m23.765s
19 TRULLI        Lotus         1m24.209s
20 KOVALAINEN    Lotus         1m24.894s
21 DI GRASSI     Virgin        1m25.066s
22 CHANDHOK      HRT           1m25.972s
23 SENNA         HRT           1m26.152s
24 GLOCK         Virgin        1m26.596s

Barcelona, 1st Free Practice (May 7th)
1  HAMILTON      McLaren       1m21.134s
2  BUTTON        McLaren       1m21.672s
3  SCHUMACHER    Mercedes      1m21.716s
4  WEBBER        Red Bull      1m22.011s
5  VETTEL        Red Bull      1m22.026s
6  ROSBERG       Mercedes      1m22.070s
7  KUBICA        Renault       1m22.202s
8  ALONSO        Ferrari       1m22.258s
9  PETROV        Renault       1m22.397s
10 KOBAYASHI     Sauber        1m22.492s
11 BUEMI         Toro Rosso    1m22.588s
12 MASSA         Ferrari       1m22.975s
13 DI RESTA      Force India   1m23.030s
14 ALGUERSUARI   Toro Rosso    1m23.110s
15 LIUZZI        Force India   1m23.284s
16 BARRICHELLO   Williams      1m23.312s
17 HULKENBERG    Williams      1m23.471s
18 KOVALAINEN    Lotus         1m25.329s
19 TRULLI        Lotus         1m26.244s
20 GLOCK         Virgin        1m26.340s
21 DI GRASSI     Virgin        1m26.694s
22 KLIEN         HRT           1m27.250s
23 SENNA         HRT           1m27.752s
24 DE LA ROSA    Sauber        no time

Driver Team Points
1. Jenson Button McLaren 70
2. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 67
3. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull Racing 60
4. Mark Webber Red Bull Racing 53
5. Nico Rosberg Mercedes GP 50
6. Lewis Hamilton McLaren 49
7. Felipe Massa Ferrari 49
8. Robert Kubica Renault 44
9. Michael Schumacher Mercedes GP 22
10. Adrian Sutil Force India 16
11. Vitantonio Liuzzi Force India 8
12. Rubens Barrichello Williams 7
13. Vitaly Petrov Renault 6
14. Jaime Alguersuari Scuderia Toro Rosso 3
15. Nico Hulkenberg Williams 1
Constructor Team Points
1. McLaren 119
2. Ferrari 116
3. Red Bull Racing 113
4. Mercedes GP 72
5. Renault 50
6. Force India 24
7. Williams 8
8. Scuderia Toro Rosso 3

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