The race is expected to be dry, and the compounds are medium and hard this weekend.
Practice 1 was slightly spoiled because it was rather soggy at first, then dried later. In the latter stage the rapidly drying nature of the track meant that times (and gaps between them) were somewhat exaggerated, limiting its use as an indication of speed. However, Ferrari will still be happy to get a 1-2 (Alonso fastest), followed by Vergne, Grosjean, Sutil, Hamilton, Bottas, Raikkonen, Rosberg and Di Resta.
P2, thankfully was nice and dry. The top 10 were Vettel, Alonso, Webber, Raikkonen, Massa, Hamilton, Rosberg, Sutil, Vergne and Di Resta. At this stage it looks like a 3 horse race, with the Red Bulls and Ferraris vying for pole and Lotus a shade slower over a single lap but very competitive in race trim.
I saw only a tiny bit of P1 but almost all of P2, and decided to try a slightly new tactic by making a few notes. The commentators were James Allen and Alan McNish, who seemed to offer quite a lot of interesting opinions/insights.
On high fuel with the medium tyre Vettel’s times were about 1:29.5 to 1:30.3, whereas Grosjean managed a lap of 1:28.4 and several faster than Vettel’s best. Mercedes suffered badly, with (if I heard correctly) times of around 1:30.8 degrading to 1:33. Looks like the Silver Arrow will be going backwards again.
Interestingly, Vettel has never had pole in Spain. Doesn’t mean he won’t this time, but his P2 fastest time was a teensy bit lucky as Alonso was 0.017s behind but got held up very slightly and probably would’ve been fastest. Although the commentators didn’t refer to his high fuel times directly I noticed myself one lap of 1:29.118, which is rather nice.
Lotus may well be fastest on race pace but overtaking in Barcelona isn’t easy so they need to start high up the grid. 2 or 3 stops can work at the circuit, and that decision may affect qualifying.
McNish was also bullish about Force India’s prospects in the race, despite slightly lacklustre single lap speed.
So, qualifying speed would seem to be Red Bull/Ferrari equal first then Lotus, with race pace Lotus fastest, then Ferrari, then Red Bull.
Oh, and a tyre on Di Resta’s car was completely destroyed, similar to Hamilton/Massa in Bahrain. Nobody else was affected, but that must be a concern.
In P3 the top 10 were Massa, then Raikkonen (separated by a tiny margin), then Webber, Grosjean, Vettel, Alonso, Di Resta, Sutil, Hamilton and Vergne. Critically, Vergne’s 10th fastest time was on the hard compound tyre (he didn’t set a fast time on the medium).
I’ve backed Vergne to reach Q3 at 3.8 (hedged at 1.6). He was top 10 in every practice session, and I’d suggest the true odds are around 1.8. It’s not a dead cert, but I do think it’s eminently possible.
Toro Rosso are one team whose updates seem to be working nicely. Williams also have taken a step forward, but Sauber and McLaren appear to be treading water. The Force India is looking pretty competitive once again.
Right now this looks like a Lotus/Ferrari duel to me, with Red Bull possibly vying for pole but unless they can start ahead and retain that advantage I suspect the prancing horse and Lotuses will beat them this weekend. Mercedes are looking less speedy than I’d imagined, and I think their imploding tyres will lead them to go backwards in the race.
The harder tyre is apparently better for the race (so says Gary Anderson, who knows his beans) so this should mean we see everyone unafraid to run through the mediums in qualifying, huzzah. Williams appear to suffer more on the mediums, so may qualify poorly but still have the prospect of snaffling a point or two in the race.
Incidentally, Webber has had two poles in Spain (Barcelona) and Vettel none.
After some prevarication (I’m not fond of multiple qualifying tips) I decided to back Massa at 14.5 to get pole (hedged at 5). He was fastest (effectively joint fastest as the margin’s so small) in P3 during the qualifying simulation with Raikkonen, a tenth and a half ahead of the rest. In P1 he was second to Alonso. The Ferrari is clearly a contender for pole and Massa has (over the last 5-6 races or so) been beating Alonso as often as not.
Anyway, let’s hope both tips come off, and that qualifying is delightfully green.