Ferrari & Lotus smiling, Red Bull & Mercedes baffled, Williams & McLaren mess

A happy podium (except for Kimi as usual) in Spain

A happy podium (except for Kimi as usual) in Spain

The first European race of the Formula One season provided a boost for Ferrari and Fernando Alonso, with Lotus and Kimi Raikkonen also smiling, but left plenty of other former champions and top teams  feeling the pain.

While Red Bull retained their lead in both championships, they struggled with similar tyre problems to others in Barcelona on Sunday with triple champion Sebastian Vettel finishing off the podium with his lead over Raikkonen cut to four points.

The Circuit de Catalunya, used for two of the three pre-season tests and host of the fifth race of the year, had been seen as a key track in the season after rounds in Asia and the Middle East. All teams brought upgrades to Spain, with former champions McLaren and Williams needing a bigger boost than most after a troubled start and Mercedes eager to show they could be quick on Sunday as well as Saturday.

Ferrari team celebrate

Ferrari team celebrate

In the end, the song remained pretty much the same. Ferrari and Lotus proved easy on the tyres and highly competitive, Force India stayed solidly in the points while Red Bull went slightly off the boil. Pirelli, already in the spotlight after some alarming previous failures that saw treads strip away from the tyres, took more flak for sowing confusion with some 77 pitstops made over the 66 laps.

They vowed to take another look at both the compounds and structures, although nothing can be done for at least another two races.

“It’s a right mess,” said McLaren’s Jenson Button, referring to the tyres rather than his team’s predicament. “It’s the same thing we had in China, waving each other past so we don’t destroy our rubber while hoping that the guy who’s overtaking will.”

Mercedes struggled again to translate qualifying speed into race pace, with Lewis Hamilton plunging from front row to 12th at the chequered flag, while McLaren were still clearly groping around for a silver bullet to their aerodynamic woes.

Lotus celebrate

Lotus team celebrate

Williams, last year’s winners in Spain but without a point in four races, made it five blanks.

“For me this weekend was important just to understand the jump in terms of performance we could expect from the other teams,” Ferrari principal Stefano Domenicali told reporters after Alonso had won his home race and moved up to third overall.

“It seems that everyone has moved more or less with the same kind of improvement,” added the Italian of the evidence from Sunday. “I don’t see a big change.”

Whereas last year saw seven different winners in the first seven races, only three men – all of them world champions – have won so far: Alonso (twice), Raikkonen and Vettel (twice).

Raikkonen has been on the podium in four of the five races and now has 22 successive points finishes, two short of Michael Schumacher’s all-time record although the scoring system has changed.

Lewis Hamilton did not enjoy a fruitful race in Spain

Lewis Hamilton did not enjoy a fruitful race in Spain

The quick-wearing tyres have come in for criticism, with Sunday’s race a blur of pitstops, but Ferrari and Lotus would argue that making the most of them is just a part of the challenge that they have risen to better than others.

Hamilton, looking slightly shell-shocked after a long Mercedes debrief, said it was all part of motor racing but hoped his team would fix their problems with the same sort of speed shown by his car in qualifying.

“I don’t understand what it is,” he said, of a car that has been on pole for the last three races without coming close to winning any of them. “It’s obviously the tyres…there’s something we haven’t quite caught onto just yet.

The McLaren MP4-28 is clearly struggling with Pirelli tyres

The McLaren MP4-28 is clearly struggling with Pirelli tyres

“It’s not rocket science, I don’t think. I don’t know why it’s taken us so long to really grab hold of it. But clearly Ferrari have and so have the Lotuses figured it out. We just need to do that and I’m sure we will at some point.”

Vettel, who had arrived in Spain fresh from a victory in Bahrain, made four pitstops – the same as Alonso – and said Red Bull needed to catch up.

“The first three cars were a little bit too fast for us and regarding looking after the tyres, they did a better job,” said the German. “We’re not going at the pace of the car, we’re going at the pace of the tyres and obviously we do something to make the tyres wear more.” (Reuters)

 

  • Flash Flaherity of the Long Ski

    Where did this come from? Ferrari easy on its tires? It was on a 4 stop strategy, and was having a good day – finally. Lotus easy on its tires? No, they are nursing them at the tune of .5s off the race pace, but made up for it by running one less stop. Red Bull baffled? No, they just tried to run a 3 stop race, then had to make the 4th, that’s just racing. Seb being off pace was to nurse tires to set up a 3 stop. Had it worked, he would have been right behind Kimi, ahead of Massa who was also 4 stopping it at the end… but it didn’t. oh well. Weber got beat by the tires hard this time, he usually finishes much higher here. It’s hard to ignore that Merc, McLaren, Sauber and Williams are way off due to this tire fiasco, while a slower car (Lotus) is enabled by it. Tires, tires, tires… when will this tired mess of a tired issue regarding tires be over with? I know I’m sick and tired of it.

  • Quit crying about the tires

    There is nothing wrong with the tires. The Lotus is not a slow car and Kimi is the major reason that it does so well.

    As for the tires, Ferrari went all out in the race and the tires held up. Face it some of these teams have followed Redbull with super high down force cars and that does not work with the tires.

    To that I say to bad so sad. Redbull can continue to cry along with Mercedes. Hell Mercedes has been a tire eating car for the past 3 1/4 years now.

    You want to blame anyone blame the freaking designer of the cars.

    Lotus did a great job and it looks like Ferrari has it figured out as well. Sauber had it last year but strayed this year. Force India seems to be getting close.

    Just maybe instead of crying about the tires the designers need to design out some of the down force in their cars.

    The Redbull has so much freaking down force that you could put grandma in it and she would qualify top five and finish top five.

    I say get rid of the raised noses and make them run single plane front and rear wings.

  • Steve

    The tyres are junk. Alonso’s winning time was slower than than that in 2012, which was slower than that in 2011.

  • Steve

    “You want to blame anyone blame the freaking designer of the cars.”

    The cars are designed long before anyone sees the tyres, often before the tyres even exist.

  • Lol

    Its not rocket science how to fix this mess. tires should degrade slightly faster if you push – not disintegrate.
    For example. Say Alonso is pushing hard and doing 1 sec a lap quicker than kimi. His tires should reach the cliff 2 or 3 laps earlier.
    ATM the tires will die after 4 laps of hard racing and therefore not advisable for anyone to actually race.

  • Hawk

    @Flash
    the RB was slow on the day. not even the strategy could save it. Vettel did his 3rd pitstop at 40/66 later than the Ferraris. at the time if his car was fast enough he would have caught Massa

  • Butterfly

    It is a known fact that Ferrari and Lotus are the two cars that are the kindest on the tires, whereas Mercedes is the most abusive. The Red Bull is eating its tires, too, though not like the Merc.

    There was a joke that Hungry Heidi (the RB9) is eating the tires.

    Ultimately, if the E21 and the F138 are easier on the tires, it’s because the suspension design is better suited to them. Red Bull went for max downforce like the previous years and it backfired. For them, it is probably like the Ferrari situation in 2005.

    Of course, now they’re crying about it saying the sport is rubbish instead of admitting Adrian Newey got it wrong. I wonder how long Jean Todt will tolerate this kind of trash-talking from Red Bull.

    Talk about bringing the sport into disrepute.

  • McLarenfan

    @Butterfly: Red cows don’t cry they weep and blame everyone else, I hear Vettel thinks Webber is to blame!

  • AussieGritFan

    Regardless of what’s happened at Barcelona, Piralli is changing compounds and the way it’s builds tyres to a mix of 2011 and 2012 standards.

  • Anthony

    F1 is a joke.. I will go watch Indy instead

  • fools

    ALONSO FOR THE 2013 WDC!!!