Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, 2022

Routine race or “chaos” in Catalunya? Leclerc faces stiff competition in Spain

2022 Spanish Grand Prix pre-race analysis

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The Spanish Grand Prix has a reputation for producing some of the most consistently insipid, unremarkable races of any circuit on the Formula 1 calendar.

A combination of long, sustained corners and an awkward chicane leading onto the main straight proved a major hindrance to racing in Formula 1’s heavily aero-sensitive cars affected by dirty air. With drivers so familiar with the course through countless laps in testing, the event has become known as the ‘Noah’s Ark’ race, where the ranking roughly reflects the field’s performance order from the fastest cars at the front to the slowest car occupying the back row.

But there are several factors which indicate Sunday’s Spanish Grand Prix could be one of the more eventful for many years.

Abnormally high temperatures across the weekend mean tyres are going to be punished around the already abrasive and demanding circuit. Drivers are fully aware of the challenge that is awaiting them tomorrow.

Russell predicted a “chaotic race”
“I think it’s going to be a chaotic race tomorrow,” Mercedes’ George Russell predicted after qualifying. “There’s going to be a number of stops, I believe, for everybody.”

Even Pirelli, who brought the hardest possible tyre compound combination to the Catalunya circuit for this weekend, accept that tyre wear is likely to have a major impact on how the race pans out.

“Degradation will definitely be a factor tomorrow with temperatures predicted to be perhaps even hotter than today,” said Pirelli’s Mario Isola, “This is likely to be the most challenging race of the year for tyres so far, where management and strategy will be key to success.”

As a result, it is likely that a minimum of two stops will be the way to go during the race. Pirelli believe that even a three stop could be viable, recognising the historically low risk of Safety Car appearances at the 4.6-kilometre circuit.

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It was this that led eventual pole sitter Charles Leclerc to forgo a new set of soft tyres in Q2 in order to ensure he had a fresh set to hand for the race should he need it.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, 2022
Verstappen’s Red Bull is a serious threat to Leclerc
Starting alongside the championship leader on the front row of the grid yet again, Max Verstappen has every reason to feel confident of being able to overcome Leclerc in the race just as he did in Saudi Arabia and Miami earlier in the season. With his long run pace in practice appearing to be superior to what Ferrari had been able to produce, Verstappen is optimistic about his chances even if he can’t beat Leclerc down to turn one.

“Well, [the start] can be important but, on the other hand, also not really,” Verstappen said. “For example, last year I took the lead in the start, I still didn’t win the race.

“You need, overall, just good pace during the race. You need good tyre management around here. It’s really hard on tyres with the high-speed cornering. So of course, if there is an opportunity you go for it. If it’s not, you don’t. You just settle and try to wait for the opportunity and hope that of course the package you have tomorrow in the race is competitive enough to fight for the win.”

Acutely aware of how Ferrari’s tyre graining troubles bit them in both Imola and Miami, Verstappen is hopeful that tomorrow’s forecast of another 30-degree day will prove accurate. “Hopefully, tomorrow is going to be again really hot,” he said. “So hopefully we can be good on the tyres again.”

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Despite securing pole position on his one and only completed lap in Q3, Leclerc recognises that the Ferrari might not be the favourites to keep first place by the chequered flag tomorrow.

Spain could have its first home winner for nine years
“We’ve done a bit of a long run this morning, which was much better compared to yesterday,” Leclerc said. “Unfortunately, we didn’t have any other references because we were the only ones doing long runs this morning. But it feels like we found something. Whether it’s going to be enough to challenge Max and Checo [Sergio Perez], I don’t know, but the feeling was better.”

Behind the front row in third, Carlos Sainz Jnr is eying an increasingly overdue maiden grand prix victory in front of a home crowd. His first step to getting there will be to sprint past the pair ahead into the first corner – a real possibility on the longest run to a first corner on the calendar.

“I think there’s two key aspects,” Sainz explained. “There’s the start and the tyre management that you need to get right to win here tomorrow. I’m ready to fight for it. Ready to get a good start, ready to try to get ahead. Ready to try and push from there.

“Obviously try to get a good launch and then it’s all about slipstreaming and braking into turn one. I think it will be good fun if we all get there at the same time – that’s what Formula 1 is about, no? These kinds of moments. It makes it fun and I think we could have a good show.”

Every race so far in 2022 has been about Red Bull versus Ferrari, but Sunday could well be the first time that Mercedes become a genuine factor into the battle out front, with George Russell out-qualifying a Red Bull to line up fourth, with Lewis Hamilton not far behind in sixth. Not content with simply enjoying the fact that his team appeared to have bridged the gap to their rivals ahead, Russell was bullish about his prospects of racing those ahead of him on the grid.

“I think Max looks much quicker than the rest, but I think we’ve got a real shot against Ferrari,” he said. “Unless they’ve found some gains overnight, I think we’ll be in the mix with them. So we’ll be going for it and try to fight for a podium.”

Strikingly, Russell’s top speed at the end of the straight on his final Q3 lap was 6kph faster than Leclerc’s – evidence of how much of a threat the Mercedes could prove to those ahead if he finds himself in their slipstream with DRS available down the main straight during tomorrow’s race. No wonder Mercedes trackside engineering director Andrew Shovlin cannot wait to go racing.

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“We’re looking forward to tomorrow,” said Shovlin. “Our long run looked a more competitive than single-lap yesterday so hopefully we can put some pressure on the cars ahead of us and the high degradation should give some interesting options on strategy.”

Catalunya will test how well the new cars race
Heading into the 2022 season, the years of development building the concept for the new ground-effect cars for this year were driven with circuits like Barcelona in mind. But despite the new philosophy having proved its worth in allowing drivers to race closer than ever before, Sainz believes that overtaking may actually prove even more difficult than usual, though not because of the cars.

“Following, these last couple of days around this track, has been a bit more difficult than lately,” Sainz explained. “I think it’s the heat and I think it’s the tyres that are suffering quite a lot from the heat.

“Every lap that you do behind the car, it’s a lap that you overheat the tyres and you have less grip. It’s a very hot Barcelona and it’s not going to be easy to pass.”

If that turns out to be the case, that will only make the start and track position during the 66 laps even more crucial than usual. But whether it is another routine race or as chaos in Catalunya, Leclerc will have his work cut out to convert his third pole of the season into his third victory.

Sector times

Driver Sector 1 Sector 2 Sector 3
Charles Leclerc 22.004 (3) 29.410 (1) 27.336 (1)
Max Verstappen 21.978 (2) 29.662 (4) 27.411 (3)
Carlos Sainz Jnr 22.080 (5) 29.583 (2) 27.394 (2)
George Russell 21.936 (1) 29.735 (5) 27.698 (7)
Sergio Perez 22.048 (4) 29.761 (6) 27.465 (5)
Lewis Hamilton 22.095 (7) 29.596 (3) 27.821 (9)
Valtteri Bottas 22.198 (10) 29.888 (7) 27.443 (4)
Kevin Magnussen 22.115 (8) 29.988 (8) 27.561 (6)
Daniel Ricciardo 22.179 (9) 30.158 (11) 27.867 (10)
Mick Schumacher 22.275 (13) 30.092 (10) 27.888 (12)
Lando Norris 22.088 (6) 29.991 (9) 27.768 (8)
Esteban Ocon 22.265 (12) 30.296 (13) 27.896 (13)
Yuki Tsunoda 22.262 (11) 30.393 (16) 27.984 (14)
Pierre Gasly 22.304 (14) 30.346 (15) 28.035 (15)
Zhou Guanyu 22.376 (16) 30.230 (12) 27.870 (11)
Sebastian Vettel 22.374 (15) 30.324 (14) 28.197 (17)
Fernando Alonso 22.413 (17) 30.540 (18) 28.090 (16)
Lance Stroll 22.611 (20) 30.410 (17) 28.395 (19)
Alexander Albon 22.570 (19) 30.748 (19) 28.327 (18)
Nicholas Latifi 22.517 (18) 30.812 (20) 28.586 (20)

Speed trap

Pos Driver Car Engine Speed (kph/mph) Gap
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes Mercedes 337.7 (209.8)
2 Alexander Albon Williams Mercedes 333.4 (207.2) -4.3
3 Fernando Alonso Alpine Renault 327.6 (203.6) -10.1
4 Mick Schumacher Haas Ferrari 324.5 (201.6) -13.2
5 Nicholas Latifi Williams Mercedes 324.3 (201.5) -13.4
6 George Russell Mercedes Mercedes 324.0 (201.3) -13.7
7 Kevin Magnussen Haas Ferrari 323.6 (201.1) -14.1
8 Sergio Perez Red Bull Red Bull 323.6 (201.1) -14.1
9 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri Red Bull 322.6 (200.5) -15.1
10 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri Red Bull 322.5 (200.4) -15.2
11 Carlos Sainz Jnr Ferrari Ferrari 322.3 (200.3) -15.4
12 Max Verstappen Red Bull Red Bull 322.3 (200.3) -15.4
13 Esteban Ocon Alpine Renault 322.1 (200.1) -15.6
14 Valtteri Bottas Alfa Romeo Ferrari 321.7 (199.9) -16.0
15 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren Mercedes 321.3 (199.6) -16.4
16 Charles Leclerc Ferrari Ferrari 321.3 (199.6) -16.4
17 Zhou Guanyu Alfa Romeo Ferrari 320.7 (199.3) -17.0
18 Lando Norris McLaren Mercedes 320.5 (199.1) -17.2
19 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin Mercedes 318.9 (198.2) -18.8
20 Lance Stroll Aston Martin Mercedes 318.0 (197.6) -19.7

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Over to you

Can Leclerc repel the threat from Verstappen? Will Mercedes be in the mix at the front?

Share your views on the Spanish Grand Prix in the comments.

2022 Spanish Grand Prix

Browse all 2022 Spanish Grand Prix articles

Author information

Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...

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22 comments on “Routine race or “chaos” in Catalunya? Leclerc faces stiff competition in Spain”

  1. Mercedes with low wings? I am interested to see how this season goes, because it looks like low downforce setups might be the sort of “new meta of setup”.

    1. @krichelle Yeah true and for me it is that the bulk of their downforce is from the floor so this wing work is as you say quite interesting. So it makes sense for MB to be able to go lower wing if they have found more floor downforce. All the while of course seeking balance.

    2. @krichelle
      This might be the case for medium downforce tracks with a mix of high and low speed corners, but without medium speed corners, like in Jeddah or Miami.
      As for Barcelona, I doubt low downforce is a good option there, because you risk sliding too much in S3 and thus overheating the surface of your rear tyres over longer runs.
      Ferrari tried a lower downforce setup in FP2 and that resulted in very high tyre degredation.
      Lower downforce might be a good choice for Baku & Montreal or possibly even Silverstone.

      1. Well, looking at Aston’s straight line speed vs Q position it seems like low downforce is the better way for absolute laptime here – a lot of data missing from this equation, but still, some indication.

        Curious what happens in the race.

  2. This could be another Melbourne-like situation for Leclerc and Ferrari.
    Just managing the pace for the first 3-4 laps, before disappearing into the distance. I wouldn’t be surprised, if Charles Leclerc wins the race by 10+ sec over Verstappen tomorrow, also because he managed to save a fresh set of softs for the race.

    1. Looking at Redbull’s long run pace, it seems to be another Miami-like situation for Ferrari. Max will overtake Charles by the 1st 10 laps and win.

      1. Be ready to prepare some tissues for the race, because the start will be the only time Max is in striking distance to Charles. Leclerc will start on new softs and try to use them to good effect in the first stint and then just manage his pace for a two-stopper with two sets of mediums.
        Max’s only chance will be a SC around laps 30-35, pitting for hards and hoping they will carry him to the end of the race. Even if Verstappen gets ahead of the start, Ferrari could use the undercut to get Leclerc back in front.

        1. I won’t be needing tissues if Ferrari wins today buddy. I’m a Ferrari fan. But having said that, it’s good to manage expectations when Ferrari is fast :-)

  3. Alonso is almost 10 kph faster than the Astons through the speedtrap, but right next to them on the grid. Similar with Williams, who are comfortable slowest in absolute laptime, but fast on the straights. Doesn’t look like there is any logical connection between top speed and laptime.

    1. This was supposed to be a reply to @minilemm

      1. Well, Williams seems to be slipping back to their own league, but point taken re Alonso.
        Looks even worse for AM then :)

  4. Routine drs pass for Verstappen when Leclercs tyres start fading. I hope Mercedes have some good race pace.

  5. The top speeds of Ferrari & Rbr seem close and most likely there will be 2 pit stops so even an undercut in the first pit stops may get an answer in the second pit stops.
    323.6 P
    322.3 S
    322.3 V
    321.3 L

  6. T1 could be interesting, but I hope Ferrari has improved their tyre wear, so they’d have a better win chance on pace.
    Nevertheless, strategies will also be interesting with two-sopper the estimation, as will racing quality with 2022-spec cars around this particular track.

  7. southern Spain

    I’ve seen Barcelona and Montmelo being referred to as ‘southern Spain’ a few times on this site, which is of course incorrect.

  8. I do wish you would stop referring to Barcelona being in southern Spain in your articles. It is in north eastern Spain.

    1. Same. I actually live in Barcelona and makes me laugh to think this is southern Spain. If they were actually racing in the south, like let’s say Sevilla, it would be an absolute scorcher of a race.

    2. Yes that struck me as well. Maybe geography is not the author’s strong point. It would be like saying Newcastle is in southern England!

  9. If not for the DRS, this could be an interesting race, however, I fear will see an effortless DRS overtake by VER on LEC as soon as Ferrari’s tires stat to go off, if not sooner. We can only hope Ferrari have a good strategy, which as experinece shows, is unlikely, otherwise VER will easily ride off into the sunset of “southern Spain”, denying us some serious racing.

    1. @ifiamnotwerymuchmistaken
      Didn’t people say the same before the race at Melbourne?! And then it was Leclerc who disappeared into the distance and not Max.
      Ferrari made big changes to the setup between Friday and Saturday, resulting in Leclerc lapping a second a lap faster on average on his FP3 long run compared to FP2 and 0.65 faster compared to Verstappen’s average laptime in FP3. Apparently Ferrari ran a lower downforce setup iin FP2 which caused very high tyre wear on their car. Ferrari’s long runs in FP1 and FP3 were much more consistent, even more than the RB’s.
      I’d rather bet on Leclerc having a lonely race in P1 than Verstappen.

  10. I wonder if a 3 stop is an option for Ferrari with their tyre deg? Anyone got any data to suggest this?

    1. Unlikely. Judging by Ferrari’s long run pace and consistency in FP3, it’s gonna be a simple 2-stopper with Soft-Medium-Medium (at least in the case of Charles Leclerc).
      RB’s strategy on the other hand is impossible to predict. I doubt they’ll do the same as Ferrari, because they don’t have a fresh set of softs available for the race. Possibly Medium-Medium-(used)soft or gambling on a SC mid-race, extending Max’s opening stint on mediums, and pitting for hards under a SC.
      The tyre strategy will be very interesting this time!

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