The Spanish Grand Prix, for many years now, has been symbolic as one of the first European races of the year and the first real opportunity for the teams to bring major upgrades to their cars.
That pattern has, however, looked slightly different this year after both Red Bull and Mercedes made changes to their respective cars that appeared to make a difference to their pace.
Red Bull are said to have lost up to 5kg with the upgrade they introduced to the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, and it has helped Max Verstappen to two consecutive wins in Imola and Miami, with Ferrari unable to provide an answer to the Austrian’s outfit’s race pace.
The Milton Keynes-based side gained around two tenths of a second per lap with the adaptations, but Ferrari opted not to make any changes due to the limited testing time everyone had that weekend with the first sprint event of the year taking place.
However, the Scuderia are reported to be making a host of changes to the Spanish Grand Prix this weekend, including a lighter floor and a new diffuser that will help them lose weight and increase their straight-line speed by limiting “porpoising” and improving stability as a result.
Reportedly, Ferrari aim to cut 3kg off their car’s weight as a result, and the time gain should be three or four tenths, which could be enough to swing the advantage back in their favour.
Team principal Mattia Binotto will certainly be hoping that such an improvement would move them back ahead of their title rivals in the timesheets, as he does not believe there is much separating them anyway after his team’s qualifying performances.
“I don’t think that the difference is huge. It is a matter of maximum a couple of tenths and we should not forget that [in Miami] we locked the front row,” he said.
“In qualifying we had a better performance compared to the Red Bull, so overall, in a weekend, I don’t think there is much difference between the Red Bull and the Ferrari.”
The Italian also predicted that the changes Red Bull have already made will have incurred a significant amount of costs relative to their $140 million spending budget.
“If there is a concern, it is how much they are developing considering the budget gap. But more than a concern, maybe it is a hope because at some stage they will need to stop,” he explained.
However, suggestions that Red Bull have gone through most of their development budget this year have been described as “nonsense” by adviser Dr Helmut Marko, and fresh reports indicate that they only spent just over $6 million of the $36 million set aside for evolutions of the RB18.
Responding to Binotto’s claim that Red Bull will soon have to halt their development, the Austrian reminded Ferrari of the impact that Carlos Sainz’s accidents will have had on their spending.
Indeed, the Spaniard has suffered major incidents in all of the last three races after spinning out of the Australian Grand Prix early doors, before crashing during qualifying in Imola.
He was wiped out of the race in Bologna by Daniel Ricciardo, before slamming his Ferrari into a concrete barrier during practice for the Miami Grand Prix.
The 27-year-old would love a victory at the Spanish Grand Prix to get himself back on track after a troubled few weeks.
“It would be unique, because it would be the first and it would be at home, for that I work every day and try to get it as soon as possible. The fans will want it, but the one who wants the most is me,” he affirmed.
“That they support me as much as they can, because every little thing they do is noticeable from the car. At home I have always done my best races, I always scored points when I had a car to do it.
“And this year, when there is a car for the podium, we will try win. I remember going to the Spanish GP in 2005 and 2006, with the grandstands full when Fernando was winning races.”
But such an achievement will be challenging for both Sainz and Leclerc, as Red Bull are reported to be taking an incredible 7kg off their car with upgrades of their own this weekend, and if estimations are to be believed, this will put them to within 3kg of the 798kg set by the FIA.
Such a loss in weight would be hugely significant in the battle between the two teams, and if they really are cutting that much weight from their car, Ferrari will need to respond quickly.
This will be difficult to do given the “major” changes Red Bull have coming for the British Grand Prix, so all is looking good for the four-time constructors’ champions.
Things change quickly in F1 though, so the developmental battle will be an intriguing one all throughout the season, but the Spanish Grand Prix is set to be a very telling one as the leading two fight it out to establish dominance in this fascinating season.