More than the sum of the parts
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Tomorrow’s Formula 1 Gran Premio de Espana on the outskirts of Barcelona has the potential to set the tone for the season.
There is a battle going on at the top in this year’s championship, thanks to the re-emergence of Ferrari as a force to be reckoned with and the suspicion that the Mercedes team is more than a little on the back foot.
Barcelona’s Catalunya circuit, the real first race of the European season, is where the teams traditionally bring new parts, development parts, updated parts, even parts to replace the parts they have been experimenting with for weeks.
Depending on whose developments have the greatest beneficial effect, that may set the tone for the next few races.
Red Bull is one team that will have a large load of new bits for the race weekend as part of the plan to get Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo back into championship and race-winning contention.
In the words of the Red Bull team adviser Helmut Marko: “In Barcelona we are coming with a new car.”
Ferrari is more concerned with improving the aerodynamics of the SF70H chassis for Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen.
For Mercedes, it is probable that its new parts will be considerably lighter to reduce the kilogram count of the car that is, in part, thought to be the cause of the perceived dip in performance.
That problem seems to have affected the driving of Lewis Hamilton more than new boy Valtieri Bottas, or perhaps other problems are affecting the sometimes enigmatic Hamilton.
After a superb drive in the Russian GP, Bottas has proved a threat to team-mate Hamilton, and finallyhas a race win under his belt.
I wrote recently that Bottas was in danger of being the No2 driver in the Mercedes team — but with that Sochi win he may have put a stay of execution to that impending role.
He may even join in the fight for the championship.
It was at this event last year that the “wunderkind” that is Verstappen achieved his first, and so far only, win.
Despite his obvious speed and virtuoso-like ability, it doesn’t seem like this year’s RB13 chassis is going to help him win many more grands prix, hence the “new car” quote.
Verstappen’s win, on debut for his new team after being promoted from the Toro Rosso squad in 2016, was impressive and shook up the world of Formula 1. But one win in a driver’s career does not a world champion make.
Since “modern” Formula 1 began in 1950 there have been34 drivers to have just one grand prix win to their name with nine of those drivers winning the Indy 500, classed as a World Championship qualifying event until 1960.
None of those remaining 25 drivers came close to winning the World Driver’s title.
Verstappen and Bottas havethe form for more wins. And, with multiple wins, come championships.
The Spanish Grand Prix also will mark the return of the huge paddock team bases, referred to as the “motorhomes”.
(Known at the McLaren-Honda team as “the brand centre”; at Red Bull Racing it is “the energy station”.)
The paddock will swell in numbers of the hospitality staff, guests, the media and the hangers-on.
This grand prix really does represent a new beginning for Formula 1 2017.
Perhaps there is also a new beginning, in its nascent form, with the return of the McLaren name, however tenuous, to the Indy 500.
With Fernando Alonso driving a McLaren-badged car maybe the famed Indy 500 could reappear on the World Championship list of events.
Great to see, highly unlikely, but nice to dream. It would certainly shake up the sport.