By David Hollywood

It’s 13,635 miles to travel to the following places sequentially: Melbourne, Shanghai, Bahrain, Sochi and then Barcelona. Let alone the trips back to the UK, Italy, or France in between. Allied to that, there’s a new timezone for every destination and already one can see how the first ‘flyaway’ leg of the F1 season can be a grind.

One also suspects that Ferrari have found the whole ordeal quite manageable. With two wins, a pole position, a podium in every race, and most importantly a lead in the drivers’ championship, they’ll be feeling a rare energy. To a lesser extent Force India will be feeling fairly spry as they find themselves once again leading the mid-field sub-championship.

The rest of the grid

For many teams, the line between failure and being able to spin something else will be crossed at the Circuit de Catalunya for the fifth round of this potential season of seasons. Mercedes are chasing their car for the first time in three years, Williams will worry about how many points they’re leaving on the table each weekend, and Red Bull are more than likely desperate for a do-over. Everyone will be looking to address flaws in their first stabs at the new aero-regs, the development curve should be rapid.

From early last season, when these new rules allowing for greater aerodynamic expression were agreed upon, most bookmakers would have shortened the odds on Red Bull re-asserting their dominance over the field. With Adrian Newey in tow, author of ten different World Championship winning cars, this was his and RB’s opportunity to negate the Mercedes engine based superiority of recent years. How wrong they went.

Silver Bullet

They weren’t the only ones in fairness. Mercedes have conspired to lose grip of an advantage that saw them take the last three constructor championships my a margin of 296, 275, and 297 points. They trail Ferrari by just the one point, but they’ll be sweating every time they put something new on the car. They need to fire back after this opening salvo.

Up and down the grid responses to testing and race results will have been processed, evaluated, solutions will have designed and finally engineered. Daniel Ricciardo recently explained that Barcelona is the place these solutions arrive on the car. It’s simply a time frame thing. All teams will have a package to trial in Spain, and that’s the nugget in this melee of Iberian optimism.

Talk Shop

Red Bull in particular have been voicing the virtues of their ‘B-spec’ update. Well and truly marooned between Williams and the front two teams, they’re facing a season of obscurity and disappointment unless they can turn 1.5 seconds a lap deficit into maybe .5 of a second. Suitably, the four-time champions are backing themselves:

“We are pretty optimistic that we will make a significant step forward in Barcelona where a big change of parts is coming.” – Helmut Marko

“If it puts us within half a second, then I think we’re in striking territory. . . from Barcelona we should be good.” – Danny Ricciardo

The problem is, everyone has the same idea:

“Hopefully what will happen from Spain onwards is the updates will put us back into contention, and we will be a contender for fourth, as opposed to relying on opportunities.” – Bob Fernley

“. . .looking forward to the next race in Barcelona. We will be bringing some upgrades there. . .I’m confident we can get back into the fight for the top positions of this intense midfield battle.” – Franz Tost

“We have to tick off this result and concentrate on our updates that we will introduce in Barcelona.” – Monisha Kaltenborn

Results and Recovery

Most, if not all teams, will improve their car between Sochi and Catalunya, so relative improvements will be sparse. We’ll likely see a host of disappointed drivers come Sunday evening on that basis. That being said, one team will move up the pecking order, or close a gap. It’s going to happen, and that’s great. Change is a wonderful thing and we’re very much hoping certain gaps are closed. A three fight at the front would be immense, and even tighter mid-field battle involving either or both of McLaren and Sauber would be hilarious. In a good way.

A final line on the beginning of the ‘European’ leg of the season. Those flyaways always feel prone to anomalies, they’re in different environments, the cars are nascent to say the least, and as mentioned it’s a pretty punishing itinerary for the teams. All parties are surely looking forward to ensconcing themselves into the heritage heart beat of Formula One.

F1 2017 has just reached its first apex. Who has the inside line for the next one should become apparent by the end of the next race weekend.

 

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