From ‘very confident’ to facing a ‘real test’ – Red Bull, McLaren, Ferrari and Mercedes assess their prospects in Spain!

After a close fight for the win played out at the Canadian Grand Prix, all eyes are now on how the battle could unfold at the front this weekend in Spain. And with his victory in Montreal not being his most straightforward, Max Verstappen feels that there is a definite sense of the “unknown” heading into Barcelona.

On how much he is relishing the increasingly close scrap amongst the top four teams – given Mercedes’ strong outing in Montreal – Verstappen commented: “I think it’s always very tricky, in a way of course exciting. “But every weekend you get to now is a bit more unknown [in] how you’re going to stack up against the field, but that’s good for Formula 1 I guess.”

The RB20 did not appear quite as at ease as in the earlier stages of the season during the last two rounds in Monaco and Canada, but Verstappen is hopeful that the nature of the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya – a venue that has long been on the F1 calendar – can help the car get back to its best. “We’ll try,” said the Dutchman. “This is normally a track that is a bit more straightforward. People have a bit more information about a track like this, it’s been on the calendar for a while. Of course from our side we are hoping to have a good weekend here.” On the other side of the Red Bull garage, Sergio Perez is hopeful of bouncing back from two challenging weekends of his own, having faced a Q1 elimination on Saturday before a DNF on Sunday during both events. “I’m very confident about [fighting back this weekend],” Perez said ahead of the Spanish Grand Prix. “I think we’ve had more than one issue in the last few races with the car, with the preparation and so on.

“We’ve been [on] the back foot, so I’m looking forward tremendously to get back to our level that we had just a few races ago, and I believe that we can get back to that level.” However, Perez acknowledges that having a three-place grid penalty – issued following an infringement in Montreal – will alter his approach “a lot”, adding: “It’s not ideal in a place like this to have that penalty, so we will try our best to try and minimise that.” Canada was a particularly difficult weekend for Ferrari, with both cars failing to finish the race. Carlos Sainz is confident that the squad can learn from what went wrong and perform better in Barcelona.

“I think in a calendar of 24 races, there are always going to be races where you perform at a really high level and other races where you don’t get it right,” the Spaniard explained. “But I think we’ve learned from it. “Now we come to a much more normal track, one of the first Europeans after Imola, and this is where we all know it very well. We know the set-up. We know how to do the out lap, how to do the push lap, and so hopefully we get it right and we are a lot more competitive.” Charles Leclerc was blighted by an engine issue in Montreal, which ultimately forced him to retire from the running. The Monegasque says that the team found a “solution” and, like Sainz, he is expecting a much better weekend.

“The thing that we have been focusing [on] most in the last few days since we understood the engine issue was mostly the lack of performance on the Saturday, which again here I think we didn’t manage things the way we should have and there was probably more performance in the car,” Leclerc reflected on Canada.

“I’m confident that we’ll be back to our level here in Barcelona.” McLaren have enjoyed a good level of performance at most tracks so far during the 2024 season. Can they continue their run of form at the upcoming high-speed circuits? “Good question,” remarked Lando Norris. “It’s definitely been a strength of ours in the past. I think others have improved quite a bit in these high-speed circuits, so just Ferrari, Red Bull have always been good. Now we see Mercedes looking closer to the fight.

“Maybe [we are] a little less confident, but we don’t know yet. We’ve changed quite a few things on the car over the last few weeks and we’ve not been to necessarily high-speed circuits for a while. “We’ll kind of wait and see what we do over the next day of practice and see if we can get the car performing like it has done in the past on high-speed circuits, and then I’ll be confident that we can… We should be able to fight. “The whole season we’ve been strong, at every race. We’ve not had a bad weekend yet, so we’re showing consistency and that’s also a good thing for us.” With no planned upgrades this weekend, Oscar Piastri believes that it will be a “case of maximising what we’ve got” for the Woking-based outfit.

“I think we’ve been pretty strong in the last few weekends, and this will be another good test for everyone,” the Australian added. “[It’s a] much more traditional circuit in terms of a lot less kerb-riding, much smoother, a lot more high-speed cornering. It’ll be a good test for everybody I think.” But perhaps one of the biggest question marks that remains ahead of the weekend is over whether Mercedes can sustain their performance following their best weekend of the year so far in Canada, with George Russell scoring the team’s first pole position and podium of 2024.

“It’s very exciting ahead of this weekend because, ahead of Canada, we were driving on the simulator, trying these new upgrades and it seemed to be a big step forward,” Russell recalled as he spoke to the media in Barcelona. “Honestly I didn’t really believe it when I was driving it on the simulator, and it turned out to be true in Canada. But we also had some indications [with] Canada, being very similar corners around the whole circuit, that we would be fast there. “I think this is going to be a real test and if we can be fast this weekend, that bodes really well for the season.” Lewis Hamilton, meanwhile, sounded a cautious note, stating: “There’s no certainties in this industry. We’ve not been on a high-speed circuit yet, so we’ll see how it goes. I’m optimistic.”

Source: F1