In the cost cap era of Formula 1, teams can no longer spend their way out of technical trouble. A technical development war always rages on in F1. When and how upgrades are deployed has dramatically changed because of the cost cap. The Spanish Grand Prix will be the site for the first major development battle of 2022.
Back to Where It All Began
Week 6 on the Formula 1 calendar finds teams back on European soil at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya. Unlike newer street tracks like Jeddah or Miami, Catalunya is extremely familiar to the teams and drivers. The last time F1 was at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya was the first time the newly designed 2022 cars hit the track for shakedowns.
Since winter testing in February 2022, most of the cars on the grid have changed. Except for Ferrari.
Ferrari, the current Constructor’s Championship leader, debuted the F1-75 at Catalunyain February, running essentially the debut car to the top of the standings. That changes this weekend, as Ferrari is among many teams that are bringing a major upgrade package to Barcelona.
A Change Will Do You Good! Maybe?
Every team is bringing some upgrades to Barcelona. However, two teams will have dramatically different cars than the last time F1 descended on Barcelona: Mercedes and Aston Martin. Both teams are suffering from tricky-to-drive cars and proposing on straights, needing to find a solution to remain competitive against their direct rivals.
The last time the silver arrows hit the track in Barcelona, the Mercedes W-13 looked remarkably different. The first iteration of the W-13 had similar horizontally-aligned side pods to the rest of the grid. Now, the Mercedes features the “zero” side pod – a radical departure from the rest of the grid.
Was the change to the “zero” side pod the right developmental direction for Mercedes? Wind tunnel simulations say “yes.” The Drivers have their doubts. Both Lewis Hamilton and George Hamilton have wrestled with the W-13 this season and openly wondered if the team could go back to the original Barcelona design because it handled better, despite being slower.
Mercedes has used a lot of resources trying to understand the W-13. Considering the cost cap, they are unlikely to go back to the shakedown spec car. However, it is significantly important to solve the W-13’s porpoising problem if they want to close the gap to Ferrari and Red Bull in 2022.
Aston Martin’s “Bold” Development Plan
So, does a change do you good? Aston Martin definitely hopes so. Aston Martin is bringing a major upgrade package for both Sebastian Vettel and Lance Stroll’s cars. Aston Martin’s “bold” plan is to bring upgrades to each race for the rest of the season, attempting to move from backmarker to competitive mid-field team.
Everything points to Aston Martin’s Barcelona upgrades being a big one, some characterizing the upgrades as “half a new car.” How effective these upgrades will be is yet to be determined but Aston Martin hopes that these upgrades can provide more points finishes like Stroll’s 10th place in Miami.
To the Top of the Grid
F1’s technical development war kicks off in earnest this weekend at the Spanish Grand Prix. Will this initiate a re-shuffling of the competitive order? There will likely be some movement amongst the mid-field and backmarkers, however, two teams are clearly atop the grid and unlikely to be caught in 2022.
Ferrari hopes their first upgrade package of 2022 will give them an edge over title rival Red Bull. In race trim, the Red Bull seems like the best race car on the grid. After all, when Max Verstappen finishes a race in 2022, he won the race.
Ferrari is going to need to gain time on Red Bull with these upgrades. Throughout the first five races, Ferrari has run distinctly higher downforce levels compared to Red Bull and has a distinct straight-line speed deficit. Ferrari needs this weekend’s upgrades to address these issues if they want to maintain their lead in the Constructor’s championship.
Unfortunately for Ferrari, there is more lap time to come from the Red Bull. The RB-18 still needs to get lighter. Red Bull’s 2022 issues have primarily been in reliability. If they have solved their reliability problems, Red Bull will continue to chase down Ferrari for the constructor’s title and pass them.
Spanish Grand Prix Predictions
We think Charles Leclerc or Max Verstappen will take pole position. Carlos Sainz needs to have a good weekend at his home race. Sainz has made mistakes under pressure this year and Barcelona will see that trend continue.
Leclerc will take pole position but finish second behind Verstappen. If the W-13’s proposing problems have been fixed, Lewis Hamilton will get his second podium of the year, finishing 3rd.
Valtteri Bottas has looked very strong in the Alfa Romero this season. However, Bottas could slip down the order this weekend but is primed to have a mega weekend in Monaco.
Our dark horses: Daniel Riccardo (McLaren) or Mick Schumacher (Haas) to finish higher in the points than you may expect. Look for the Haas and McLaren drivers to have strong weekends.
In week 6 of the 2022 Formula 1 season, the technical development war ignites. Despite the impending grid-wide upgrades and Ferrari’s best efforts, Red Bull will likely stand tall as the best race car in Formula 1.