until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Formula 1

Six things we've already learned from F1's Spanish Grand Prix

10 min read

Formula 1's Spanish Grand Prix is often a great on-track indicator but before the on-track action has even started it's produced plenty of interesting developments.

Thursday's media day in Barcelona provided plenty from driver market developments to confirmation that two point-less 2024 drivers have received critical changes.

Here's what we learned:

Sainz's decision urgency has increased

Carlos Sainz saying he's close to making up his mind about his post-Ferrari future has become a common theme of F1 Thursdays in 2024. But it appeared to step up a notch at Barcelona with the admission that the dilemma has become a drain.

"A decision will be taken very soon," Sainz promised when asked about his future.

"I don't want to wait any longer. I think it's getting to the point where it's taking space out of my head for quite a few weeks now and months. It's time to make a decision."

Sainz insisted he hasn't made up his mind despite reports to the contrary and said he needs "a couple of days at home" to decide where to go next year. His choice, as it has done for some time, appears to boil down to one between future Audi works team Sauber and Williams.

He'd spent time at home prior to the Spanish GP but with the extra off-track commitments a home race brings, Sainz hasn't had the time to make a final decision.

Much has been made of Sainz's choice prioritising who will be competitive in 2026 with such a major rules overhaul but he highlighted 2025 as an important factor.

"Guessing now in 2024 about who is going to be performing better [in 2026] is almost impossible," Sainz said. "It's a bit of a lottery or coin toss to see who is going to be quicker in 2026.

"2025 becomes also important if I cannot predict '26 and I don't know who is going to be performing better; then '25 is important for me to know. It's also the long-term, trying to understand the power unit side, the team dynamics, all these factors come into play when taking a decision.

"That's why it's taking so long and taking time for me to find some time within myself to take the decision."

You could argue certain aspects of that - the 2025 element, the power unit side of 2026 amid bullish claims of gains from Williams's supplier Mercedes - play into Williams's favour but when asked about the closing gap between customer and manufacturer teams, Sainz said: "Yes it looks closer [between customers and manufacturers] but there are so many other things involved in my decision. Not only that."

All those "other things" will play their role during a critical decision-making time for Sainz that should finally conclude shortly. - Josh Suttill

Perez thinks this will be a reset

The Spanish GP has not been kind to Sergio Perez since he started driving for Red Bull. In 2021 he qualified a second off Max Verstappen and finished well off the podium, in 2022 he was (he felt he was unfairly) asked to move aside for Verstappen to aid Max’s recovery drive to victory having been off the road, and in 2023 Perez qualified outside the top 10 and finished almost 36 seconds behind in a race Verstappen’s Red Bull dominated.

Perez arrives to the 2024 edition badly needing an uptick in form after a serious dip that has coincided with Red Bull generally having a more difficult time getting its car to work well. 

Regardless of whether rivals McLaren, Ferrari and Mercedes have genuinely closed the performance gap in recent races - and Verstappen has suggested the current regulations impose a lower ceiling on development potential compared to the pre-ground effect era, meaning the others should have closed in by now - Verstappen feels Red Bull has “made it a bit harder for ourselves” by starting recent race weekends on the backfoot”.

Perez says those struggles, particularly with the ride quality of the car, have compounded on his side of the garage because of required “compromises” in the setup and then some additional unspecified “issues” with his car in particular in Montreal.

Perez only went as far as saying that a deeper analysis of that problem generating consistent grip from the rear axle on his car in Canada qualifying had revealed additional “mechanical, aero issues” on his side of the garage which means it was “a weekend we can get rid of [write off]” and Barcelona should offer a hard reset even regardless of the fact Canada was worse than it should have been for him.

“We're in a much better place with the car, our understanding of things,” he says when comparing the circumstances of his similarly-timed dip in form in 2023 to this year.

“Last year we tried to compensate too many things with the set-up. We just made [it] quite a bit worse. 

“I believe we're in a much better situation and [better] understanding of the situation so the way the issues have happened in the last few events has just put us on the backfoot.

“Considering the grid penalty [he serves at this race for driving back to the pits with a mangled rear wing in Canada] if we are able to be the team that gets out of here with the most points this weekend will be a good one. 

“To be able to get back to the podium will be the target.” - Ben Anderson

Sargeant has parity at last

Williams’s much-publicised struggles mean that it’s been a long time since Logan Sargeant has had the same equipment as team-mate Alex Albon. He’d originally expected to regain parity last time out in Canada, but finally has the lighter floor first run by Albon at Imola on his car.

Albon was at pains to remind everyone that “we aren’t driving the same car” in reference to the preceding races. He also talked up Sargeant’s “raw speed”.

And Sargeant has shown that recently, as his underlying pace has been good when the spec differences and circumstances are factored in.

“It was meant to come in Canada, but some delays pushed it back,” said Sargeant. “Really, [it’s] the first one of the year for me and fortunately it's weight, so you know that's going to work and that's always nice.

“If I look at qualifying this year it's been so, so tight and every tenth or hundredth or whatever it may be makes a huge difference. Happy to know I'll have that extra bit in my pocket.”

Sargeant has made progress recently, as although his race went badly wrong he was quick in Canada.

That’s what Sargeant is banking on, as when asked by The Race if he was backing himself to be on Albon’s level he answered “I was in Canada, so I plan on continuing that”. - Edd Straw

Why Russell's making more mistakes

George Russell understandably came under plenty of scrutiny after a messy Canadian GP weekend that featured some of the highest highs and lowest lows of his Mercedes stint thus far.

But at Barcelona he offered an interesting take on why there's been a higher frequency of mistakes in 2023 and 2024 (think Russell crashing out of Singapore and Canada last year and his messy Montreal race this year) versus his much cleaner rookie year with Mercedes in 2022.

"I was very upset with myself on Sunday night and Monday morning [but] it was when I watched the race back that I reminded myself how tricky it was out there," Russell said.

"I could have easily not made any of those mistakes if I turned down the risk dial and drove a tenth a lap slower for 70 laps but...if I drove a tenth of a lap slower for 70 laps I probably wouldn't have been in that position in the first place.

"In 2022 I don't think I was pushing myself as much as I am now and I didn't make many mistakes really throughout the course of the season. Now I'm really pushing myself because I really want to get that victory for the team.

"If I was fighting for a championship I probably wouldn't be pushing that much or risking that much during the races but right now we're not fighting for the championship, we have half a chance of victory and I went above and beyond to achieve it and probably too far."

So essentially there will be no change of approach from Russell until he finds himself in a championship fight. He knows Mercedes isn't up there with Red Bull/Ferrari/McLaren on a normal weekend so he believes he has to overreach when there's a sniff of beating them.

If Mercedes' Canada progress is confirmed at Barcelona then the question becomes does Russell's approach change if Mercedes is a regular contender for race wins versus Red Bull this year? - JS

Alpine's trying to turn the page

Esteban Ocon has the look and air of defiance about him right now. There’s been so much chaos and noise swirling around him and Alpine since the Monaco collision, the agreement to part ways at the end of 2024 in the wake of that incident and then the controversial call for a reversal of positions late-on in Canada that led to a fresh public outburst from Ocon.

There was a clear attempt to shut all that noise down immediately as the paddock reconvened in Barcelona, with Ocon telling gathered media (including The Race) “I am not going to comment on any of that” as reporters attempted to discuss the fallout from Canada with him.

Pierre Gasly had twisted the knife slightly beforehand by suggesting Ocon could and should have made the original position switch sooner than he did - that taking two laps to obey the instruction allowed Daniel Ricciardo to escape up the road, and that had Ocon been less obstructive it would have been possible for Alpine to score those extra points the position swap was supposedly designed to achieve.

“It’s done, we move on and we’re fine,” Gasly concluded.

But even suggesting Ocon wasn’t quite as cooperative as he should have been - and insisted he was in the aftermath of Montreal - suggests internal relations have not necessarily completely thawed.

Further attempts to discuss with Ocon any clearing of the Canada air inside the Alpine team were met with short shrift: “I don’t want guys to come back onto Canada. I’m focusing on here [Barcelona] and that’s all I will tell you.”

Before Alpine’s PR shut down this line of questioning completely, Ocon was at least prepared to mention team boss Bruno Famin’s public reassurances of “equal treatment” for Alpine’s drivers for the remainder of 2024.

“That is obviously very important, to finish the season well, all together, and that will be the case,” Ocon said. “We’ve been reassured that this is going to be the case - so we move forward, we turn the page from Canada, and we focus again.”

Alpine currently has one marginally lighter car available, worth 1kg according to Gasly. Ocon confirmed that the car will rotate to him for the Spanish GP, which he said is “probably [where] the equal treatment statement comes from”. - BA

Sauber has granted Zhou's wish

Zhou Guanyu’s season has gone from bad to worse lately, hitting the wall twice in Canada and lagging behind team-mate Valtteri Bottas. The result is, at the request of Zhou, a switch of chassis and other parts.

He originally changed to a new chassis for the Imola weekend, but has now moved to a different, previously-used monocoque that both he and Bottas used earlier in the season. This is part of a comprehensive overhaul of the car in the hope of eliminating any problems hindering his performance.

The 25-year-old was, on average, 0.550s slower than Bottas in the three qualifying sessions since he changed to the new chassis. He has also complained about a lack of confidence, as well as experiencing a run of wing problems stretching back to before the change, with the first occurring in qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix.

“More than the speed, it’s the confidence when pushing the car,” said Zhou when asked what’s gone wrong recently. “We did something different from Imola onwards and, from my side, I’ve really been struggling.

“I find this car very stiff over the bumps. For example, the mistake I did in FP3 [in Canada] was really unexpected. Suddenly, I hit the bumps and the car spun around. This is something strange.

“We’ve made a change before this weekend to make sure I get the feeling like I had at the beginning of the year. I feel completely different now compared to before."

Zhou describes the objective of this as to “try to make sure we have everything different to what I had for the last two or three races.”

While Bottas has been the stronger of the Sauber drivers this season but failed to score a point after being blighted by problems, Zhou has had even more trouble.

Hence the hope that this is, “a brand-new start” - one that really needs to be. - ES

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Email
  • More Networks