Can anyone really stop Red Bull in Barcelona?

Here are all the key talking points for 2023 Spanish Grand Prix, the seventh round of the Formula 1 season

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Another Formula 1 race weekend, another Red Bull victory? That’s the most likely outcome in F1 at the moment and there is a sense of inevitability about everything. This is live sport though and you just never know.

But, you have to give enormous credit to everyone involved in building the RB19 because if Monaco was their weakest track of the season, then everyone else has a very steep uphill battle ahead.

The Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya is seen by many as the perfect testing venue for any racing car, so we will get a clear indication of what the pecking order is and how far Red Bull are ahead.

Verstappen’s playground

Max Verstappen is well on course for a third F1 world title as he leads teammate Sergio Perez by 39 points in the driver standings.

Perez cannot afford any more retirements or costly mistakes that mean he fails to score points – and even that will probably not be enough to realistically challenge Verstappen over the remaining 16 events.

Unfortunately for Perez, the Spanish Grand Prix is one of Verstappen‘s strongest events. The Dutchman took his maiden F1 win there in 2016 and has not been beaten in a race, when he’s finished, since then in Barcelona.

Max Verstappen wins his maiden F1 race at the 2016 Spanish GP | Mark Thompson / Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Verstappen‘s raw speed usually puts him ahead of his teammates anyway, but he seems to particularly gel around the 2.894 miles of the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.

In 2022, he had an off at Turn 4 but came back to beat George Russell and Perez, making what should have been a tough comeback, look rather comfortable.

“How it looks like at the moment, I think we can [win every race], but that’s very unlikely to happen,” Verstappen told the press.

“There are always things that go wrong, or you have, a retirement or whatever. But, like purely on pace, I think at the moment, it looks like that.

“But we will always get to tracks maybe where it doesn’t work out exactly, or whatever, bad luck in qualifying, you make your own mistakes.

Monaco GP 2023 winner Max Verstappen of Red Bull on the podium | Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

“And about the dominance? I mean, we’ve always seen this in Formula 1, it’s nothing new. So I think the longer you leave the regulations the same, the closer people will get. So maybe this is something we need to look at.

“You have the odd year, or maybe two years where there are two teams fighting, maybe potentially a third team, but overall, when you look back at the ‘80s, the ‘90s, the 2000s and the early 2010s, all the way to 2020, it’s been pure dominance of certain teams.”

Can Alonso win on home soil?

If there is one driver who will seriously fancy his chances against the Red Bulls, it’s Fernando Alonso.

His last win in F1 came 10 years ago at the Spanish GP, following a wonderful move at the start of the race where he darted around the outside of Kimi Raikkonen and Lewis Hamilton at Turn 3.

Overall, Aston Martin have had the second best package to Mercedes and have been a match in the high speed corners, of which there are plenty around Barcelona.

Race winner Max Verstappen of Red Bull Second placed Fernando Alonso of Aston Martin F1 after 2023 Monaco Grand Prix | Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

“We have some new parts. I’m not sure exactly what, you will see it on the documents that the FIA is releasing,” said Alonso.

“I think front wing, there is some modification there, and we’re bringing always new parts to the car. Some of them are just circuit-specific, sometimes it’s just an improvement in lap time.

“I’m happy with how we are approaching every race, there is something always new on our car, try to keep up the pace with the top teams.

“I think we’re still growing in that area of the team, we found ourselves in a very competitive place this year, that we didn’t expect, so I think we still need to speed up things.

“I think Ferrari is already two floors into this season, Mercedes obviously with a completely new car in Monaco and more upgrades here, Red Bull – Baku package and another one here.

“So we understand that we are not in that position yet, but we stay humble, we stay delivering the job on Sundays and try to score more points than them.”

Lance Stroll needs a much improved weekend after being a long way off the pace of Alonso in Baku, Miami and Monaco.

He was knocked out of Q1 in Miami and had a race to forget which ended in the barriers at the Lowes Hairpin and before Portier.

“Things happen in racing, and we had some tough weekends,” said Stroll. “We had a retirement in Jeddah and I think we were having a strong weekend last weekend and then some damage in Q2 cost us an opportunity for good points on Sunday – and Monaco is all about Saturday really, so I think it’s just how it goes.

“There’s good weekends and bad weekends. Like every other weekend I’m just coming into this one trying to get the most out of it.”

Mercedes v Alpine?

Pierre Gasly has called on Alpine to repeat their performance from Monaco, so it will be fascinating to see how they fare in Barcelona – which is a more conventional circuit.

Meanwhile, George Russell says Mercedes didn’t learn anything from their upgrades in Monaco and hope they can be closer to the front.

“I think there’s a big variety between Saturday and Sunday,” said Russell. “When you look at Saturday performance, we’re certainly behind Ferrari and Aston Martin, maybe the Alpine as well.

“But when you then look at Sunday performance, we’re probably a little bit closer to Aston Martin but this weekend is going to be a big test.

“We’d like to think we can jump ahead of Ferrari, close the gap to Fernando and Red Bull to hopefully get P2 in the constructors.”

George Russell at 2023 Spanish Grand Prix | Mercedes F1 Team/Sam Bloxham

New Barcelona layout

Much to the delight of fans and drivers, the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya will return to its pre-2007 layout of two, sweeping right-handers to conclude the lap.

Since 2007, there has been a chicane before the final corner and many believe it has decreased the chances of overtaking down to Turn 1.

Opinion has been split over whether the racing will improve with the faster final sector. If the car behind is forced to lift when the driver ahead doesn’t, it could still be difficult to make a move down the main straight.

Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya | Formula 1

One guarantee is the left-front tyre will get some serious punishment. The drivers already lean hard on that tyre through Turn 4 and Turn 9, so two fast right-handers at the end will see the temperature of that tyre soar.

Two pit stops is the absolute minimum and strategy will be key on Sunday, given tyre wear could be a big problem.

John Smith
John Smithhttps://total-motorsport.com
Editor at Total-Motorsport.com and all round Motorsport journalist specialising in Formula 1, IndyCar and Formula E.
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