Why Spanish GP will dictate how F1 2024 will pan out

Red Bull have won the last two Spanish Grand Prix but can they make it three in a row?

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There has been a genuine feeling of competitiveness and not knowing who will win each Formula 1 race recently but that might turn on its head at the 2024 Spanish GP.

The Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya tests every part of the car and if you’re quick in Spain, you will be fast at most events on the F1 calendar.

Red Bull were expected to be on the backfoot in Monaco and Canada but this weekend they are favourites, with Max Verstappen expected to extend his 56-point championship lead over Charles Leclerc.

That’s because the more “normal” track layout should suit the RB20 but what if Red Bull don’t have the car to beat? What does that mean for F1 in 2024 and if Verstappen is beaten on merit on Sunday, it’s game on.

A season defining weekend?

After a dominant Chinese GP victory for Verstappen in April, F1 has produced some cracking races. First, Lando Norris claimed his maiden Grand Prix win in Miami before chasing Verstappen hard in a wonderful lead battle during the closing stages in Imola.

Leclerc ended his Monaco curse with a long-awaited win on home soil, then Verstappen showed his class in a dramatic Canadian GP, where three teams fought for first place.

Race winner Max Verstappen Second placed Lando Norris of McLaren and Third placed George Russell of Mercedes celebrate on the podium after the 2024 Canadian Grand Prix | Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool
Race winner Max Verstappen Second placed Lando Norris of McLaren and Third placed George Russell of Mercedes celebrate on the podium after the 2024 Canadian Grand Prix | Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Red Bull‘s performance advantage gone, drivers making the difference and multiple teams fancying their chances at standing on the top step of the podium. It’s been brilliant and badly needed.

The only thing missing is a serious title fight. Verstappen is 56 points in front of Leclerc and 63 points ahead of Norris in the drivers’ championship.

In the constructors’ standings, it’s a 49-point lead for Red Bull over Ferrari, with McLaren another 40 points back. These margins can quickly be closed down though and we still have 15 events remaining.

For that to happen though, McLaren or Ferrari need genuine pace and victory at the Spanish GP would be huge because nine of the last 10 winning cars in Spain have gone on to win the constructors’ title.

The exception is the famous 2016 race, where Verstappen became F1‘s youngest ever winner at 18 years and 228 days old, after capitalising on Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg colliding on the opening lap.

“Normally this is a track our car should suit a bit more,” said Verstappen. “I’m aware everyone is catching up a lot but compared to the last few races we have done, this should be a better track.

“People are constantly improving and sometimes you just have a better weekend than others with the way you set up the car.”

Max Verstappen in the F1 paddock ahead of the 2024 Spanish Grand Prix | Chris Graythen / Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool
Max Verstappen in the F1 paddock ahead of the 2024 Spanish Grand Prix | Chris Graythen / Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Upgrades for nearly everyone

The mix of high-speed corners which test the aerodynamics and low-speed turns that rely on good mechanical grip in Spain, means any weaknesses will be found out.

It’s also the perfect circuit to test new parts, hence why it’s used as a testing venue for decades by all motorsport categories, so every team apart from Alpine are brining upgrades to the Spanish GP.

Three one-hour practice sessions, set to be held in dry conditions, will be music to the teams’ ears, so expect to see plenty of aero rakes and flow-vis paint on Friday.

Ferrari have fast-tracked their development plans to get a new floor and revised rear bodywork onto the car. This is a big upgrade and if it works, it could move them on terms with Red Bull and McLaren.

The latter two teams have been quiet about what they are bringing, with Mercedes also not stating how significant their updates will be in Barcelona.

“I always have felt like the Red Bull tends to perform really well in the medium-high speed tracks, also rougher tarmacs like Bahrain or now Barcelona,” said Ferrari‘s Carlos Sainz. “I think they are going to be the team to beat.

“But I think also McLaren is very strong in high-speed corners like here and now they are not weak anymore in low-speed corners. We need to see how that upgrade from Mercedes performs in Barcelona because they were, by fact they were the quickest in Canada.

“Then, we need to see if Ferrari can find the form of Monaco and with a bit of an upgrade maybe be also good in high-speed tracks and tyre management. That’s why I say the field is extremely compact and extremely unknown.

“It’s very difficult to judge until Friday, even FP3, who’s going to be the quickest one, which is actually pretty exciting for everyone.”

Flexi-wing debate gaining traction

You know things are genuinely competitive when the FIA are being asked by front-running teams to look at certain areas on the car of their rivals.

Flexible parts have always been a big talking point and Red Bull have reportedly pointed a finger or two at the front wings of McLaren and Ferrari, which are allegedly flexing.

In simple terms, flexible parts are not allowed but teams try to bend the rules, pardon the pun, to gain an aerodynamic advantage.

Nothing has happened yet, but this is a controversy which could soon grow, with Red Bull looking at copying their rivals, if the FIA see no wrongdoing from McLaren and Ferrari.

Speaking of controversy, Red Bull were fined and Sergio Perez crucially awarded a three-grid place penalty for this Sunday’s Spanish GP after not stopping his car and driving back to the pit lane in Canada with a damaged rear wing after he crashed.

That means Perez could start towards the end of the top 10, so Verstappen will be left by himself at front. In a race where multiple pit stops are expected and the undercut is powerful, that could be vital and give the other teams a chance of beating Red Bull, if they have the pace.

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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