Spanish GP: thoughts on the start

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Fernando Alonso, Renault, Barcelona, qualifying, 2008, 470150

The long run to the first corner in tomorrow’s Spanish Grand Prix will be as crucial as ever as overtaking at the Circuit de Catalunya is difficult.

Fernando Alonso appears on the front row as something of an interloper this year – last year he clashed with Felipe Massa at the first corner. Might we see a repeat?

Fernando versus the Ferraris

Fernando Alonso, Renault, Barcelona, Friday practice, 2008, 470313

Fernando Alonso starts second on the grid with a Ferrari either side of him just as he did last year – only this time it’s Kimi Raikkonen ahead and Felipe Massa behind.

Last year Alonso had three laps’ less fuel than his team mate for his home race and gambled his race on starting from pole. But it all went wrong when he clashed with Massa at the first corner and dropped to fourth. (Interestingly, the sand trap he bounced through last year has now been replaced with tarmac).

His Renault team have clearly made a step forward in performance for this round but seeing him on the front row of the grid after being 11th, 7th and 10th in the last three races it’s hard to avoid the impression he might be light on fuel.

Renault have done little to discourage this view – Pat Symonds saying after qualifying, “I don’t think it would be any secret to say that Fernando and Nelson are not on the same strategy.” This may be a very cunning double bluff, but more likely they are playing down expectations.

Alonso knows he is not a championship contender – and so do the two Ferrari drivers. If he puts up a big fight again going into the first corner, they might choose to take the long view and let him go.

Pressure on Lewis Hamilton

Lewis Hamilton, McLaren-Mercedes, Barcelona, 2008, 470313

Hamilton was clearly surprised to be only fifth and a glance at the times shows why – he was just 0.038s behind Massa in third.

He simply cannot afford a repeat of his horror show start at Bahrain. From the clean side of the grid, his minimum requirement is to get past Robert Kubica and aim to profit from any tangled that might occur between the Ferraris and the fired-up Fernando.

Out of position

Two drivers look conspicuously lower on the grid than they should be.

Nico Rosberg is 15th on what looks like being a tough weekend for Williams, and David Coulthard failed to progress beyond the first part of qualifying and is 17th on the grid.

If either of these drivers want to be in with a chance of scoring points at a venue where overtaking is very tough, they will have to make some bold moves at the start.

How do you think the start will go?

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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21 comments on “Spanish GP: thoughts on the start”

  1. Alonso will push hard if he is light on fuel load.  Which would shake someone like Massa, but not the Iceman.

    Regarding Hamilton and Kubica, are the BMW’s still as bad at starts as they have been the past few races?, if so, kubica will either defend against him, or stay clear for a clean line.

  2. Because the chances of a shambles are so high, everyone will be ultra-cautious and, as a result, the first lap will be something of a procession for the front half of the field. Which means the race will be too. Ah well…

  3. To be honest, I’d rather see Alonso get the jump into the lead or lose a place to Massa, than keep the status quo, in order to make the race more interesting. That way either Ferrari will have to work harder to win if they’re not controlling the pace, or at least the two guys with the fastest car won’t have an interloper between them.

    Unfortunately interesting Catalunyan Grands Prix are few and far between, so I’m not holding my breath for an fascinating couple of hours. But at least there’s yet another car up there near the sharp end to go along with the BMW’s and Mclarens in at least giving the Ferrari’s something to think about.

    I’m interested to see how this low fuel run pays off for Alonso, though. I can’t help but feel that this is a better strategy than maxing the fuel, qualifying 10th, being slow at the start and all the way through the first half of the race. The field spread and all the other factors that happen when you’re mired in the midfield make progress up difficult: I think the net result would be that Alonso, running in cleaner air at a pace closer to his true pace, will slip back less than he would have moved forward had he started at the fringes of the top 10. But then I don’t have all the fancy computerised strategy aids and the brains of the top teams.

  4. Apart from the points you raised Robert to me it’s positive thinking. Surely the sponsors are more happy if a strong qualifying is shown?

    It was the same sort of positive thinking I was hoping to see from Toro Rosso at the first grand prix when Vettel made the final 10.

  5. To the Brazilian TV, Nelson said that he will stop five laps before Fernando…

  6. Sorry Keith, I mean AFTER….

  7. Knowing how Alonso play cards I suspect that he is not than lighter than they pretend us to believe. On low fuel he was quicker than the McL, and pretty close to the top teams. I think it is a matter of set up.
    I have the feeling than McL is missing FA right now, I must admit that the 6/10th thing told last season could be true. For sure the engineers need the clue where they have to work out, and it looks to me that this year they are a little bit lost.

  8. Becken. That looks to me the same game. No one will say the truth before the race.

    By the way, talking about race, has anybody seen on tv the antiracist campaing launched in this weekend. I havent seen or heard anything.

  9. ALONSO is just the GREATEST!
    Who else could take a REALLY SLOW car, non competitive by any measure and have it already in front row?
    MAGIC ALONSO!!!

  10. I am eager to say "I TOLD YOU SO" about Alonso but I think it’s too early- He is obviously being missed at mclaren but I don’t think Renault is back on the fight yet
    Still rooting for Kubica and I think if he can not loose his ground at the start hes gonna give everyone hellSorry to say but Hamilton is over

  11. Pat Symonds has admitted that Alonso was running light. The question now is, just how light?

  12. I don’t think Mclaren is missing Fernando, nor did he brought that 6/10 he claims. Mclaren is a strong team. We have to remember that the MP4-22 was developed before Fernando got in the team. Mclaren as a team has the ability and the resources to make quick cars. For me, Alonso is very light on fuel. Let’s see tomorrow how it all works out.

  13. It’s light but it can’t be too light. I mean Renault is a fairly respectable team still, I can’t believe they’d throw away the whole race just for a glory run in qualifying.

  14. I agree with all of you who think Alonso is light, but not as light as it is being said. I think he’ll stop two or three laps before the Ferraris, no more than that…

    About the start, I think Alonso will fight for the lead, as he has nothing to lose in terms of the championship, while Raikkonen can afford being second until the spaniard’s first pit stop…

    And that’s Massa’s only chance, as so many of you said: being immediately behind Kimi… otherwise, he will be held by Fernando for too many laps, and when, and if, he gets past, his fight for the win will be over…

  15. McLaren shouldn’t be written off just yet. As Keith says, Hamilton is only 4 hundredths off Massa’s time. With BMW’s probably poor start, both Macca’s could be 3 and 4 by turn 2, and Alonso should lose at least one spot – not on the run to turn 1, but in the subsequent two corners, where the Renault’s lack of torque/traction will see him slow ala Bahrain. Expect Alonso to be 5th by turn 4. The surprise package for the start may well be Trulli, jumping up the order before falling asleep at the wheel of his train.

  16. Alonso may be light but he same as most of other drivers will make 2 pit stops… How he finishes the race depends on where on track will he appear after making his first stop. If he drops way down and behind some slow cars, his race may be ruined. If he is lucky he may have chance for good result, whatever that means for him

  17. a lot of comments seem to direct Alonso slowing Massa down…. surely if he can keep his quali pace he shouldn’t have a problem like that?.

  18. I don´t think Alonso will slow massa, at least in the first stint, with the fuel loads they should be on similar laptimes so if raikko makes a good space the problem should be more on his pace than on fernando´s. But thr more interesting for me it´s in the start, Alonso has nothing to lose, he is not fighting in the championship so he can afford a double or nothing bet, neither raikkonen and even less massa, for whom another zero race would mean to be very far from the championship lead. Also mclaren shoulb be aware of BMW, they are knocking on their door and they dosen´t seem to realize

  19. I think you’re right about McLaren not realising (or admitting) what a threat BMW are. Ron Dennis said recently he didn’t think BMW could keep up the pace of development over a season. Well they’ve done alright so far and they aren’t banned from developing certain technologies unlike McLaren.

  20. Ron Dennis probably said that of BMW looking back on last years development process, which is silly of him, considering BMW stopped the development program because they were so far ahead of the midfield it didn’t matter to them. 

  21. I can’t wait to see Massa and Alonso scrap wheel to wheel and then both crash or damage their cars….

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