How important is qualifying at the Spanish Grand Prix?
When Sebastian Vettel won last year from second on the grid it was only the fifth time out of 21 Formula One races at Circuit de Catalunya that a driver starting from pole did not win. In four of those five races, drivers starting from second position won. So how drivers perform in Saturday qualifying could very well determine Sunday's race outcome.
One reason for the predictability is the track itself. Circuit de Catalunya, about a 30-minute train ride outside of Barcelona, is used by teams for two weeks of winter testing, when they run hundreds of laps and build up familiarity. While this year's Spanish Grand Prix will consist of 66 laps, a driver could rack up more than 150 laps in one day of testing.
But as Vettel said in a press conference at the track on Thursday, the race can still provide some surprises.
"[Y]ou race here in May," said Vettel, "it’s quite different if you look at the temperatures compared to February or March, so yeah, it does have a big change on the setup, so whatever you might have found out over the winter in testing, it might not work in the same way or the same style it did during testing."
The cars are very different, as well. "It’s a bit wishy-washy because of that," he said, "but overall it’s a track we know fairly well from a driving point of view as we’ve done a lot of laps here. We should know our way around here."
Mark Webber has finished fourth in all four races so far this year, but he scored pole last year, and the year before that he won the race. "It’s tight amongst the teams, so we’re mindful that we need to get everything right to get a good weekend," he said last week.
This season, Vettel enters Spain as the points leader, coming off his first win of the season in Bahrain. After four races in Asia and the Middle East, the team will now settle down in Europe -- outside of a quick foray to Canada -- for the next few months. And according to Christian Horner, Red Bull Racing's team principal, how teams perform in Barcelona could predict the outcome of the next few races.
"Usually Barcelona is a pretty good indicator of car performance: if a car works well there it tends to work well in most places," he said. "Whether that still applies this year, who knows? I'm sure most teams are bringing upgrades of varying degree for that Barcelona race."
Start time: 8:00 EST
Race distance: 66 laps (190.825 miles)
Circuit length: 2.892 miles
2011 winner: Sebastian Vettel
2011 pole: Mark Webber; 1m 20.981s (206.937km/h)
Lap record: Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari F2008); 1m 21.670s (205.121km/h)
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