There’s no rest for the wicked as F1 reaches the end of its first ‘triple-header’ in 2023 – here are the main talking points from the Spanish Grand Prix media day.
This weekend marks the third planned race weekend in a row, in what would have been the first proper flurry of races had the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix actually gone ahead.
As a result, the Spanish Grand Prix is merely the second race of what became a double-header, and an eagerly anticipated return to the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya as the third sector has returned to the layout last used in 2006 – the onerous final chicane now removed.
Let’s go through some of the key findings and storylines ahead of the 2023 Spanish Grand Prix.
All eyes on team upgrades
Upgrades aplenty this weekend in Spain, with Ferrari rolling out the upgrade package that was supposed to have been debuted at Imola. This will see them move away from the big bathtub-style sidepods they’ve had since the start of 2022, unsurprisingly heading off in the same direction as Red Bull’s RB18/19.
“We have an upgrade, how good time will tell, but we have an upgrade coming,” Sainz said in the drivers’ press conference.
“It’s a bit of a new direction, a bit into what we believe should be the right path into developing this car and making it a bit more of a drivable car and more consistent, better in the race, that we know is our main weakness.
“You’ve seen it hasn’t been an easy start to the season and we’ve been struggling, but it is true that with this first step into this direction we try and correct the deficiencies we have.
“But we also know that this upgrade is not going to change our life from one race to another, this still is the first step of many steps to come still.”
Red Bull also are rumoured to have upgrades coming for the RB19, with Helmut Marko having hinted at the team trying ‘something new’ in Barcelona.
But Max Verstappen downplayed what might be coming to his car this weekend, saying the Red Bull advisor just got carried away.
“I think Helmut got a bit excited as well, so I don’t know,” said Verstappen. “We just do our normal programme and nothing crazy.”
Mercedes, too, are continuing their big push after rolling out their side-podded W14 in Monaco, with more new components coming to the car at a track which will allow for a much greater understanding of where the upgrades are taking them.
“We will settle back and look at what the Monaco upgrade package has brought us at a more normal track, but we will also push on in parallel with a whole bunch more things,” Mercedes’ technical director James Allison said.
“So, there will be a little bit we’re bringing to Barcelona and many more things in the races that follow. We can’t afford just to do everything sequentially. Although there’s a sort of academic purity to that, it’s just too slow a way of going ahead, so the upgrades will keep coming.
“Hopefully a decent package to build upon what we put on the track in Monaco, and then we just step forward from here up to the summer break and beyond.”
Aston Martin, too, will have further updates to their AMR23 after adding some to the car for the Monaco GP.
Can Fernando Alonso get the elusive win number 33?
Having trailed Max Verstappen and Red Bull for the entirety of the Monaco Grand Prix, Fernando Alonso returns home to Spain with a genuine shot of returning to the podium where he last stood back in 2013 as the race winner.
While victory might be still a step too far for Aston Martin at this point, Alonso looks like the driver best positioned to capitalise should Red Bull and/or Max Verstappen have a poor weekend.
Amusingly, Alonso has been given garage number 33 for this weekend’s race, by pure coincidence rather than exceptional planning from the circuit’s management – Alonso is currently hunting down his elusive 33rd victory in Formula 1 while being denied by the driver whose race number is 33 (even if he’s using number 1 as World Champion!)
But despite the portent of fortune, Alonso believes the victory will remain elusive.
“It feels good. Obviously, there is a special energy every time in Spain when I come here and I see all the fans,” he said.
“I don’t think, realistically, we can fight for the victory. Let’s be clear. Red Bull has been very dominant all season long so I don’t see any reason why in Barcelona they should not aim for one-two, but let’s see what we can do.”
Can Sergio Perez right some wrongs after Monaco disaster?
Having lost 25 points to Max Verstappen in the intra-Red Bull battle in Monaco, after his Saturday mistake doomed him to a last-place grid slot for the Grand Prix, Sergio Perez needs a big weekend in order not to lose further ground to the Dutch driver.
With Verstappen now enjoying a 39-point lead, Perez played the willing team game at last year’s race as he allowed Verstappen past after a rare mistake from the World Champion, but such magnanimity isn’t likely to come this year should another team challenge Red Bull’s superiority.
Speaking ahead of the weekend’s action getting underway, Perez admitted to changing his approach to concentrating on individual weekends rather than the overarching championship battle.
“I just want to maximise my weekends, not think too much about the Championship,” he said.
“It’s all about maximising weekend after weekend, get the maximum positions I possibly can, and then go from there really because anything can still happen.
“We have so many races ahead that it can turn around fairly quickly. The speed is there, which is the most positive [thing], and we just have to go from there. I think just making sure we qualify well, making sure we are racing well, not making mistakes and, when we have a bad day, make sure that we get as many points as possible – that will be key.
“We cannot afford any more zeroes in the Championship.”
McLaren’s new signing thrills Lando Norris
While McLaren may not have kicked off 2023 in fine fashion on track, their off-track revolution of their technical departments seems to have pleased Lando Norris as his team have signed former Red Bull stalwart Rob Marshall.
After 17 years with Red Bull as a chief designer and chief engineering officer, it’s a huge signing for the Woking-based team and a critical hit for the strength of Red Bull.
Norris welcomed the signing, saying Marshall brings “knowledge and expertise” across to McLaren.
“He’s been at Red Bull for many, many years. He’s seen a lot of success with the team. He’s been with some of the best minds within Formula 1 and he’s definitely part of that group.
“So yeah, brains and lap time I guess is the two big things. He’s a big signing for us as a team, so I think someone that a lot of people within McLaren will look up to and respect.
“But a good step for us as a team to keep this drive forward, continuing to add performance and expertise to the whole team in our drive to improve further up the grid.”
Max Verstappen starting to believe Red Bull can win every race
After six races run and six wins claimed, Red Bull could be capable of a clean sweep in 2023, according to Max Verstappen.
Of course, being able to win every race and actually doing it are two different things but, based on the RB19’s performance, the Dutch driver reckons the equipment is there to give himself and Sergio Perez the best possible opportunity.
“How it looks like at the moment, I think we can [win every race],” he told Sky F1.
“But that’s very unlikely to happen. There are always things that go wrong, or you have retirements or whatever.
“Purely on pace, I think at the moment it looks like that. But we will always get to tracks where it doesn’t work out exactly or whatever, bad luck in qualifying, you make your own mistakes.”