All eyes on three under-pressure drivers at Spanish Grand Prix

Henry Valantine
Sergio Perez after the drivers' parade. Monaco May 2023.

Red Bull driver Sergio Perez walks away after the drivers' parade. Monaco May 2023.

After Sergio Perez, Carlos Sainz and Lance Stroll all ran into trouble in Monaco, all three will be looking for a better weekend at the Spanish Grand Prix.

Richard Bradley, 2015 24 Hours of Le Mans winner in LMP2, said Sainz in particular had a “very poor” Sunday in Monaco after his early contact with Esteban Ocon was followed by him being irked over Ferrari’s strategic call for him to pit to cover a charging Lewis Hamilton trying to undercut behind.

For Perez, his heavy crash in Q1 relegated him to last on the grid and, with overtaking opportunities so few and far between in Monte Carlo, he found himself stuck in a long line of traffic and was eventually lapped twice by team-mate and race winner, Max Verstappen, with the Mexican also pitting five times during the race on Sunday.

Not only did this leave him outside the points, Verstappen’s victory meant Perez now has a 39-point gap to try and claw back to his team-mate at the top of the Drivers’ Championship – causing the most possible damage to his title chances after his qualifying error at Sainte Devote.

Lance Stroll also suffered from a difficult weekend in Monaco, with a Q2 exit backed up with a difficult afternoon of racing on Sunday. The Aston Martin driver was seen running along the wall down to the hairpin on the first lap as he looked to gain places, before contact on a couple of occasions eventually forced him to retire from the race later on, while team-mate Fernando Alonso bagged his best result of the season by taking second place.

Having spoken about the troubles all three drivers had in his post-race debrief for On Track GP following the Monaco Grand Prix, Bradley will be looking to see how they respond this weekend in Barcelona – with the circuit reverting to its former layout and featuring two high-speed right-handers to end the lap, not seen in Formula 1 since 2006.

“I think a few things to start looking out for, I think Sainz is starting to come under a little bit of pressure,” Bradley said.

“In terms of Perez, will he be able to rekindle his old form and Monaco was just a botch weekend?

“It’ll be interesting to see what happens with Stroll, and I’m looking forward to it. Barcelona, especially with the new layout with the two high speed last corners now.

“Very heavy circuit on tyre degradation, especially the front left because the surface is very, very abrasive, so we could see some interesting strategies. I’m really looking forward to it.”

Bradley: Very hard for Fernando Alonso to take home win at Spanish Grand Prix

As for his prediction for how the weekend will unfold, the all-conquering Red Bull RB19 will once again set the benchmark and Bradley added that, such is the amount of data that the teams have around the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, the Spanish Grand Prix is often the race in which the true current pecking order comes out – given how the teams know pretty well by now how to set their cars up there.

Having experienced first-hand the passionate support given to Alonso in particular as well as Sainz at their home race weekend, he added that while they will no doubt be backed to the hilt by home fans, Verstappen will once again be the heavy favourite to take victory on Sunday and extend his now-healthy Drivers’ Championship lead.

“I think it’ll be very hard for anyone to stop them there, especially in Barcelona because the teams do so much testing there and they know the track so well,” Bradley said of Red Bull.

“Everyone is so well prepared there; you normally see at Barcelona the actual true packing order of the cars, and honestly, I can’t see Red Bull being touched there.

“Obviously Alonso’s home race, home crowd in his favour. We all know how much support he gets there and I was at the Spanish Grand Prix last year and it’s absolutely incredible – the support that he has is out of this world.

“But honestly, when you’re in the car, you put your helmet on, whether you’re at home or not at home, you always drive as fast as you can, and I think it will still be very, very hard for him to beat Verstappen.” recommends

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How the chasing pack will hope to attack the Spanish Grand Prix

Where Red Bull are expected to continue to run at the front, how those behind will shape up is currently anyone’s guess – though Alonso is getting all he can out of his Aston Martin and will surely want to impress at his home race.

For Ferrari and Mercedes, they will be looking to establish themselves as best of the rest – and Mercedes in particular will be gathering as much data as possible on how the upgraded W14 will perform around a more conventional circuit, after introducing a raft of improvements at Monaco last time out.

Team boss Toto Wolff admitted that the team would not have been able to garner too much about how well their upgrades will have taken hold around a circuit as unique as Monaco, so a track well used for testing will provide a more accurate landscape for their improvements.

As for Ferrari, team principal Fred Vasseur acknowledged that front suspension improvements planned for Barcelona are now unlikely to make an appearance there, but sporting director Laurent Mekies said the team will still be looking at bringing new parts this weekend.

Alpine were perhaps the surprise package of the Monaco Grand Prix, with a raft of upgrades brought themselves to Monte Carlo paying dividends with Esteban Ocon making his way onto the podium, and Pierre Gasly’s clear disappointment at a P7 finish could well hint at a form of upward momentum for the team – and they may have eyes on trying to muscle in on the Mercedes/Ferrari/Aston Martin fight themselves.

The midfield remains extremely tight, and while Lando Norris admitted Monaco most likely shielded the shortcomings on the McLaren MCL60, a double points finish for the team is a big step forward from languishing near the back of the pack in Miami.

Norris revealed that straight-line speed remains an issue for the team, and with Barcelona’s long start/finish straight combined with long medium-speed corners, how they will stack up remains to be seen.

AlphaTauri will have left Monaco disappointed after Yuki Tsunoda slid backwards after a brake issue during the race, having been running in the points for most of Sunday afternoon. Nyck de Vries enjoyed a more solid weekend than the earlier rounds of the season, however, so there could be hopes for a stronger weekend in Spain.

Haas were knocked by a double Q1 exit in Monaco and, after making up several places on the first lap, Nico Hulkenberg was given a five-second penalty, and then a further penalty for failing to serve his first penalty correctly. Coupled with Kevin Magnussen ploughing a lonely furrow as the last driver to switch to intermediate tyres on a wet track on Sunday, their 150th weekend as a team will be one they want to put behind them pretty quickly.

Over at Alfa Romeo, they have now gone three races without a point and the team will be looking for a way forward as soon as possible, with Valtteri Bottas having finished P11 in Monaco.

Williams had a tough weekend all round in Monaco and will hope to use their solid straight-line performance to their advantage during the Spanish Grand Prix, with Logan Sargeant suffering a difficult outing on Sunday and once he was out of contention for the points, was placed onto soft tyres mid-race as a way of gathering experience on the compound in a race situation.