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Spanish F1 Grand Prix: What we learned

Crash.net's team in the paddock bring you some of the stories and rumours that have been bubbling behind the scenes during the Spanish Grand Prix weekend
Race promoters prefer noise to longevity

F1's race promoters were a visible presence in the Barcelona paddock this weekend, with many hearing the 2014 power units in the flesh for the first time. And on Saturday, the promoters met with Bernie Ecclestone to discuss what they believe is the need for louder engines to improve the show.

But as Force India deputy team principal Bob Fernley pointed out on Friday afternoon in Barcelona, to pump up the volume means undoing a lot of the good work that this new era of power unit was designed to do.

“You should always remember that the increase in sound is just loss of power,” Fernley said. “I think that when you're harnessing all the power and it means that the engines are quieter then you're actually doing a more efficient job. As I've said before, the show [this season] has been quite fantastic and I think that it would be very disappointing if we're just judging Formula One purely on the fact that it makes a lot of noise.”

This week's test will see Mercedes test out a trumpet exhaust designed to amplify the noise, but if that upturn in volume leads to a downturn in efficiency, F1 will be taking an unnecessary – and unfortunate – backwards step. The new technological era has been the saving grace of a sport struggling to deal with a paucity of sponsors and spiralling costs, with new entrants keen to sign up for the future as once loyal suppliers are returning to a sport that had lost its relevance to them.

Spain is falling out of love with F1

Whether it was Ferrari's continuing struggles or the wider problem of the Spanish economy, there was no doubting that attendance at the Spanish Grand Prix was down this year. Anecdotally, there were huge swathes of empty grandstands to be seen on the coverage, the general admission zones were no longer the sea of bodies seen in years past, and there was next to no traffic on the way into the circuit at any point over the weekend.

Officially, the figures confirmed what our eyes told us, with total weekend attendance figures of 205,680 (91,480 for Sunday's race), down from 218,331 in 2013. In 2007, the year after Fernando Alonso secured his last championship, race day saw 140,000 people walk through the gates of the Circuit de Catalunya. In 2011, that figure had dropped to 78,000, while 2012 saw a slight improvement to 81,600.

But in the years prior to 2013, Spanish Formula One fans had two races to choose from, thanks to the European Grand Prix in Valencia. By rights, Barcelona should have picked up those audience members who had been choosing Valencia over Catalunya, but instead numbers have stayed consistently low. Two-wheeled motorsport has long had the advantage over the four-wheeled variety in Spain, and news that more than half the audience in Montmelo this weekend had travelled in from other countries was further proof that the country's F1 love affair is on the wane.

SebVet's still got it

One short year ago and the idea of a fourth-placed finish being a positive thing for Sebastian Vettel would have had your average F1 fan splitting their sides with laughter. But with the Red Bull driver having experienced four season's worth of bad luck in the course of the first five races of the season, Vettel's drive from 15th to fourth on Sunday afternoon drove home the foolishness of underestimating the quadruple world champion.

Despite lost track time in practice, red-flagging Q3, and a gearbox change resulting in a five-place grid drop for the race, Vettel refused to be bowed. He may have crossed the line more than a minute behind race winner Lewis Hamilton, but the P4 finisher carved his way up through the field, showing off not only his own skills but also the capabilities of the updated RB10 in the process.

Whatever period of adjustment the Red Bull racer needed to 2014's significant loss in downforce appears to have finished. Mercedes may have been light years up the road when the chequered flag fell, but Sunday's commanding performance showed that Vettel will be giving Daniel Ricciardo a run for his money in the not too distant future. What else can you expect from one of the few men whose Spanish Grand Prix was anything but processional?

Renault's pointing the finger

Ahead of the race weekend, Renault Sport F1 president Jean-Michel Jalinier claimed that the engine manufacturer's attempts to develop its power unit were being hampered by late payments from some of the teams. His use of the word “teams” hinted at two or more being behind, and with Red Bull having a premium partnership and owning one of the other Renault-powered teams in Toro Rosso, the obvious candidates would be Lotus and Caterham…

However, none of the teams are owning up. More than that, they are all insisting they are up to date with all of their payments to Renault and maintain that they are not one of the teams Jalinier is talking about. When contacted by Crash.net, Renault was also keen to start dousing the flames by saying it would not be commenting any further on what has already been said, at least for the moment.

Late payments to suppliers can occur for a number of reasons but are usually sorted behind closed doors. The fact that Renault has felt the need to bring the situation in to the public domain shows how keen it is to force the issue, and highlights the potential struggles teams are facing in affording the new power units at a time when talks of a cost cap remain in the balance.

Mercedes is primed for the fallout

It's been pretty plain sailing for Mercedes so far this year, with Lewis Hamilton's retirement in Australia the only blot on the copybook so far. Since then it's been four consecutive one-two finishes and plenty of praise for allowing the drivers to race – firstly in Bahrain and latterly to the flag in Barcelona.

However, inevitably the focus is shifting on to how Nico Rosberg is dealing with being second to Hamilton for four races in a row, and how intense the battle between the drivers is likely to become as the season goes on.

Speaking to Crash.net before the race on Sunday, Toto Wolff admitted he is waiting for the boat to be rocked by an on-track incident.

“We have to enjoy it while it's like this,” Wolff said. “It will definitely happen one day, for sure, hopefully today is not that day!”

As it turned out, Sunday wasn't that day but it could have been as Rosberg admitted: “I still got close. At Turn 10 on the last lap I could have gone for a kamikaze move but it wouldn't have worked so there was not much point in that.”

A kamikaze could be more likely in the future, though. While the momentum was previously with Hamilton, it's now both the momentum and the championship lead which he holds, and finishing second to his team-mate will start to hurt Rosberg even more.

By Kate Walker and Chris Medland


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Tomco

May 12, 2014 2:29 PM

Something is missing from F1 - thats obvious. For myself I now no longer care to watch qualifying nor am I concerned if the race is shown live or otherwise. Yesterday I watched the Monaco Classic races and World superbikes, occasionally switching across to F1. Its the first time in 30 years that I have been so disinterested.



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