F1 Upgrades in Spain Have Mercedes Smiling Again in Race with Ferrari, Red Bull

·5 min read
Photo credit: Steve Wobser - Getty Images
Photo credit: Steve Wobser - Getty Images
  • The Spanish Grand Prix is an ideal location for teams to introduce upgrade packages.

  • Ferrari bringing its first major upgrade package of the season, primarily targeted at the floor and rear of the car.

  • Mercedes has front wing and floor edge tweaks as it strives to cure the bouncing that has plagued its progress.

After the hype of Formula 1’s Miami debut, the championship returned to action Friday in the more sedate environs of a sun-drenched Spain.

While focus in Miami was on the famous faces and external activities it was sidepod styles and floor features that were being scrutinized in Barcelona—with one team gaining more than its fair share of attention.

The F1 Spanish Grand Prix is an ideal location for teams to introduce upgrade packages. The Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya is a known quantity, given its extensive use as a pre-season test venue, and has a layout that assesses most areas of a car. It means it is a circuit that can produce more reliable feedback and data on new components, particularly with three street-based circuits (Monaco, Baku, Montreal) next up on the schedule.

Photo credit: NurPhoto - Getty Images
Photo credit: NurPhoto - Getty Images

Spain is also a logistically practical venue at which to bring extensive upgrades given Barcelona’s proximity to Formula 1 team bases. Some updates will have been planned for several months while other components have come as a response to performance limitations witnessed at the opening Grands Prix, or even by having cast an eye at solutions that other teams have found.

Ensuring these updates deliver the performance indicated on simulation systems—and do not cause unexpected setbacks—will be critical for teams’ long-term prospects.

The upgrade race is heightened in 2022 due to this year’s regulatory overhaul, meaning there is larger untapped potential compared to recent seasons. Teams also have to be cognizant of the cost cap; it is only a limit that realistically affects top teams but it means there is no longer the capacity to be inefficient with ideas and components, or merely throw endless pots of money and parts at a problem.

Ferrari's First Upgrade of '22

Title challengers Red Bull and Ferrari both have revisions, with Ferrari bringing its first major upgrade package of the season, primarily targeted at the floor and rear of the car.

“Hopefully it will be good ones and enough to be in front of Red Bull again,” said Leclerc on the updates. “It's been close since the beginning of the season. And every time they've brought upgrades, they came closer and closer and now I think are a bit in front, especially in terms of race pace. So, I hope it will be enough for us to jump back in front.”

Photo credit: GABRIEL BOUYS - Getty Images
Photo credit: GABRIEL BOUYS - Getty Images

Mercedes has front wing and floor edge tweaks as it strives to cure the bouncing that has plagued its progress. It remains convinced it has race-winning potential waiting to be unlocked from the W13 – and Friday appeared to be a stride in the right direction.

The day ended with title leader Leclerc on top of the timesheets, but Russell and Hamilton were right up behind him in second and third respectively.

“The car is definitely reacting differently, we’ve got different limitations this time,” said Russell. “We definitely don’t have the porpoising in the straight, which is good, but we’re still experiencing a little bit here and there in the corners, which ultimately you need to dial it out through the corners.”

Hamilton labelled himself “super happy with the progress” and passed on a “big, big, big, big thank you” to his Mercedes employees “for not giving up.”

“We’re not the quickest yet but I think we’re on our way. it’s the first time we’ve driven down the straight without bouncing. We still have some bouncing, but it’s way better. So yeah, starting to eke into a bit of the potential in our car.”

McLaren, Alfa Romeo and Aston Martin introduced the largest upgrade packages. It wasn’t the ideal day for the first two of those, as Lando Norris went through the gravel and had to limit his running while Valtteri Bottas stopped after just three laps of the second session due to a mechanical issue.

Even before those incidents it was their green counterparts who captured the attention.

Photo credit: Eric Alonso - Getty Images
Photo credit: Eric Alonso - Getty Images

Aston Martin, Red Bull Investigated for Similarities

Aston Martin’s overhauled AMR22 was unveiled and bore a striking resemblance to Red Bull’s RB18 in terms of philosophy, particularly around the shaping of the sidepods.

Aston Martin, of course, hired several personnel from Red Bull last year, most prominently technical director Dan Fallows, who took up his new post last month.

Photo credit: Eric Alonso - Getty Images
Photo credit: Eric Alonso - Getty Images

Such similarity had also been noted by the FIA during a routine pre-event legality check. An investigation was undertaken by the governing body on the subject of potential reverse engineering and illicit transfer of intellectual property. It involved CAD checks and a detailed analysis of Aston Martin’s development processes, and the FIA concluded that no wrongdoing had been committed, approving the compliance of the new package.

Red Bull’s senior personnel reacted by sitting on the pit wall during practice sipping from ‘The Green Edition’ of its energy drink…



No Changes (Yet) for AlphaTauri, Haas

Only AlphaTauri and Haas have not brought multiple new components to Barcelona; Haas boss Guenther Steiner has outlined that “quite a big one” is in the pipeline but that it won’t be ready until July’s French GP. Haas believes that it still has unexploited potential from its current package that it can unearth before the updated VF-22 arrives.

“We made a plan, and we go along with our plan,” said Steiner. “We don’t go along with (what) other people do and react to it.”

Qualifying for the Spanish Grand Prix takes place Saturday.