No, I'm not being melodramatic. Not entirely anyway. The start of the European season has in recent times felt a lot like the end of the Phoney War. It is the scene of one of the campaign's most pivotal points for just about the entire paddock; everyone will roll up armed with a package of technical upgrades in the hope of making a giant stride forward. And in the European season the itinerary begins to taken a helter skelter quality, if you're not on the pace here then the probability is that several more races will pass by the time you're able to sort it (that's if you're able to sort it at all of course). And by that time your fate in the championship tables could be largely set.
|F1 is back in familiar surroundings for a pivotal weekend|
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Thus in the practice sessions this Friday there will be many hearts in mouths. Especially so at McLaren. It's not hyperbole to say that if McLaren's lap times are not competitive this weekend then its season could well be over. While it's impossible to think an operation such as that, one that seeks to win in every season, would write the campaign off altogether, if McLaren does find itself in the situation of still not being among the front runners in Barcelona it seems close to certain that it would sooner or later end up with too big a points deficit in both championship tables and not enough time to pull them back. The stakes for Woking therefore are high.
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With the importance of a good aerodynamic package and a conservative tyre compound selection there are lots of reasons to think that Barcelona will be Red Bull country. Just as in Malaysia and Bahrain the medium and hard tyres are those available, and remember who won those two races. But it might not all be about Seb this time, as Mark Webber's record in Spain (where he's taken pole in two of the last three visits), and at around this time of year, is a good one. It may yet be one of those weekends wherein he reminds us that he is a contender.
In regard to the Pirelli rubber, Red Bull's meat may be Lotus's poison, with the team expressing surprise that the soft tyre has not been selected. Most probably code for the fact that the team, its cars famous for their gentle touch on the tyres, does not think the selection is to its advantage. Nevertheless, Barcelona remains one of the toughest circuits of the year on the rubber, particularly with long turns such as turn 3 and an abrasive surface. It seems possible that Kimi will again try a two-stop strategy in order to leapfrog those that he qualifies behind.
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Further, the rule changes of the past couple of years helped challenge the Barcelona track's reputation of giving us rather tepid races (the famous wheel-to-wheel joust here between Nigel Mansell and Ayrton Senna in the debut visit was an inappropriate calling card). But even with the rule changes making overtakes at Barcelona is difficult, and grid slot remains important. The pole-sitter has won here in 11 of the last 12 visits. For that reason, as well as that last year the hard tyre was preferred for race day, and the compound has just been tweaked in order to be more similar to last year's, it will be a surprise if anyone with designs on victory sacrifices qualifying.
The show at Barcelona this weekend may or may not be thrilling. But, for a variety of reasons and in a variety of ways, it will almost certainly be important.