Race Weekend Central

Slipstream Saturday: Formula 1 Spanish Grand Prix

One of the things that Formula 1 has been trying to sort out this season is how to make the cockpit safer for the driver.  With so much of the driver’s body tucked away the obvious focus is placed on the head.  Both Ferrari and Red Bull have shown prototypes for ways to protect the driver with aesthetics and driver removal both being a concern.  

Gaining little attention is the rule adopted for this season that will possibly come into effect at Monaco – that being the prohibition of visor tear-offs.  Many drivers claim that they can go through between three and five tear offs in the first couple laps of the race, when the cars are in close proximity and the possibility of enduring debris or klag is greater.  The pit stop sequences usually provide the other times that drivers clean their helmet.

The reasoning behind the rule is that it is meant to protect the cars, as a single tear-off making its way into the wrong spot could compromise part of the engine system or the breaks.  All fine and dandy.  The problem here is that no one seems to recall a tear-off being the culprit for any retirements or accidents.  

What seems to be the underpinnings of this rule is that it may be a further incentive to close or provide protection for the cockpit.  The two don’t seem to be in direct correlation, but they definitely feel related.  No team has currently found a solution to making a helmet tear-off free, though given time it’s certainly something that could be done.  But perhaps the same amount of time needed to implement a tear-off free helmet is the same amount of time needed to devise a way to better protect a driver.

In this regard, the sport may be giving a nod to NASCAR where the pit crew removes a tear-off from the whole of the windscreen and is thus in possession of the part.  At the very least, there seems to be a contemplation that something similar is worth considering.  The oddity here is that IndyCar is the prominent series with the most recent on-track driver death, last year with Justin Wilson at Pocono, and they have made no moves yet to change the cockpit safety structure.

While the engine regulations for next year continue to garner much of the headlines regarding F1 development, how the series proceeds in addressing the safety concerns they made a point of emphasis will be worth watching.  

Odds & Sods

– Perhaps you’ve heard this story before: Mercedes claims they are looking over their shoulder at Ferrari as they think the gap between the two has closed.  The first practices times of the weekend back the claim and fans, commentators, and teams all wonder if a legitimate fight is to be held on the track.  Seems like the same story that has been happening for about a year and a half.

Ferrari did nothing to change the narrative this weekend, hitting the track and looking fast.  In the second practice session, Kimi Raikkonen split the Mercedes drivers on the leaderboard.  The question regarding the Spanish Grand Prix is whether or not Ferrari really has closed the gap or if this is another race that when qualifying comes around that Mercedes is left battling themselves for the top spots.  As much as Ferrari may be making gains, it’s not like Mercedes hasn’t spent their fair share of time ensuring that they’re still the team to beat.

Romain Grosjean Spanish Grand Prix 2016
Romain Grosjean during free practice 2 at the Spanish Grand Prix (credit: Getty Images)

Haas F1 brought with them more upgrades for Barcelona, notably with a new rear wing.  The teams is looking for more downforce for Spain and Monaco, where outright speed is not as important as the handling.  In many ways, there’s not much that can be considered newsworthy about this aspect, especially as the new teams seeks to develop.  The only problem is that their driver leading the way, Romain Grosjean, who has scored all the points for the organization, quickly fell out of favor with the changes.  Hence, and as it is with growing pains, the team will be switching back to what they had in Bahrain.  While it may be lofty to think that Grosjean can match his fifth-place result from that second race of the year, there was obviously something to his liking.  

Force India and McLaren have also updated their rides for this race.  This one is a tale of two teams.  Force India will look to shake down what they’ve improved and hope to move closer to racing with the likes of Williams and Toro Rosso.  For McLaren, well, Jenson Button stated that it might be difficult for the team to even score points.  Fernando Alonso, driving at his home grand prix, must face a level of frustration like no other at this race while driving for the McLaren team that is still in the stages of rebooting with the Honda engine.  

– Keep an eye on Max Verstappen and Daniil Kvyat as they debut with Red Bull and Toro Rosso, respectively, after they seat swap announced last week.  Both drivers will be feeling out both how their new teams function but also power units with which they’re not familiar.  This storyline is likely to be one of the more intriguing ones to follow, balancing the results and race pace throughout the rest of the season.  

The Spanish Grand Prix

First held in 1913, this race is a storied one and acts as a kickoff to the European part of the schedule.  There have been a total of eight different tracks associated with the grand prix, with the current one being the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.  The track first opened in 1991 and is 2.89 miles in length with the course being comprised of 16 turns.  Kimi Raikkonen holds the track record, at 1:21.67, set in 2006 when at Ferrari for his first stint.  He and Fernando Alonso are the active drivers with the most wins, having two apiece, though Michael Schumacher holds the most all time with six.  Nico Rosberg won last year’s race.  


In the U.S., the race will be shown on NBCSN on Sunday, May 15th at 7:30 EST.  

About the author

As a writer and editor, Ava anchors the Formula 1 coverage for the site, while working through many of its biggest columns. Ava earned a Masters in Sports Studies at UGA and a PhD in American Studies from UH-Mānoa. Her dissertation Chased Women, NASCAR Dads, and Southern Inhospitality: How NASCAR Exports The South is in the process of becoming a book.

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