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Formula 1 Spanish GP

Verstappen's skinny Red Bull wing clouds F1 Spanish GP picture

With Mercedes, Ferrari and McLaren leading the way in FP2 and Max Verstappen down the order at Formula 1’s Spanish Grand Prix, hopes are high of a multi-team victory fight. But Red Bull has a key card still to play that will alter the order

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB20

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB20

Photo by: Sam Bloxham / Motorsport Images

Max Verstappen’s rivals are adamant Formula 1 is set for a Canada-style multi-team battle at the 2024 Spanish Grand Prix, but a key set-up change is set to boost the Red Bull driver.

FP2 at Barcelona ended with the top three drivers – Lewis Hamilton from Mercedes, Ferrari driver and home hero Carlos Sainz, and McLaren’s Lando Norris – separated by just 0.055s.

Verstappen, meanwhile, finished fifth in second practice – 0.240s off Hamilton’s leading time and behind shock frontrunning interloper Pierre Gasly of Alpine.

Afterwards, Norris called the battle at the front of the field “close again – like it was in Canada”.

“It’s close and it’s going to be about trying to improve the small things [ahead of qualifying],” Norris added.

His team-mate Oscar Piastri agreed: “I think [it was] a bit of a tricky day with the track conditions. It was very hot and lower grip than a lot of us expected.

“I think we’re in a pretty solid place, but it just looks pretty tight. The long-run pace looked pretty good as well. So, all in all, a decent day.

Oscar Piastri, McLaren MCL38

Oscar Piastri, McLaren MCL38

Photo by: Sam Bloxham / Motorsport Images

“Maybe not the best Friday of the year, but definitely in the mix and, if I tidy a few things up, we’ll be well and truly in the mix.

“Quite small mistakes are making a big difference. Small differences in tyre preparation and stuff like that. So, expecting another tight session in quali and a tight race as well.”

Hamilton, who felt his day started off “so-so” in FP1, where he was seventh and Norris led the way just ahead of Verstappen, was not quite as categorical, but nevertheless reckoned his Mercedes is “definitely in a better place”.

“I think we’ve got some work to do to improve it overnight and to see if we can hold onto the Red Bulls and the Ferraris and McLarens,” he added.

Verstappen was notably unruffled by ending Friday down the order at a track where Red Bull had been expected to dominate given its smooth layout and long, aerodynamics-testing corners.

“We just tried a few different setups out there in FP1 and FP2, so it was just trying to fine tune a little bit but at least the day itself was a bit a bit more normal without any issues,” he explained.

“So, that's what we were hoping for. And now it's about just trying to tidy up a little bit the car, but that's quite normal.”

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB20

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB20

Photo by: Sam Bloxham / Motorsport Images

There is a key reason for Red Bull’s nonchalance.

Verstappen was running a more slender rear wing compared to his team-mate Sergio Perez, who ended Friday down in 13th amid a struggle keeping track of the set-up changes being made to his car.

The Dutchman called his balance “loose in the exits in general” and he also appeared to be struggling with understeer mid-corner – although the relatively skinny rear wing meant his top speed was notably higher than would’ve been expected given Red Bull rarely turns up its engine modes on Fridays, per the GPS trace data gathered at Barcelona so far.

Moving back to Red Bull’s higher downforce rear wing package, as it is expected Verstappen will now do, will bring two boosts for the Dutchman.

It will mean he slides less in corners and so avoids overheating soft tyres over a flying lap and the same means the rubber will last longer over a race stint.

In the Autosport analysis of the FP2-ending long-runs, even with the rear wing difference Verstappen still had an edge of laptime averages, albeit with signs of degradation likely exacerbated by his lower downforce level.

Red Bull motorsport advisor Helmut has already explained how the team is already planning to alter Verstappen’s rear wing arrangement on Saturday.

“We didn’t find the balance yet that we expected,” he told Autosport after FP2.

“I think the solution would have been a different rear wing, but that takes twenty minutes to change. We didn’t do that.

“Max wanted a different front and rear wing, but you have to think about Sunday already.

“Then the grip levels will be different and Max is already experienced enough to have the right feeling how it will be.

“The set-up has to go in that direction [higher downforce] for the race. We didn’t use full power, so it is not so alarming. The long runs were ok.”

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