2023 Spanish Grand Prix Preview | 5 things to look out for

02nd June 2023
Simon Ostler

With barely a moment to breathe since the Monaco Grand Prix last weekend, it’s already time for the Spanish Grand Prix as we reach the end of this first mini-European season. With such a short break between races, you might wonder what there is to talk about in the build up to this weekend, but as is standard these days, there is plenty going on in the relentless world of F1.


Max Verstappen has cemented his place as the champion-elect in 2023, which is concerning considering we’ve only just passed the one-third mark for the season, but there is simply no competition for Red Bull right now, and Sergio Perez has fallen back from his team-mate after a second poor weekend of the year at the Monaco Grand Prix.

This weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix will also act as the proving ground for Mercedes’ much-anticipated upgrade package. They introduced redesigned side pods, floor and front suspension last weekend, but Monaco was not considered to be a fair test for their impact. The Catalunya circuit should clearly showcase how the team has progressed since testing.

Elsewhere, Ferrari have also brought some new side pods to Spain, doing away with their original design in favour of a Red Bull-style take. Those red cars need to find some speed quickly because you already get the sense that they are quickly running out of time to put up a fight for either title in 2023.


1. Is Max Verstappen becoming unbeatable in 2023?

Anyone betting against a third successive F1 world championship for Max Verstappen is playing a dangerous game. All signs are pointing to an equally, if more dominant, year for the Dutchman in 2023 than he had last year. So far his Red Bull team have won every race, Verstappen has four wins, team-mate Perez two, and Monaco was considered one of the very few venues where another team might be able to break the streak. As it was, Verstappen took an unbelievable pole and stormed to victory in the face of a spirited challenge from Fernando Alonso.

It's difficult to see how anyone is going to get close to Red Bull this weekend in Spain. Mercedes are doing what they always do and downplaying their own hopes, while Ferrari have not looked anywhere close to challenging for wins so far. Aston Martin have shown glimpses of promise, but the fact remains that Red Bull have cruised to victory at every race so far.

Max Verstappen is beginning to emit the kind of aura we used to see with Michael Schumacher at Ferrari – that of man who believes he is unbeatable. And after his performance in Monaco, where he had no right to produce the lap that he did in qualifying, you have to say it’s justified. Don’t be surprised to see him at the front again come the chequered flag.


2. Can Perez bounce back in the title fight?

This feels awfully similar to what we saw from Charles Leclerc last year. Sergio Perez threatened to challenge his team-mate in the early going, and almost took the lead in the championship. But in the wake of his second poor weekend of the 2023 season, the Mexican now sits 39 points behind Verstappen in the drivers’ standings.

He won’t give up hope, but you have to wonder whether the doubts are already beginning to creep into Perez’s head, as he stands once more in the face of a barrage from a Max Verstappen who can seem to do no wrong right now.

Perez has had a few days to regroup and reset, and he will know as well as anyone that he has to put in a proper performance this weekend. Second place behind his team-mate would not be a disaster, but he simply has to keep the pressure on Verstappen, to at least be in striking distance should any reliability issues befall his rival later in the year. Realistically, anything other than a win here for Perez will fuel the feeling that time is running out.


3. The first true test of Mercedes’ upgrades

Mercedes achieved their best team result of the year in Monaco. Lewis Hamilton took fourth ahead of George Russell in fifth, during a weekend that produced more questions than answers about Mercedes’ hopes for the rest of the season. Having to introduce their upgrades at Monaco was never going to be ideal, as the circuit’s unique setup was never going to deliver any relevant data for the team to analyse, nor were we looking to be able to get an accurate measure of their performance.

Hamilton has been cautious in his appraisal of the new car upgrades, but we will all know exactly where Mercedes sit by the end of Sunday’s Spanish Grand Prix. Catalunya’s long-time status as the home of F1’s pre-season testing means teams are able to put a lot more value into their performance here than almost anywhere else. If ever a true pecking order could be gleaned for 2023, this weekend is when we will see it. If Mercedes aren’t challenging for the podium, serious questions will be asked.


4. Ferrari bring their own upgrades

While Mercedes have been busy redesigning their car, Ferrari have quietly arrived at the Spanish Grand Prix with their own set of upgrades. Like the majority of the grid this year, the red cars are the latest to ditch their own concept in favour of taking inspiration from Red Bull’s downwash concept. You can see the logic, those Red Bull cars are the class of the field, but there’s more to it than just following the same philosophy.

Ferrari's had a strange start to the season, any evidence of their pace last year seems to have evaporated, with neither Charles Leclerc nor Carlos Sainz Jr. getting anywhere near the podium, aside from Leclerc’s stunning performances at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

Will this weekend see Ferrari return to the front? Those new sidepods are going to need to unlock something special for that to happen, but you have to think this team will get its act into gear sooner rather than later.


5. A revised circuit layout

Finally! That horrible, clunky chicane that has marred the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya since the 2007 Spanish Grand Prix is gone, as we return to the original final sector layout that will see the drivers head down the hill through two high-speed right-handers.

It’s a decision that fans have been clamouring for since the chicane was first introduced, so it’s nice to see we’re going to give it a try. Whether it will do anything for the racing is an open question. What we do know is that the chicane didn’t work as designed. Instead of providing an overtaking opportunity, it did the exact opposite. Not only was it horrible to watch, as the modern cars bumbled their way through it, but it also worked to ensure that overtaking into Turn 1 was more difficult as the cars were inevitably spread further apart as cars ahead got on the throttle before those behind. DRS mitigated that issue, and the fact remains that this circuit is simply not a good one for overtaking. We will at least not be able to watch drivers tackle a fast and flowing section at the end of the lap and see these 2023 F1 cars on the very limit of grip.

Images courtesy of Motosport Images.

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