Let the upgrade, development war begin

The Spanish Grand Prix always represents a second round of hope and despair for Formula 1 teams. The first race in Australia is riddled with anxiety to see how quick the car is out of the box and then it is down to minimizing damage should you be off the pace for the next three races. When the series takes a 3-week break to get the gear back to Europe for the Spanish Grand Prix, a raft of upgrades, updates and uplifting commentary often accompanies the event.

McLaren are hopeful, Ferrari are sure Kimi Raikkonen will get on top of his poor form so far and Mercedes is seeking to take their domination even a step further. This leaves Williams and Force India mumbling things about staying on top as long as they can and how they hope to hang on to a top 5 finish for the season. Sauber has put their C33 chassis on a gluten-free weight loss program in order to find some performance and Toro Rosso has a few aces they’ve secured up their sleeve for the European round of 5-card draw.

For Red Bull, it’s much the same except this return to Europa will see an entirely new chassis for struggling 4-time champion Sebastian Vettel. The German has had to pull over twice to let his teammate pass in the fly-away races and that’s not sitting well. The team released a nice Q&A on their website today with Chief Designer Rob Marshall to explain:

How often do teams upgrade their cars?
RM: The cars are upgraded almost every race, some of the upgrades can be large and some small, such as little tweaks on the front wing, some details of the bodywork or upgrades to the car’s cooling system. The Spanish Grand Prix is probably the first opportunity for teams to bring a big upgrade to the car during the season. The cars have been on the other side of the globe for the first quarter of the year and teams’ R&D departments will have been busy coming up with large upgrade packages to bolt on the car for the first time in Spain. They will often compromise whole body work packages, so the floor, engine cover, front wings and rear wings, potentially new suspension components and various other bits and bobs.

Is the upgrade times planned at the beginning of the season?
RM: There are a couple of races that stand out as being obvious ones for a major upgrade. That’s the first European race for logistics reasons and also the last European race, as it’s the last opportunity we have to bring performance to the car without having to fly it out around the world.

We’ve heard Sebastian will get a new chassis for this race?
RM: Sebastian will get a new chassis for Barcelona, which was scheduled at the start of the season and then the next one will be for Dan at some time around Silverstone.

What does it mean when a driver gets a new chassis?
RM: The chassis is the tub that the driver sits in – it’s basically the survival cell that the engine and suspension bolts to, that’s the bit that’s new. All the external body work is the same.

Is it a benefit?
RM: It shouldn’t be, as the idea is that they are all the same. Drivers don’t always want to change them – they can get attached to a particular chassis and when they are on a good run they like to hang on to it for as long as possible! From our point of view we’d rather give them one or two new chassis during the season that we have been able to check out in the factory using various testing methods.

How often would drivers get a new chassis throughout the year?
RM: Normally we make four or five chassis during the year, maybe six, so it wouldn’t be unusual for each driver to change at least once or twice during the year. Normally they would use at least two.

Can you tell me about any specific upgrades that the team has for Barcelona?
RM:Not yet! All the teams will have updates and we can see what they all are in a few days.

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