Spanish Grand Prix Preview: Ferrari Seeks to Find Its Footing

The Prancing Horse will need a far better weekend in Barcelona to keep pace with Red Bull after a disastrous performance in Montreal. Plus, the reason behind a significantly calmer period on the driver market.
Leclerc will look to bounce back in Barcelona following a tough race in Canada.
Leclerc will look to bounce back in Barcelona following a tough race in Canada. / Mark Thompson/Getty Images

Summer is here, and with it, the heart of the 2024 Formula One season. The paddock heads to Barcelona this week for the annual Spanish Grand Prix, the start of the campaign’s first triple-header before trips to Austria and Great Britain. 

Max Verstappen responded to an underwhelming showing in Monaco with a picture-perfect drive in Canada, nabbing his sixth win of the year and keeping Red Bull atop the constructor standings after nine weeks. However, the field remains determined to make this a real championship fight, with Ferrari and McLaren still hovering, and even Mercedes taking a dramatic step up in Montreal. 

Here’s what to know ahead of this weekend’s race at the historic Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya:

Ferrari Looks to Make Canada the Anomaly 

Just when it seemed like Charles Leclerc had his career breakthrough moment by winning in Monaco, he and teammate Carlos Sainz fell back to Earth in Canada. A pair of DNFs, one due to engine failure and one due to a crash, left both drivers scratching their heads after a double podium two weeks prior.

Even with the disastrous outing, Ferrari only trails Red Bull by 49 points going into the weekend. The Tifosi, in part, has Sergio Pérez—who didn’t finish his second straight race—to thank for not extending the margin further. But now the pressure is on. 

Barcelona is expected to be a far more favorable track for Red Bull than the previous two races, which should be of some concern to the chase pack of Ferrari, McLaren and Mercedes. But unlike those latter two teams, Ferrari has been fairly consistent this season until Canada. The team also has reportedly brought a hefty set of upgrades to Spain. 

Leclerc and Sainz will both need to adjust to the new setup quickly and find their form as the year’s busiest stretch gets underway.

Sainz has yet to announce a decision about his future team.
Sainz has yet to announce a decision about his future team. / Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Carlos Sainz, the “Cork in the Bottle”

Leave it to Kevin Magnussen to get real about why the driver market has stalled out going into the summer following a frenetic spring.

“He is! Carlos is the cork in the bottle,” the Haas driver exclaimed, pointing to his Ferrari peer during their joint media session Thursday in Spain.

“I think a lot of guys are waiting for him to make a move and then eventually all the other pieces of the puzzle will fall. That’s the truth of that.”

Magnussen’s not wrong. Sainz has repeated for weeks on end that he will take his time to decide his future, leaving ample opportunity for teams to make their interest in him known. Sauber and Williams have done exactly that, reportedly emerging as the clear front-runners. 

Now, the choice is in the hands of Sainz—who still has yet to make a decision about his next team as of Friday. However, the Spaniard gave perhaps the most revealing insight into his timeline, implying that he was just about ready to announce his next move after having some time back at home ahead of the race in Barcelona.

“The latest [news] is that a decision will be taken very soon,” he said Thursday. “I don’t want to wait any longer. I think it’s getting to a point where it’s obviously taking space out of my head for quite a few weeks now and months.

“It’s time to make a decision and the decision will be taken soon. Hopefully, soon we will have things to talk about.”

FIA Clears Way for Antonelli Debut This Year

Late last week, the FIA made changes to its International Sporting Code that could have implications as soon as the next few months—particularly as it pertains to getting phenom Andrea Kimi Antonelli in an F1 car.

The 17-year-old Mercedes junior driver will now be eligible to make his debut at the highest level of motorsport after the FIA lowered its minimum age for F1 superlicence applicants from 18 to 17, so long as they are “judged to have recently and consistently demonstrated outstanding ability and maturity in single-seater formula car competition.”

Antonelli has already done exactly that, impressing in Formula Two and his F1 tests with Mercedes. He’s at the top of Toto Wolff’s list to replace Lewis Hamilton when the season is over, but the FIA’s rule change allows him to get into a car even sooner. 

The most likely outcome of the rule change is that Antonelli will get a run during a free practice session, as F1 teams are required to give at least two different free practice outings to drivers with experience in less than two grands prix. That might come sooner instead of later with the busy slate ahead of the summer break, giving fans a glimpse at what the young Italian could look like in a Mercedes next year.


Published
Zach Koons

ZACH KOONS

Zach Koons is a programming editor at Sports Illustrated who also specializes in Formula One news and analysis. He started as a breaking news writer at SI before joining the programming team in 2023. Also a contributor to NBA and college sports coverage, Zach previously wrote for The Spun and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and currently hosts the Bleav in Northwestern podcast. Zach is a 2020 graduate of Northwestern and lives in New York City.