Formula One heads to Europe, and the talk is all about the tyres…

A Grand Prix, at a normal time and live on the BBC? Forget what it looks like outside, it sounds dangerously close to ‘summer’ to us.

Barcelona this weekend – and then Monaco – is where F1 really gets going. Sure Oz and Malaysia and China and that funny old weekend in Bahrain made for some compelling viewing, but it’s not proper F1 is it? Rather more a series of preludes. In fact, this year more like pilot episodes, each with a different plotline.

But now for the real deal: ducking out of lunch with the folks, promising the family that you won’t let racing spoil yet another weekend, a sandwich by the telly and renewing your membership of the Sunday Afternoon Club.

So, what do we know? Well, the answer might be less than we thought. Dear old Michael Schumacher hasn’t let up on Pirelli since his Bahrain outburst. What looked at the time like sour grapes has turned out to be all about ‘raw eggs’. Or  Rohe Eier in German. And no matter how many times we put it in and out of Google Translate we can’t make it say ‘eggshells’, which is what we all assumed Michael meant when he described the frustrations of driving a racing car to the limit of its tyres, not its performance.

And he didn’t let off when the other drivers refused to get behind him. He had after all, fallen back in to the bad old habit of being beaten by Nico Rosberg, which must sting more than ever now he knows the car is winner. Or is it?

Underlying Michael’s argument is a theory that says this year’s ultra-competitive racing — four cars (a McLaren, a Ferrari, a Mercedes and a Red Bull) have won and a Lotus not far behind  — might have more to do with the car’s relative abilities to warm up their persnickety Pirellis to exactly the right temperature and keep them there, than with their actual relative racing speed.

Given that all the tyres are the same, his point is semantic to say the least, but it is finding some, er, traction with others. Pirelli included who will, for the first time this year, bring two very different compounds to the race, the soft and the hard, the mediums staying in the van this time. It’s motive is to shake up the racing even more, not to wind up Michael Schumacher.

Regardless, all the teams have pressed on with development, especially McLaren who will race with a noticeably higher nose this weekend, though thankfully it still arcs gracefully from tip to cockpit. Ferrari, meanwhile, will have a very different F2012 for Alonso to race at home. All the teams except HRT tested at Ferrari’s own, lush test track in Tuscany last week and Ferrari itself came away optimistic that the bits of the upgrade pack it did test, worked. Though it was hard to know what with torrential rain and a rare prang from Mr Alonso.

As tests go it was pretty inconclusive. Mugello is not like any other circuit, except maybe the fast bits of Silverstone. So although all the drivers enjoyed the speed, and no doubt the lunches, the general consensus is that the first in-season test in four years was a waste of time and money.

Still, it stirred up plenty of gossip. Mark Webber is said to be circling the Ferrari seat everyone in the world except Felipe Massa thinks will be vacant next year. Sunday Afternoon Club however still reckons it’s for Sergio Perez to lose, what with having the personal support of the richest man in the world, Carlos Slim and all that.

Mercedes meanwhile are said/not said to be in a bit of tizz about them not getting a seat on the board of F1 PLC when it floats, and are wondering whether they want to stay in an F1 ruled by everyone else. And HRT, who didn’t make it to Mugello (preferring instead to put up some posters of Penelope Cruz on the walls of its new factory), are said to be contemplating a name change. You can hardly blame them wanting to disassociate themselves from the female menopause, but it does sound rather like shuffling deckchairs to us.

As befits its role as the opening race in the ‘real’ F1 season, Barcelona has usually proven to be a bellwether for what follows. ‘A car that’s fast in Catalunya is a car that fast everywhere’ is an ancient Catalan proverb. This year we’re not so certain, but we are expecting to see the Mk II McLaren MP4-27s to the fore.

And it’s not as if the Mk I was exactly slow…

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