The Formula One circus returns to Europe this weekend after a three-week break that was anything but restful for the teams hard at work back at their factories.
This is the first chance that most of the teams have had this season to bring significant upgrades to their cars since the start of the season, so expect some visual changes and upgrades under the skin that could upset the current form book.
The Spanish Grand Prix has had several different homes over the years, but since 1991 the Circuit de Catalunya has been the host of the event. Motor racing in Spain was first given a permanent home at the Autodromo Internacional de Terramar and rotated between that circuit, Guaddarama, and Lasarte before the Spanish Civil War broke out.
After the establishment of the Formula One World Championship, the series headed to Pedralbes in 1951 and 1954, before alternating between Jarama and Montjuic. The race changed destination again in 1986 to the circuit at Jerez. Five years later Catalunya took over as the host of the Spanish Grand Prix and has held the event ever since.
Construction began on 24th February 1989 (around the time of preparations for the 1992 Olympic Games) and the circuit held its first race on 10th September 1991, just five days after its official inauguration. The second race, held in 1992, was billed as the Grand Prix of the Olympic Games.
Valencia’s street circuit attempted to dislodge Barcelona from its coveted place in F1 but ultimately failed after drawing widespread criticism after throwing up a number of dull races due to a constrictive track layout. Eventually budget and political problems caused the circuit to fall into disrepair and was dropped from the calendar.
The Barcelona circuit also hosts many different forms of motorsport, being one of the four Spanish rounds of the MotoGP World Championship in addition to Jerez (which hosts F1 tests), Motorland Aragon (which was supposed to be the European base of USF1 before their demise) and Circuit Ricardo Tormo (where the unofficial lap record is held by former Honda test driver Antony Davidson). It has also hosted a variety of other events including the start and finish of the team time trial at the 1992 Olympics.
The circuit is a popular choice for Formula One testing, due to the combination of high and low-speed corners, as well as its two long straights. It is seen to be one of the most well-rounded circuits to gauge a car’s performance.
The 4.655 kilometre track contains 16 corners: 9 right and 7 left. For this, drivers will be on full throttle for approximately 60% of the lap, completing about 40 gear changes over that time. It is a high-downforce circuit, with low impact on engines but a marginally trickier track record for the gearbox and the brakes. Last year Lewis Hamilton started from pole position after posting a time of 1:25.232 in the final qualifying session, while the lap record is 1:19.954, set by Rubens Barrichello in 2009.
Unfortunately the extensive knowledge of the circuit from testing does tend to mean there are few set-up related surprises, stringing the cars out and often causing processional races. The most common overtaking zone is the pit-straight into turn one, especially with the addition of a long DRS zone. The last sweeping corner onto the main straight used to be a real stern challenge, but the addition of a chicane to attempt to encourage overtaking (which has generally failed) neutered the corner by essentially turning it into an acceleration zone. The second DRS zone towards a recently tightened turn ten has helped to facilitate overtaking.
LEWIS HAMILTON VIDEO PREVIEW
BRAKING WITH BREMBO
The track’s level of grip is always very high and with about 18% of every lap spent on the brakes, it can be considered a moderately demanding track for the brakes. On the other hand, the straight stretches allow efficient heat dissipation between one braking section and the next.
The most demanding braking points on the circuit are turn one and turn ten, both downhill sections at the end of the DRS zones.Braking from over 330kph at turn one is expected to generate g-forces of over 5.6G. The longest stopping distance is 134 meters at turn 10.
TYRES WITH PIRELLI: MEDIUM AND HARD COMPOUND
Paul Hembery, Pirelli motorsport director: “One of the things we have noticed so far is that this year Barcelona will once again be a front-limited circuit, from a tyre perspective. Last year, the increase in traction and torque from the cars meant that for the first time the race became a rear-limited event, with the useful life of the rear tyres dictating the pit stop strategy.
Thanks to the improvements we made to the rear tyre construction for this year, we’re back to Barcelona being a front-limited circuit again. However, we do not expect this to mean that there will necessarily be more pit stops this year: last year the majority of competitors used a two-stop strategy and that will probably be the case again.
The biggest unknown factor will be the weather: in the past we have seen some very hot weather in Barcelona, but it isn’t always guaranteed.”
Controlling wear and degradation is the biggest challenge, as Montmelo is a circuit that takes a lot out of the tyres due to long high-speed corners and several fast changes of direction. In particular, the left side of the car gets the biggest workout (the lateral forces acting on both left tyres are the second highest of the entire season) with the front-left tyre being the most stressed.
The cars run high downforce in Barcelona in order to stay planted to the track during the fast corners and this force increases the load going through the tyres. As a result of all these factors, tread temperatures can peak at nearly 130 degrees centigrade.
Eight out of the last 10 races have been won from pole position in Spain (and only one from outside the first row of the grid). This underlines the difference that strategy could make on a circuit that the teams all know very well, where racing is always close.
Last year the top three all used a two-stop strategy, while the highest-placed three-stopper was Sebastian Vettel in fourth for Red Bull (having started from 15th on the grid). Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton won the race from his team-mate Nico Rosberg, using a medium-medium-hard strategy. Rosberg tried a different type of two-stopper: medium-hard-medium.
The expected performance gap between the two compounds is between 0.8 and 1.2 seconds per lap.
The expected weather conditions for the race will be dry and warm, peaking at 25 degrees centigrade but dropping to 13 degrees centigrade overnight. Some overcast intervals are expected leading up to the race but it should remain bright and clear for race day.
5 MEMORABLE MOMENTS
1991 – Nigel Mansell and Ayrton Senna dueled down the pit straight in a battle for what would eventually be race victory, with the British driver coming out on top. The sparks flew as the cars diced inches apart creating one of the most iconic moments in F1 history.
1996 – In an inspirational drive through the rain Michael Schumacher won his first of many races for Ferrari, finishing ahead of Jean Alesi and Jacques Villeneuve. Eventual champion Damon Hill had an awful day with three spins, the last of which saw him retire from the race.
2001 – Mika Hakkinen suffered a heart breaking engine and clutch failure on the very last lap. Unable to cruise around to take the flag, the victory was handed to Michael Schumacher.
2006 – Fernando Alonso became the first Spaniard to win his home Grand Prix with a victory from pole position.
2012 – As well as taking his first victory and the first victory for Williams since the final round of the 2004 season, Pastor Maldonado became the fifth different winner of the season, the first Venezuelan driver to be on pole position, and the first Venezuelan to win. Facing a tight battle with Fernando Alonso, Pastor had the upper hand on strategy and went on to win the race.
With the fly-away races now dispensed with, it is a good time to take stock and reflect on who has made the biggest impressions on the season so far.
Lewis Hamilton will be looking to continue his dominant form and extend his lead at the top of the championship table. He said he feels “very powerful in this car” and is “able to get everything from it“. Those are ominous words for the rest of the field, especially his team-mate Nico Rosberg who so far has been unable to challenge him both physically on track and mentally in the garage and in the press.
There is no doubting that Rosberg has great talent but needs a good result to get in the right place psychologically to kick-start his challenge this year.
Ferrari have moved up from the “best of the rest” category and now pose a serious threat to the Mercedes team. Sebastian Vettel drove a sub-standard race in Bahrain and will look to reassert his authority at the Scuderia after a seemingly reborn Kimi had his first podium finish since the Korean Grand Prix in 2013.
The last time Pirelli brought the medium and hard tyres was at Malaysia, where Ferrari had an edge on tyre life and overall stint pace.
Williams find themselves in an interesting position with a relatively secure third place in the constructor’s championship with little foreseeable threat from behind. A few years ago this would have been sweet music to the ears of the staff back at Grove, but after pre-season talk of taking the fight to Mercedes they find themselves disappointed, which was almost inevitable given the massive difference in budget and resources available to them.
The Renault powered teams will be hoping to make advances in the reliability of their power units. Max Verstappen has grabbed all the headlines by the horns at Toro Rosso, but Carlos Sainz has done a solid job so far and needs to continue to keep his head down and perform.
Force India were surprised with their upturn in form at Bahrain and will be desperately hoping to continue this into the Spanish Grand Prix weekend. The team is becoming increasingly frustrated at the lack of resources and have delayed their “B-Spec” car until the Austrian Grand Prix at the earliest – don’t expect them to be challenging for regular points until then.
McLaren will be hoping that their revolutionary engine design will start to pay dividends soon and end the most painful start to a season ever for the Woking-based squad. Once the kinks are ironed out the radical design could prove to be a winning formula. But for now, let’s hope that Jenson Button won’t have to spend another race commentating on Twitter.
As we reach the European stage of the season, F1 is joined by the GP2, GP3 and Porsche Mobil 1 Supercup series in Barcelona.
GP2 started with a feature race win for McLaren’s young driver Stoffel Vandoorne. An ill-timed safety car looked to put the Belgian out of contention with a ruined strategy, but he fought back very fiercely and scythed his way back into the lead with two laps to go. The sprint race was won by Indonesian driver Rio Haryanto with Vandoorne following up behind to complete an excellent weekend for him.
The new GP3 season kicks off this weekend with a number of interesting and talented young drivers hoping to attract attention; with the current trend towards youth over experience, success in the series has become even more crucial.
With GP3 champions Valterri Bottas and Daniil Kvyat graduating straight to Formula One, this is a season to take very seriously. Jann Mardenborough is arguably the most interesting driver prospect in the sport right now. In 2011 the Welshman won the GT Academy programme run by Nissan that aims to take Playstation gamers to real-life racing success.
In his maiden year in GP3 he finished a very respectable 9th with a win at Hockenheim and a podium finish in Hungary. Dovetailing a LMP1 drive at Le Mans will be a challenge for him, but he so far has seemed more than capable. Another very hot prospect is Esteban Ocon who dominated the Formula 3 championship in 2014 and signed a development contract with the Lotus F1 Team. Although that honour has since been spread liberally, he is truly a man to watch.
The champion of the 2014 Porsche Supercup, Earl Bamber, has been promoted to a Porsche works seat so will not be contesting the Supercup this year. A bumper grid of 26 cars guarantees action, with Michael Ammermuller, Phillip Eng and Kuba Giermaziak being the most likely to contest the top spots this year.
CIRCUIT DE CATALUNYA RESULTS
|2011||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull–Renault|
|2010||Mark Webber||Red Bull–Renault|