Spanish GP: Race guide
We take an in-depth look at this weekend's Spanish Grand Prix at the Circuit de Catalunya, Barcelona.
A fixture on the calendar since 1991, and semi-regularly since 1951, the Spanish Grand Prix heralds the return of Formula One to European shores, where – aside from a sojourn to Canada in early June – the series will remain until September.
The Circuit de Catalunya was built to coincide with Barcelona’s hosting of the 1992 Olympic Games but due to early completion the first race was held in 1991, thus giving us the fabulous iconic image of Ayrton Senna and Nigel Mansell racing just inches apart, sparks flying at 190mph into the first corner. In its early races, the track saw an abundance of overtaking as cars could follow each other closely through the final two turns, setting up a passing move on the start/finish straight. However in the era of aerodynamic reliance the ability to follow another car closely has dramatically reduced, with many races branded as boring.
The final sector was remodelled in 2007, introducing a slower chicane intended to bring cars closer together, but it has not made a huge amount of difference to date. After a thrilling first four races, should the trend for excitement continue in Barcelona then there is a good chance it will be replicated at all circuits, making for a truly brilliant season.
Tyre wear: 6/10
With the soft and hard compound tyres being brought to Spain, expect to see two stops with much time spent on Friday to determine which is the racier tyre. With a wider range in laptime anticipated between the two tyres, teams will want to spend as little time as possible on the unfancied rubber.
Medium settings all round in order to maintain a higher maximum velocity on the start/finish straight for overtaking purposes.
Average speed: 7/10
A few slower corners blight what is otherwise a fast and flowing lap, with the chicane in the last sector somewhat out of touch with the rest of the track.
Track difficulty: 5/10
Gets a medium rating because the drivers know every inch of tarmac intimately after doing thousands of testing laps here. The main challenge is to nail every aspect of the lap because missing even one apex will cost you a grid position.
This low mark is based on previous seasons although, based on the first few races of this year, it’s entirely possible we’ll see more passing than in previous Spanish Grands Prix thanks to the strategic headaches being thrown up by the new generation Pirelli tyres.
Although overtaking remains a problem, the track does give opportunities to see a Formula One car at opposite ends of its working spectrum – the speed through Turn 3 and direction change through Turn 9 are mind-blowing, while at the fiddly Turn 14 chicane you’ll see cars stepping out of shape as the power goes down, particularly on older tyres.
Every team and driver knows the Circuit de Catalunya like the back of their racing gloves, having tested extensively at the venue for many seasons. It is a track which gives a strong indication of a car’s standing in the pecking order as it contains many types of corner which are common throughout the calendar – no wonder the rule is ‘be quick at Barcelona and you’ll be quick everywhere’.
One of the more technically demanding tracks on the calendar, it offers a variation in challenges which are critical to overcome in order to produce a competitive lap. The high speed Turns 3 and 9 require the engineers to find a setup allowing the car to be fast in both, while the last sector requires repeated changes of direction through Turns 13, 14, 15 and 16 and needs the back end to be firmly planted so as to cleanly transfer power through the tyres and onto the track.
From fourth place on the grid Fernando Alonso vaulted into the lead as the cars filed into Turn 1, the Ferrari driver maintaining his lead until the first round of stops on lap 18. It proved to be a false dawn however with the Ferrari proving so uncompetitive on the prime tyre that Alonso ended up being lapped, finishing in a distant fifth place. Sebastian Vettel won his fourth race from five, but faced stiff competition from Lewis Hamilton who was just 0.6s behind at the flag.
Venue: Circuit de Catalunya, Barcelona
Lap record: 1m 21.670s – Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari (2008)
2011 Winner: Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull
GP History*: Pedralbes: 1951, 1954; Jarama: 1968, 1970, 1972, 1974, 1976 – 1981; Montjuic: 1969, 1971, 1973, 1975; Jerez 1986 – 1990; Catalunya: 1991 - Present
* only races held as part of the Formula One World Championship are included
(Stats courtesy of Mercedes GP)