Circuit Profile: 2013 – Spain, Montmelo, Circuit de Catalunya – Round 5

By Track Profile Specialist: Alistair Hunter

2013 Formula One Gran Premio de Espana Round 5 – Circuit De Catalunya

Circuit de Catalunya

After a slightly longer break than usual, Formula One returns to the Circuit de Catalunya for the first time since pre-season testing. While the teams will be focused on comparing their updates to the cars being driven around in the cold and rain a few months ago, Sebastian Vettel will attempt to enlarge his ten-point championship lead over Kimi Raikkonen.

Last year Pastor Maldonado became the fifth different winner of the 2012 season at this track, and while data from the TJ13/IntelligentF1 partnership – and, perhaps more importantly, race results – suggests that he will be nowhere near repeating the same result this year, fellow speaker of Spanish and home favourite Fernando Alonso will be one of the many drivers in contention for the race victory.

The Spanish Grand Prix has had several different homes over its history, 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 as discussed in this article, while the event itself 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, followed in 1986 by a five year spell at Jerez. Catalunya became the latest destination for the Spanish Grand Prix.
Barcelona 1992Construction began on 24th February 1989 (around the time of preparations for the 1992 Olympic Games) and 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 also became an important part of F1, throwing up both dull races and exciting ones, and this will be the next destination for the Spanish Grand Prix for 2014; although, as I’m sure most of you will have heard, that deal is in doubt.

The circuit also hosts many different forms of motorsport, being one of the four Spanish rounds of the 2013 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) – and it has hosted a variety of other events, such as the start and finish of the team time trial at the 1992 Olympics.

Circuit Characteristics

Circuit De Catalunya

The circuit is a popular one for Formula One testing, due to the combination of high- and low-speed corners, as well as its two straights. However, the disadvantage of this is that all of the teams and drivers will have a significant amount of data and experience on the track, meaning that the drivers without major updates to test will have a more relaxing start to FP1 than usual, and the familiarity of the track to the drivers means that they will also know how to defend from an opponent.

The 4.655-kilometre track contains 16 corners, 9 right and 7 left. For this track, drivers will be on full throttle for approximately 56% of the lap, completing about 40 gear changes over that time. It is a high-downforce circuit, with low impact on engines but a slightly trickier track record for the gearbox and the brakes.

Last year, Pastor Maldonado started from pole position, after posting a time of 1:22.285 in the final qualifying session, while the lap record is 1:19.954, set by Rubens Barrichello in 2009.

Historically, the main places to overtake on the circuit have been going into turn one, and the final turn before the main straight. The aerodynamic issues with a car following another car around what used to be the final two corners have meant a decline in overtaking there, even though the chicane (turns 13, 14 and 15) was introduced to aid that. If I remember correctly, last year there were a few overtakes at turn ten, and their number will be increased by the new DRS zone between turns nine and ten.

Speaking of overtaking at the Circuit de Catalunya, I will use any excuse to get this wonderful piece of GP2 overtaking in the article. I suspect that quite a few of you will have seen it already, but there is no harm in seeing it again. Romain Grosjean (now at Lotus) overtaking Max Chilton (now at Marussia), Rodolfo Gonzalez (test driver at Marussia, should be appearing on Friday morning), and Stefano Coletti (leader of the 2013 GP2 series).

A lap with Mark Webber

Pirelli and the Circuit de Catalunya
Paul Hembery
Paul Hembery:
“We’re introducing a revised version of our hard tyre in Spain, which is closer in characteristics to the 2012 tyre. This new tyre gives us a wider working temperature window – although it delivers a little bit less in terms of pure performance – but it should allow the teams to envisage an even wider variety of race strategies than before in combination with the other compounds, which remain unchanged this year.

This is a decision that we’ve come to having looked at the data from the first four races, with the aim of further improving the spectacle of Formula One. In fact this is almost a tradition with us now, as we also introduced a revised version of the hard tyre for the Spanish Grand Prix in 2011, which was our first year in the sport. We’d expect the medium tyre to still be significantly faster and this is the one that the teams are likely to qualify on, whereas the hard is likely to be the preferred race tyre.Pirelli PZero Orange

As permitted by the current regulations, we’ll be supplying an extra set of prototype hard compound tyres for free practice, which will hopefully ensure that all the cars run throughout these sessions. It’s something we wanted to do to encourage all the teams to run as much as possible right from the start, especially with the rookie drivers, to give fans the spectacle they deserve to see.”

Jean Alesi - PirelliJean Alesi: “I think Barcelona is the place where we will really be able to assess the tyres properly for the first time, as it’s the first European race of the year on a circuit that is a well-known reference point without any particular peculiarities. It’s a circuit that I personally always liked as a driver although it is very complicated: especially Turn 3, which is extremely demanding on the tyres.

I remember it always being quite hard to overtake there, and this is one aspect where Pirelli has transformed the race in Barcelona, thanks also to the DRS. Traction is a key area of performance, which also puts a big emphasis on the tyres, so this is one of the most important races of the year because it acts as a really useful indicator for the season ahead. Introducing an extra set of tyres for free practice is a very smart move, as it’s bad for the sport to have the cars sitting in the garage for a long time.

It will be interesting to see as well the effect that the new specification of hard tyre has on the race. On the whole the teams should be very well-prepared for Barcelona as they have a lot of data from testing at this circuit: the big question is how much of that data will still be relevant, as ambient and track temperatures will have changed enormously since the teams were last there.”

The circuit from a tyre point of view:
Barcelona is a fast, flowing and technical track, which, also due to the high temperatures and reasonably abrasive surface, asks a lot from the tyres. Most of all though, it is the high lateral energy loads that dictate exactly how the tyres degrade. Three pit stops is expected to be the favoured strategy, as was the case last year.

As the circuit has mostly right-handers, it places the emphasis on the left tyres, which do most of the work.

Last year, the hard and soft tyres were selected – but this year’s compounds are generally softer than their equivalents from last year, so the 2013 medium is broadly equivalent to last year’s soft. The top-five finishers selected a three-stop strategy at last year’s Spanish Grand Prix, all of them starting on the soft tyre. The best-placed two-stopper came eighth, having started from last on the grid.

Technical tyre notes:
The key to a quick lap time in Barcelona is finding the right compromise between aerodynamic grip and mechanical grip. Most teams run a stiff set-up at the front, to help turn-in, but go softer at the back to gain traction.

Varying wind direction – a significant variable in Barcelona – is a factor that has an important impact on car set-up, especially in the first corner.

Nine out of the last 10 races at the track have been won from pole position. Last year was no exception. Qualifying will be crucial, which means putting the extra set of tyres in free practice to good use, in order to find an optimal set-up.

A lap with Pirelli

Memorable Moments
Since we’re getting to the stage of the season where the circuits have long and illustrious pasts, I’ve tried to narrow these down to five races:

1991 – Nigel Mansell and Ayrton Senna duelled down the pit straight in a battle for what would eventually be race victory, with the British driver coming out on top.

1996 – In an inspirational drive through the rain, Michael Schumacher won his first race for Ferrari, finishing ahead of Jean Alesi and Jacques Villeneuve.

2001 – Mika Hakkinen suffered an engine failure on the very last lap of the Spanish Grand Prix, which handed the victory 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, he judged his strategy better, and went on to win the race.

Support Races

In addition to the main event, the GP2 series will come two races closer to being decided, with Stefano Coletti (Rapax)  at the top of the table, ten points clear from Fabio Leimer (Racing Engineering) and, six points further back, Felipe Nasr (Carlin). Sergio Canamasas is the this season’s only representative of Spain in the series, and currently lies 20th in the championship for Caterham Racing.


The GP3 series also gets underway this weekend, with this being one of two rounds in Spain and eight overall. The defending champion has been promoted to GP2 this year, so the highest placed driver from last year to be entered in the competition this year is Finnish driver Aaro Vainio, who finished fourth.

In addition, the Porsche Mobil 1 Supercup starts at this race weekend, for the first of eight rounds. The highest placed driver from last year has moved on, so Kevin Estre will be attempting to achieve a better result than his second place in the championship last year.

Catalunya Results

Year Driver Constructor
2003 Michael Schumacher Ferrari
2004 Michael Schumacher Ferrari
2005 Kimi Raikkonen McLaren
2006 Fernando Alonso Renault
2007 Felipe Massa Ferrari
2008 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari
2009 Jenson Button Brawn
2010 Mark Webber Red Bull
2011 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull
2012 Pastor Maldonado Williams

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