By Track Profile Writer Alistair Hunter
After the slightly longer break, F1 kicks into action once again this weekend in Spain, for the fifth round of the 2014 season. A fond favourite with the teams, this will be the 55th edition of the Spanish Grand Prix, which is now relatively established at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.
Nico Rosberg holds a four point advantage over Lewis Hamilton as we enter into the European leg of the season; however, this is guaranteed to change if the British driver continues his streak of winning every race that he has finished this year.
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 TJ13 article from 2013, 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.
Construction 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 was set to be the host of the Spanish Grand Prix this year; however, rumours of the circuit falling into a bad state were widely circulated, and ultimately it is no longer a feature on the calendar.
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.
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, this year there was no testing at the circuit, which means that teams will have slightly less data on the circuit than they normally would, although they will still have a rough idea of what to expect. It is seen to be one of the most well-rounded tests of 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, Nico Rosberg started from pole position, after posting a time of 1:20.718 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. In addition, the DRS zone towards turn ten has seen more overtakes in recent years.
Circuit de Catalunya with Lewis Hamilton
Pirelli and the Circuit de Catalunya
Formula One returns to Europe for what is traditionally a key race: the Spanish Grand Prix. The Montmelo circuit is familiar to the teams and they frequently use the return to Europe to introduce significant car upgrades, designed to improve performance and increase downforce. This often adds to the demands placed on the tyres at what is already a high-energy circuit because of the fast, sweeping corners that put extreme forces through the tyres. As a result, Pirelli will bring the two hardest compounds in the Formula One range.
Paul Hembery, Pirelli motorsport director: “It’s often said that Barcelona provides the most accurate representation of the form a season will take, because a car that performs well in Barcelona should perform well everywhere. The same is true of the tyres, because the Spanish circuit is one of the most demanding circuits we race on all year.
“Long and fast corners such as Turn Three put a huge amount of energy into the tyres, as a result of which degradation is high. The track surface is also quite abrasive, and ambient temperatures can be high, which increase the workload on the tyres further. In the past we’ve seen up to four pit stops in Spain. With the changes we have made to the tyres this year, we would now hope to see no more than three for the majority of drivers.
“We made a solid start to our preparations for next year with the first dedicated in-season tyre tests in Bahrain. We’re looking forward to building on that work with four teams in Spain after the grand prix.”
Jean Alesi, Pirelli consultant: “For the tyres, Barcelona is one of the hardest circuits of the year. The surface is quite abrasive but the main thing is all the fast corners that you accelerate through, which take a lot out of the rear tyres in particular.
“So this means that having the right set-up is absolutely essential to control degradation. If you don’t do that, you end up destroying the rear tyres and you lose pace very quickly. The other problem becomes braking and acceleration: with worn tyres it also takes longer to brake and find traction out of the corners.
“It will be interesting to find out how the cars are at Barcelona this year: in theory, with less downforce, it should be less tiring for the drivers than it was in the past. But we have to see which upgrades the teams bring as well.”
The circuit from a tyre point of view
While Barcelona has traditionally been used for pre-season winter testing for as long as most drivers can remember, this was not actually the case this year, when pre-season testing took place in Jerez and Bahrain. As a result, the teams and Pirelli come to Barcelona with no information about the new generation of cars on the circuit.
￼The left side of the car is worked particularly hard in Spain, with heavy traction demands on the left- rear tyre in particular. The lateral forces acting on both left tyres are the second highest of the entire year.
The high energy loads going through the compounds means that the surface of the tyre can reach a maximum temperature of 130 degrees centigrade. There is just one long straight, so the tyres do not have much of a chance to cool down over the course of a lap.
The hard tyre is a high-working range compound, designed for the hottest and most extreme conditions of the year, while the medium tyre is a low working range tyre, designed to work effectively in an ample variety of conditions. This combination ensures that there is always a solution for the wide range of conditions that can be seen in Barcelona.
Eight of the last 10 races in Barcelona have been won from pole position, underlining the importance of qualifying and the difficulty in overtaking at the Spanish track. As a result, strategy can be crucial to gain track position, as the 2013 race showed.
Last year, Fernando Alonso won the race for Ferrari with a four-stop sprint strategy, defeating Kimi Raikkonen (Lotus) in second, who stopped three times. Alonso set a new record, becoming the only driver to win a grand prix at the Montmelo circuit from as far down as fifth on the grid.
Tyres for Circuit de Catalunya in 3D with Pirelli
Circuit de Catalunya with Brembo
The is the circuit which is used most for winter testing so the teams and drivers know it quite well. The track’s level of grip is always very high and, with about 13% of every lap spent on the brakes, it can be considered a medium 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 section is made up of the ELF turn, which is also on a downhill and has deceleration greater than 5 Gs.
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.
I don’t really need to go onto any gambling websites to work out that Lewis Hamilton is the favourite for this weekend’s race – after all, he has just won three consecutive races for the first time in his career. Should he fail to win, Nico Rosberg would be most likely to stand on top of the podium. However, Red Bull’s performance continues to improve, and Fernando Alonso’s chances can never be written off at his home grand prix.
Looking at the constructors championship further emphasises Mercedes’ strength going into this weekend. To illustrate the German team’s dominance, even if they scored no points in the next three races, it would take three consecutive 1-2 victories for Red Bull in order for the top team to change, a degree of control that is hard to comprehend after only four rounds this season.
As we reach the European stage of the season, F1 is joined by the GP2, GP3 and Porsche Mobil 1 Supercup series in Barcelona. British driver Jolyon Palmer currently leads the way in GP2 after finishing third in the feature race in Bahrain, before going on to win the sprint race – a victory that takes his tally up to four victories in four seasons in the series, and takes him ten points clear of his nearest rival Julian Leal, the Colombian driver for Carlin, Palmer’s former team.
The GP3 series emerges from its winter break at this circuit, and the highest ranked driver from last season that is set to drive this year is British driver Nick Yelloly (although at the time of writing, six spaces on the grid have yet to be filled). For those of you wondering, 2013 champion Daniil Kvyat joined Toro Rosso, while the runner up Facu Regalia in addition to 3rd placed driver Conor Daly joined GP2. Indy Lights was a greater attraction to 5th placed Jack Harvey than remaining in the series, while 4th placed driver and Marussia test driver Tio Ellinas – winner of the MRF challenge over the winter break – is doing… well, I don’t know yet, but hopefully something nice.
Finally, the Porsche Supercup also appears at this race weekend, the first of nine rounds in conjunction with Formula One. Again, full driver listings have not been made available at this time.
Circuit de Catalunya Results
|2010||Mark Webber||Red Bull|
|2011||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull|