The opening four flyaway races have given the new-look Formula 1 and Mercedes monopoly, but the return to the sport’s traditional European heartland could threaten to shake up the order as the field grids up for this weekend’s Spanish Formula One Grand Prix at the Circuit de Catalunya.
Traditionally not known for producing a scintillating Grand Prix, the event still brings with it plenty of talking points as the field sets about trying to take the fight to the all-conquering Silver Arrows.
So who is likely to emerge on top at the Circuit de Catalunya? Let’s take a look at the RichardsF1.com Spanish Grand Prix Preview…
|FORMULA 1 GRAN PREMIO DE ESPAÑA PIRELLI 2014
|Date:||09-11 May 2014|
|Free Practice Session 1||Fri 10:00-11:30|
|Free Practice Session 2||Fri 14:00-15:30|
|Free Practice Session 3||Sat 11:00-12:00|
|Race (66 laps)||Sun 15:00-17:00|
|Lap Record||1:21.670 (2008)|
|2013 Winner||Fernando Alonso (Ferrari)|
* All session times are quoted in Central European Summer Time (GMT +02:00 hrs)
The Circuit de Catalunya made its inaugural appearance on the Formula 1 calendar in 1991, one year before Barcelona held the 1992 Olympic Games.
It’s impressive to see how the venue – one regarded as one of the worst-attended and most depressing venues on the calendar – has transformed into a track that exudes all of the hallmarks of national patriotism.
Spanish fans used to steer well clear of the circuit when it debuted back in 1991. Motorsport culture was confined to the heroics of Spanish drivers in motorbikes and rallying, and Spain hadn’t delivered a top-shelf F1 driver in decades.
But along came a certain Fernando Alonso, whose successes have transformed the venue into a heaving mass of flag-waving, chanting – and occasionally over-the-top – spectators. His win in 2006 took the fervour to new heights, and this was heightened further when he joined Ferrari in 2011, winning last year’s race in what was a thin season for the Scuderia.
And while the fans come to see one man strut his stuff, the bulk of fans curse the circuit’s presence on the F1 calendar for its never-ending ability to provide a race that is the equivalent to watching paint dry.
Seventeen of the races held here to-date have been won from pole, including but two all of the last ten.
Before the advent of DRS – which brought the level of passing to a remotely acceptable standard – the circuit averaged just two overtaking moves per race. That record gave it a worse reputation than Monaco and Hungary, two tracks which were positively overtaking-friendly in comparison.
The fundamental design of a long straight, a mix of corners and an abrasive track surface are all essential ingredients that should make a track conducive to overtaking, but the layout clearly doesn’t work and the final corner that feeds onto the main straight was too quick to allow the chasing driver to get enough of a tow.
The last corner was subsequently slowed by a badly designed chicane which is an absolute eyesore on the circuit, and has only served to emasculate the track’s final sector, which was a particularly challenging section of the track.
For more of our thoughts on the venue, take a look at our Circuit de Catalunya Track Guide:
The History Bit
Local hero Fernando Alonso gave the rest of the grid something of a driving lesson at last year’s race, securing his second win on home soil and his second win in three races after winning the race in China.
The Spaniard brilliantly navigated a race that – to its detriment – was all about shocking tyre wear, pitting four times over the 66-lap race as most of the field found the Pirelli tyres falling to pieces on the abrasive track surface. A three-stopping Kimi Räikkönen finished second in his Lotus, while Felipe Massa gave the tifosi further cheer with his first visit to the podium by finishing third.
Having locked out the front row in qualifying, Mercedes’ joy proved short-lived as both Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton tumbled down the order, with the shortcomings of the F1W04 chassis apparently to all as it destroyed its tyre sets.
Rosberg managed to hold onto this lead until shortly after his first change of tyres, only to be overtaken by Alonso – who vaulted from fifth to third on the opening lap – with a DRS-assisted pass on the German on Lap 13.
Behind the leading trio came Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber in the Red Bulls, who garnered enough points to keep the team in front of the Constructors’ Championship standings, while Vettel – victorious last time out in Bahrain – maintained his advantage in the Drivers’ Championship standings, albeit on a slightly reduced margin.
Rosberg finished sixth and Hamilton twelfth, but the major talking point surrounding the team was the secret tyre test it staged with Pirelli in the days following the race.
So what have been some of the other highlights from the previous races at Barcelona? Let’s relive five of our favourite races here…
1991: The circuit’s F1 debut provided the track with its one truly famous overtaking move in its twenty-year history when, with the championship battle at stake, Nigel Mansell and Ayrton Senna raced wheel-to-wheel down the track’s main straight just inches apart. In a wet-dry race, Senna would later spin and limp home fifth, while Mansell took a crucial win to keep his slim championship hopes intact.
1992: It was two from two for Mansell, who thrashed the opposition with a crushing victory in the all-conquering victory in teeming conditions at Barcelona. While Mansell’s dominance in the FW14B was hardly unexpected, the surprise performer of the weekend was Jean Alesi, who showed great touch in the rain to give the execrable Ferrari F92A a podium finish.
1994: The race saw Williams’ Damon Hill take the team’s first victory of the season – only weeks after the tragic death of team-mate Senna – to spark a wave of emotion and kick start the team’s championship battle with Michael Schumacher and the Benetton team. Schumacher finished second and earned plaudits for maintaining an excellent pace despite being stuck in fifth gear for much of the race.
2001: McLaren and Mika Häkkinen looked set for their fourth win in succession at the circuit – and the Finn’s first win in what was proving to be a difficult swansong year – after he outfoxed Schumacher and Ferrari with a crafty pit strategy to lead in the final stages. Tragically, his clutch exploded on the final lap with just a few corners to go, gifting Schumacher another win and leaving Häkkinen to contemplate what might have been…
2006: Having finished on the podium in two of the previous three Spanish Grands Prix, Fernando Alonso finally went one better with a dominant lights-to-flag victory in his Renault, beating Michael Schumacher and Giancarlo Fisichella. And with it occurring on home soil in front of packed grandstands, it was a very long party after the race!
The Form Guide
With four races down, four pole positions and wins for Mercedes (who’ve also led every lap so far in 2014), the pecking order might be up for a reshuffle. Our will things stay the same?
Being the first European round of the championship, the Spanish Grand Prix is traditionally an event where the teams bring their first major upgrades of the season after the opening flyaway rounds. The three-week break since the last meeting in China has given the teams their first real opportunity for some serious development work in their factories, and some of the cars could look radically different to how they appeared when the grid first formed up in Melbourne almost two months ago.
The circuit has not held happy memories for the Silver Arrows, so both Rosberg and Hamilton will be not only keen to renew their battle for outright championship honours, but also to deliver the Brackley-based team its first victory here. Momentum is clearly with the championship leaders, and that all outfits are expected to make improvements with their new parts, it will be a case of how much the others have closed the gap.
Ferrari will head into Spain in a bullish mood after Fernando Alonso’s podium in China. It was the scene of the team’s last win a year ago, and the Scuderia will not doubt be hoping that a return to Europe – coupled with some feverish work behind the scenes – will move it closer to the front of the pack.
Red Bull Racing should certainly be a major player here. The RB10 has proven to be a well-balanced car – perhaps not the fastest in a straight line – and the Circuit de Catalunya’s high-speed sweeps should play into the hands of the car’s design. A major factor will also be the improvement that engine partner Renault have made, and the firm is certain it has cut the gap to rivals Mercedes and Ferrari coming into this weekend.
“With three weeks between China and Spain we’ve made a huge amount of progress and in fact this race may well show that the ‘engine race’ is a lot closer,” Renault’s Head of Track Operations Rémi Taffin said.
The other Renault runners – Toro Rosso, Lotus and Caterham – have all made strides over recent Grands Prix, and all should edge closer to the front of the field if their R&D teams’ updates deliver the goods.
Lotus – at least in Romain Grosjean’s hands – proved particularly impressive last time out in China. Grosjean qualified inside the top-ten for the first time this season, and looked on course for a possible points finish until he was sidelined with a gearbox failure.
The twin-nose E22 will sport a number of “big upgrades” for this weekend’s race, with technical director Nick Chester expecting a significant move forward on top of the additional tweaks from Renault.
“We’ve got a new cooling and bodywork package coming – quite a big upgrade – plus some updates to the rear wing and various other bodywork parts,” he said in the team’s event preview. “There are a lot of aero improvements we want to bring to make the car more predictable for the drivers.”
Force India will be hoping its third place in the Constructors’ Championship standings can be maintained, but it can once again expect some resurgence from Williams and McLaren this weekend. All three teams are closely-placed in the upper-midfield battle, and should again create plenty of entertainment during the race.
Don’t forget to enter your Spanish Grand Prix Predictions!
Round 5 of the 2014 RichardsF1.com F1 Predictions Competition is now open for business, and you can enter and edit your predictions for the race right up until five minutes before qualifying!
Entry is open to all of our readers, and it’s so easy to submit your predictions!
All you’ll need to do is predict:
- which driver will win pole position and the race
- which two teams will earn the best finishes in the race
- which eight drivers will finish in the top-eight positions
- who will post the fastest lap of the race
- who will gain the most positions relative to their starting position
You can also choose to ‘double up’ your points tally for the Spanish Grand Prix – but be careful, you can only do this twice per season! Click here to see the current points’ standings.
To enter your Spanish Grand Prix predictions, click here.
Images via Sutton Images