The far from traditionally heart-stopping Spanish Grand Prix is this weekend’s stop for the Formula 1 circus, and while the Circuit de Catalunya will again be jam-packed with local fans who only have eyes for Fernando Alonso, few will be talking about the wheel-to-wheel racing that the track has traditionally failed to produce.
We’ll cover more on the woes of the venue shortly, but there is a glimmer of hope that this year’s new rules will help to spice up the action. If there are more than three passing moves this race, then organisers may well declare the new rules a success at this utterly dull venue.
Tyre wear will be a crucial factor this weekend, and combined with the DRS the passing should – theoretically, at least – be possible. Will insomniacs have to find another cure for sleeplessness instead of being plonked in front of the TV during a race in Spain? F1 fans are certainly hoping so.
Let’s have a look at all of the action that lays ahead for this weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix…
|FORMULA 1 GRAN PREMIO DE ESPAÑA SANTANDER 2011
|Date:||22 May 2011||No. Laps||66|
|Lap Length:||4.655km||Race Distance:||307.104km|
|Lap Record:||1:21.670, Kimi Raikkonen (McLaren) – 2008|
With this year’s race being the twentieth anniversary of Grand Prix racing at the Circuit de Catalunya, 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 last year.
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 pain dry.
Of the twenty races held here to-date, 16 have been won from, including all of the last ten. The circuit averages just two overtaking moves per race – giving it a worse track record than Monaco and Hungary, two tracks which look 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 is too quick to allow the chasing driver to get enough of a tow.
The newly designed chicane that is now the track’s penultimate corner is an eyesore on the circuit, and emasculated the track’s final sector, which was a particularly challenging section of the track.
The new rules featuring KERS, DRS and softer Pirelli tyres have made all of the races this year absolute crackers, and logically we will see more overtaking than usual here.
What were some of the highlights from previous races at Barcelona? Let’s relive a few of the better races…
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.
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 race pace despite being stuck in fifth gear for much of the race.
1996: Another wet race hit Spain, and this time it was Michael Schumacher who crushed the opposition in torrential conditions to take his first win for Ferrari, cementing his reputation as one of the sport’s true ‘rain masters’.
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…
2003: Fernando Alonso cemented the support of his Spanish fans with an outstanding drive to second place, with his Renault splitting the Ferraris of Schumacher and Barrichello to finish a brilliant second.
Barcelona Talking Points
What are the three big talking points of the Spanish Grand Prix?
Can anyone take the fight to Red Bull? There are huge worries that the aero-dependant nature of this circuit will only serve to play to the strengths of Red Bull’s RB7, and the fight behind the leading pair of Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber could be more interesting as they scamper off into the distance. Despite winning in China, McLaren was well off the boil in Turkey while Ferrari finally showed a bit of pace with Fernando Alonso taking the team’s first podium of 2011. Mercedes GP, meanwhile, looked strong in qualifying, and faded in the race. Which of the three main chasing teams – if any? – will prove capable of taking the fight to Red Bull this weekend? Could Renault come back into play?
Will the racing be more interesting? The troubles with the track are well documented here. Can the new rules make a difference and help spice up the racing? We can only hope…
Behind-the-scenes manoeuvring? The big off-track talking points have centred around the ongoing sale rumours of the sport’s commercial rights, the changes to the ‘blown diffuser’ regulations, and Adrian Sutil’s ‘Glassgate’ incident in China. Force India is currently sticking by its man, although it remains to be seen for how long when the details start to come out in the wash. The diffuser regs change won’t kick in until the Canadian Grand Prix, but the competitive teams will be kicking up a stink that their (fair or unfair) advantage will be eroded away. And lastly, the rumours of a CVC buyout of the sport won’t go away, and Bernie Ecclestone will be telling anyone with a microphone that everything’s hunky-dory. There’s plenty more to this tale, and plenty of time for the chapters to be written…
So what do the Richard’s F1 readers and contributors think will happen this weekend?
The Form Guide
“Can anyone catch Sebastian Vettel?”, we hear you cry. Probably not, is the answer. The start of his title defence has been nothing short of a dream for the German. Three wins, four podiums, four pole positions, 93 points and a healthy championship lead he can’t lose leaving this weekend’s racing.
However, it is his team-mate Mark Webber who will present his closest threat in all likelihood, and it was here that he kick-started his own championship hopes in 2010 with his first win of the season. Webber’s results scorecard is heading in the right direction, and the pattern points to a win here if you look at his finishing record in 2011: fifth in Australia, fourth in Malaysia, third in China, and second in Turkey. A win in Spain? Not out of the question.
The teams will be bringing a host of updates for this race at this most aerodynamically demanding of circuits, and this will definitely show which teams got it right and which haven’t. If your car won’t work here, then the likelihood of it being competitive elsewhere is slim. Sixty per cent of the time, a win here leads to winning that year’s championship as well. The facts make for pretty reading if you’re on the right end of that statistic, and depressing reading for those who aren’t.
McLaren’s Turkey-spec upgrades didn’t really do the business in Istanbul, and it remains to be seen if they’ll work better in Barcelona, while Ferrari will be hoping that its improved form in Turkey will translate similarly in Spain. The local fans won’t settle for anything less than a win for their hero Alonso, although that seems a long shot at this stage…
Mercedes GP is rumoured to be bringing their own nifty technical tricks this weekend, and there has plenty of talk that it could rise to the challenge for a podium finish here. Last year saw Michael Schumacher enjoy his first weekend being more competitive than Nico Rosberg, and the seven-time World Champion will be desperately hoping that he can quash the latest round of quit rumours with a strong run here. He’s won here six times, but he won’t add to that tally here without a miracle…
Expect Renault to be in the fringes of the points this weekend, with the Spanish track expected to suit the radical R30 a little better than Turkey. Nick Heidfeld has always gone well here, and he will hope to repeat his success here once again.
The Sauber C30’s easiness on its tyres will definitely play to its favour, and the Swiss team will be hoping that it can challenge for points once again. The likes of Williams, Force India and Toro Rosso have all shown flashes of speed this season, and they may scrap it out for the minor points here, but they’ll each need to be consistent when it counts: in qualifying and the race.
Team Lotus is another team talking up its chances, claiming that its heavily-revised T128 will bring it at least one second per lap in pace and possibly in the mix to start challenging for berths in Q2, and possibly a point or two.
And at the back of the field, the wooden spoon battle between Virgin Racing and Hispania Racing will step up another gear. Virgin had a wretched weekend in Turkey, and its latest upgrades to its MVR-02 failed to deliver in Istanbul. HRT, meanwhile, will be hoping to do better with its steadily improving F111 chassis, and it’ll be happy with a solid performance on home soil.
As always, Richard’s F1 will be bringing you the best of the on- and off-track action this weekend, so make sure we’re your first port of call for your Spanish Grand Prix fix!
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