While we may have had a rare in-season test to talk about over the last three weeks, it feels like an eternity since we last saw twenty-four V8-powered beasts hurtling around a circuit in anger.
And this weekend we’re off to Barcelona’s Circuit de Catalunya, which many are hoping may throw up another surprise in what has been a truly unpredictable season so far.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the RichardsF1.com Spanish Grand Prix Preview…
|Date:||11-13 May 2012|
|Race Lap Record:||1:21.670, Kimi Räikkönen (Ferrari F2008) – 2008|
|Event Schedule:||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, 307.104km)||Sun 15:00-17:00|
|Past Winners:||Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing Renault RB8)||2011|
|Mark Webber (Red Bull Racing Renault RB7)||2010|
|Jenson Button (Brawn Mercedes BGP001)||2009|
|Kimi Räikkönen (Ferrari F2008)||2008|
|Felipe Massa (Ferrari F2007)||2007|
|Fernando Alonso (Renault R26)||2006|
|Kimi Räikkönen (McLaren Mercedes MP4-20)||2005|
|Michael Schumacher (Ferrari F2004)||2004|
|Michael Schumacher (Ferrari F2003-GA)||2003|
|Michael Schumacher (Ferrari F2002)||2002|
This year’s event is a twenty-first birthday of sorts for the Circuit de Catalunya, which 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 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 paint dry.
Sixteen of the races held here to-date have been won from pole, including but one all of the last ten (last year’s race being the exception).
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 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.
Take a look at our Circuit de Catalunya Track Guide:
Rewind to 2011 and other Memorable Moments
In comparison to most races here, last year’s event was positively exciting. The race was dominated by a great duel between Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton, who raced each other for lap after lap. Ultimately, Vettel prevailed.
The start of the race saw a surprise leader in Fernando Alonso, who bolted off the line from his second-row grid to claim an early lead on the softer Pirelli rubber. But his eventual switch to the harder rubber saw his pace simply fall away, and the hapless Spaniard finished a disappointing lap behind Vettel by the chequered flag.
So what have been some of the highlights from the 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.
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!
Barcelona Talking Points
So what are three critical talking points before we let our expert analysts have their say?
Will Ferrari be able to close the gap to the frontrunners? Following on from last week’s in-season test, the Spanish Grand Prix has something of a ‘make or break’ feel for Ferrari. Everybody should be quicker overall, but it’s such a relative game and Ferrari will need to have made more progress than anyone else if they want to close the gap to the leaders.
How crucial a role will the tyres play this weekend? In a word: critical. For the first time in 2012, we have a two-compound jump in tyre allocations, with the hard and soft compounds on offer, skipping the mediums that have been a feature of the previous races. How the teams manage to find a set-up that can extract the most out of both compounds will be intriguing to say the least.
Can we see a fifth different driver / constructor claim victory? Absolutely. Our ‘Form Guide’ below will reveal more…
So what do the Richard’sF1.com readers and contributors think will happen this weekend?
The Form Guide
So what should we be expecting this weekend? We’ve tried, and largely failed, to come up with a clear form guide each weekend, but four different race-winners from four different Constructors is a clear indication of how truly unpredictable this season has shaped up to be.
After last week’s in-season test at Mugello, the teams will be bringing a host of their best updates to use 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.
It’s difficult to read too much into the testing timesheets from Mugello, both on account of the fact that Mugello is a completely different beat to the Circuit de Catalunya and the fact that fuel loads are kept top-secret, making legitimate comparisons impossible.
On an overall package, McLaren should again present itself at the team to beat. Interestingly, its winless streak at Barcelona stretches all the way back to 2005, when Kimi Räikkönen took the spoils. The team has already announced that it will be running a higher nose assembly for this weekend, in the hope that this will give it an aerodynamic edge over its rivals. Could it pick up its first here in seven years?
Red Bull Racing will be running high on confidence after Sebastian Vettel’s rather unexpected pole and win at Bahrain, but the RB8 has shown steady improvement and it cannot be discounted here again, having won both of the last two races held here. Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber are both winners here, and the Australian will be eager to ensure he can reassert his qualifying form and prove that Vettel’s Sakhir pole was little more than a flash in the pan.
One of two teams who could really threaten the established order will be Lotus and Sauber. Lotus has shown an incredible rate of improvement, and with a double podium last time out at Bahrain, one senses it’s a case of when, not if, the black-and-gold E20 will take one of its drivers to victory. Kimi Räikkönen is the only driver on the grid, aside from Michael Schumacher, who has won here more than once, and he’s certainly making all the noises that he’s expecting a win here this weekend.
Sauber is a team with all the ingredients to really upset the running order in Spain. The C31 is notoriously gentle on its tyres and pretty slippery in a straight line: two key elements that are necessary for success on this very demanding circuit that has a reputation for destroying tyres.
Bringing its hastily-updated F2012 to Mugello saw an improvement in Ferrari’s pace, but perhaps not enough to see the scarlet cars quite close the gap to the frontrunners, but one hopes that Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa will have a better chance of claiming more points this weekend.
Mercedes has largely discounted its prospects of taking a win here, citing concerns over the W03’s cornering ability and ability to manage its tyres. Then again, the team made similar noises leading into China, when Nico Rosberg broke through for his first ever win. If the conditions are unexpectedly cooler, then this will help the silver cars.
Don’t forget to enter your F1 Predictions!
The fifth round of the 2012 RichardsF1.com F1 Predictions Competition is now open, and you can enter your predictions for the race right here to be in the running for some great prizes throughout the season and at the end of the year!
The cut-off to submit your predictions is no later than five minutes before qualifying starts, so make sure you’re in it to win it!
As we have already seen in the first four rounds of tipping, some of our contestants elected to claim their ‘double up’ early on to give them a head start over the rest of the field. Are you confident enough in your predictions to use yours this weekend?
To enter your predictions, click here.
As always, RichardsF1.com 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!