After four fascinating flyaway races, the Formula 1 circus heads back to its European homeland with this weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix at Barcelona.
Traditionally not known for producing a scintillating Grand Prix, the event still brings with it plenty of talking points as the field sets about launching serious challenges for championship honours.
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 SANTANDER 2013
|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:||Pastor Maldonado (Williams Renault FW34)||2012|
|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|
* All even times are quoted in local time (GMT +1)
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.
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 one all of the last ten (the 2011 race was 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 last corner has now been 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:
Rewind to 2012 and other Memorable Moments
In comparison to many races here, last year’s Grand Prix was particularly interesting, not least of which because delivered the fifth different racewinner in the first five races of the season.
And it was a truly left-field result, with the often-criticised ‘wild child’, Pastor Maldonado, claiming victory.
The Renault-powered FW34 was particularly well hooked up in the hands of the Venezuelan that weekend, and he was on the pace in every session, posting the second-fastest time in qualifying to snare himself a front-row start.
That became P1 when Lewis Hamilton was stripped of pole position after his McLaren failed to deliver the minimum one-litre fuel sample to the FIA scrutineers after he stopped on his in-lap at the end of the final qualifying session.
To the delight of the Spanish fans, new front-row starter Fernando Alonso managed to outdrag Maldonado off the line and led for much of the race, but a better Williams strategy – and some uncooperative lapped traffic for the Ferrari driver – conspired to deliver Williams its first victory celebration since the 2004 Brazilian Grand Prix.
But the team’s post-race celebrations were mired by a fuel fire in the team garages, which saw several team members hospitalised with burns and smoke inhalation.
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!
Barcelona Talking Points
So what are three critical talking points before we let our expert analysts have their say?
It’s time for an upgrade… With three different race-winners in the opening four Grands Prix, the opening round of the ‘European leg’ of the Formula 1 season marks the traditional point where all of the teams will roll out their first major upgrades to their cars. All will be bidding to unearth those vital few tenths of a second that can give them a much-needed edge over their rivals, and should provide us with the first real indication of who will challenge for championship honours over the next phase of the season.
Will Lotus be impacted by the loss of its Technical Director? A potentially big hole has been left in the Enstone team’s technical armory with the news that the team’s technical director, James Allison, has left the team, presumably lured by a big-dollar offer from a rival squad. While his replacement has already been announced, his departure comes at a critical stage of the 2013 season and it could prove disruptive to the team’s championship ambitions…
Who will get the rubber working? While this may have been a pre-season testing venue, conditions this weekend will be vastly different from those experienced in the chilly winter off-season. Tyre management has been a key theme in the first four Grands Prix so far, and the Circuit de Catalunya’s abrasive surface and sweeping corners tend to chew through the rubber. Pirelli is bringing a ‘pilot’ hard-compound tyre for the teams – many of whom have complained bitterly about the fast-wearing rubber this year – to try out in Friday practice…
So what do the Richard’sF1.com readers and contributors think will happen this weekend?
“As is always the case, the first European round on the Formula One calendar sees most teams bring a host of upgrades to implement on their respective chassis’. This year will be no different, as the engineers back in European factories have been working hard to update each car whilst the F1 circus tours Asia and Oceania. As a result, the Spanish Grand Prix is generally greeted with cautious optimism from each team, who have the ability to ship major upgrades without significant cost and transport time. This year, all eyes will be on McLaren, who will test many new parts in a “major developmental stepping stone” according to managing director Jonathan Neale. Williams will also be under to microscope at the Circuit de Catalunya, the scene of their last race victory exactly 12 months ago. The Oxfordshire based team is implementing major upgrades which they hope will propel the FW35 into the top 10. Expect a shuffle in order of the mid-field teams, who generally have the greatest scope for improvement from their updated aero packages.” – Tristan Clark, RichardsF1.com Journalist
“Two weeks seem too long to have between race weekends, but F1 is finally back and it’s the start of the European season. Romain Grosjean has finally found his feet with a new chassis issued to him last time out at Bahrain, which delivered him his first podium finish of the season. And while Grosjean may have found his feet, his employers at Lotus are looking for a place to put theirs, as their technical management was given a bit of a shake up with Technical Director James Allison stepping down with immediate effect. There are a few teams that Allison is speculated to go to, McLaren, Mercedes and Ferrari are the obvious choices. However, with McLaren ruling out hiring Allison and Mercedes already having a ‘dream team’ of technical directors, that just leaves Ferrari. Martin Brundle tweeted about the news, mainly referring to how Kimi Raikkonen would be ‘unhappy’ with Allison’s departure. Which brings us to the new, everlasting, ‘will he or wont he’ news of 2013. Will Kimi leave Lotus for Red Bull, as is rumoured?” – Josh Kruse, RichardsF1.com Journalist
“It’s taken much less time for the season’s first repeat race-winner to be found following Sebastian Vettel’s win in Bahrain. Still, aside from the three-time champ, it is difficult to gauge just who else might be capable of taking up the fight for the title. Ferrari were strong in pre-season testing and now the series moves back to its European heartland, form says they should again be quick. McLaren however, are the ones who need a breakthrough. Button and Perez are at the back of the leading foursome and are clearly not accustomed to that part of the grid. Mark Webber is also starting to show signs of being left behind by his teammate and as rumours of a switch back to sports cars take their course, the Aussie will likely become more distracted in figuring out his future. This weekend’s events will be hard to predict due to the majority of the field being EXTREMELY familiar with this circuit through pre-season testing. The more experienced drivers will know every inch of the Catalunya asphalt, but this rarely means much when 21 other cars are in extremely close proximity and one little slip can result in an off-track excursion and a tough recovery exercise to salvage some points. Despite the general lack of character and overtaking at this circuit, it generally provides pretty good racing, so bring on the Spanish Grand Prix!” – Matt Lennon, RichardsF1.com IndyCar Series Journalist
“We’re back to Europe, and it’s time for all the teams to claim their ‘big upgrades’ will allow them to close the gap to whoever is in front of them. It’s always interesting to see just which of these updates actually work, and which completely fail, sending certain teams further on a one-way ticket into 2014 development. The Grand Prix itself isn’t usually a thriller, although three weeks ago I said that about our favourite track in the desert and look what we had: a half-decent Bahrain Grand Prix! So I’m holding out all hope that we will get another exciting race, and perhaps even another different winner! I doubt it will happen, so I’m putting the kiss of death on Lotus and Kimi Raikkonen to walk away with 25 points in Barcelona. Sorry Kimi fans, but I’m sure my bad luck predicting curse will run out…eventually.” – Ben Waterworth, The Qualifying Lap radio show host
The Form Guide
With three different teams and drivers enjoying the champagne celebrations on the top step of the podium so far, it’s safe to say that the 2013 Formula 1 season has – so far – proven to be exciting and competitive.
But this is where everything can change in an instant. Now is the time where the teams will introduce their first serious upgrade packages, which could seriously shake up the pecking order on Sunday afternoon’s 66-lap race.
It’s unlikely that the top-four runners – Red Bull Racing, Lotus, Ferrari and Mercedes – will slip up in this regard, but McLaren will definitely be looking the join the party as it tries to recover from a disastrous start to its season.
The team knew its MP4-28 challenger was a troubled beast early on and set their sights on a recovery at Barcelona. While the Woking outfit has made slow and steady progress in the first four races, this is where we will see if any fruit is born from the hard work of the designers and engineers back at the factory.
Added to that, the team was dogged by a rather ugly – but thankfully short-lived – spat between its drivers, who came close to tangling while battling for position last time out in Bahrain…
It’s a similar story at Williams, which will be praying that a major upgrade to its uncompetitive FW35 will give it a major burst of speed at the same circuit where it claimed victory a year ago. That success must feel like a lifetime ago after the team’s failure to finish in the points so far in 2013, but a top-ten result has to be the minimum target for the team this weekend.
On current and past form, Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Räikkönen look like the men to beat, but you can’t discount Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton, who will be looking to deliver wins for Ferrari and Mercedes (respectively) at a venue where they have traditionally excelled.
Alonso always appears to find an extra burst of speed at his home circuit, and the support of tens of thousands of flag-waving fans could help the Spaniard extract more pace from the Ferrari, which has not quite had the qualifying pace of its rivals.
It’s a different tale at Mercedes which has shown much improved speed, but on the basis of its Bahrain Grand Prix race pace, the team has still not cured the tyre-eating tendencies that are sadly typical of their F1 cars. Will its Barcelona upgrades help improve this and its patchy reliability? We will have to wait and see.
Our ‘dark horse’ prediction for this weekend is Force India. Its VJM06 has proven to be a surprise performer, with its speed and gentleness on tyres – coupled with some dramas for its rivals – delivering it a healthy haul of points in three of the first four races. That being said, the team hasn’t been without its own dramas – a double DNF in Malaysia and early-lap dramas for Adrian Sutil in China and Bahrain are cases in point – but there’s no doubt that the team is knocking on the door of a podium finish.
This is a vital weekend for all of the teams, and that is an understatement indeed.
Don’t forget to enter your F1 Predictions!
The fifth round of our 2013 RichardsF1.com F1 Predictions Competition is now open for business, and you can enter and edit your predictions for the 2013 Spanish Formula 1 Grand Prix 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 correctly guess:
- 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!
To view the current points standings, click here.
To enter your 2013 Spanish Grand Prix 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!