Formula 1 heads back to Europe, and the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, for the fifth round of 2015 season.
|Formula 1 Gran Premio de España Pirelli 2015|
|Date||08-10 May 2015||Lap Length||4.655km|
|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||Qualifying||Sat 14:00-15:00|
|Race (66 laps)||Sun 14:00-16:00||2014 Winner||Lewis Hamilton|
Session times quoted in Central European Summer Time (GMT + 02:00)
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.
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.
The Form Guide
Having claimed four pole positions, three wins and 93 of the possible 100 championship points on offer to-date, Lewis Hamilton is in red-hot form and looks on an almost unstoppable run to defend his 2014 championship crown.
This weekend’s round in Spain might mark one of the few remaining opportunities for the Englishman’s rivals to put a stop to this momentum. The Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya has not traditionally been one of the Mercedes driver’s best circuits, although he did finally break his Spanish duck with a narrow victory over teammate Nico Rosberg last year.
It was at the following round in Monaco – where he was psychologically trumped by Rosberg – which triggered a succession of errors that threatened to derail his campaign. If something similar happens here, it could trigger a repeat…
The threat to Hamilton’s dominance might not come from within his own garage. Ferrari’s dramatic improvement in form has emerged as one of the biggest talking points of the 2015 season so far, having surged from the midfield in 2014 to regularly threatening for wins and even beating the Silver Arrows in Malaysia.
Whether or not the Italian team can sustain its early season momentum and keep pace with developing its SF15-T remains to be seen as the field returns to its European heartland.
The Spanish Grand Prix marks the first event in-season where the teams will produce major upgrades to their chassis’, and the aerodynamic demands of the track will quickly highlight which teams have got it right – or wrong.
A factor in Ferrari’s favour is that the circuit is extremely demanding on tyres, which – given the SF15-T’s comparative gentleness on its tyres – could play into the hands of Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Räikkönen.
Speaking of upgrades, many eyes will be zeroed in to Red Bull Racing, which has suffered a terrible run over the opening four flyaway races with well-documented chassis and engine troubles.
Heading into the fifth round of the championship, the team has tacked up just 23 points and already sits miles behind the championship leading Mercedes team in the Constructors’ Championship standings. Any hopes of challenging for another title are already gone, so the focus has to be on dragging itself back into contention and mixing with the frontrunners.
The team is promising a raft of chassis upgrades, and while it would be unreasonable to expect that the RB11s will suddenly be competing for wins, it should bring a significant improvement in performance. The team’s problem is that everyone else will be delivering their own upgrades…
McLaren will be heading into Spain on a slowly upward trajectory, and has to target its first points’ finish as it continues to work its way through the many issues that have occurred in its reunification with Honda.
Its performance is hardly reminiscent of its glory McLaren-Honda days in the late 1980s: four races without a point, two DNFs, two failures to start a race and just a solitary Q2 appearance. It’s not exactly inspiring stuff, but the MP4-30 has shown significant improvement since its woeful pre-season. Fernando Alonso also seems to find an extra level of performance on home soil, and provided the car holds itself together, he could bring the team’s first points’ finish.
Image via Daimler AG and Sutton Images