Following four action-packed ‘flyaway’ races, the Formula 1 World Championship returns to continental Europe and the Spanish Grand Prix, a landmark event where the field will introduce major upgrades to their respective cars.

With honours evenly shared between Mercedes and Ferrari so far, who will rise to the top of the pile in Barcelona?

The Circuit

Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya

Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya
Location Montmeló, Spain Circuit Length 4.655 km / 2.892 mi
Opened 1991 First Grand Prix 1991
Capacity 140,700 spectators Direction Clockwise
Turns 16 Lap Record 1:21.670 – Kimi Räikkönen (2008)

What was then known as 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 – once 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 have cursed the circuit’s presence on the F1 calendar for its ability to provide races that are 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 Event

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing TAG Heuer RB12 - 2016 Spanish Grand Prix

Formula 1 Gran Premio de España Pirelli 2017
Event Dates 12-14 May 2017 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
Driver Steward Tom Kristensen Pirelli Tyres Ultra Soft / Medium / Hard
2016 Pole Winner Lewis Hamilton 2016 Race Winner Max Verstappen

Session times quoted in Central European Summer Time (GMT + 02:00)

Rewind to 2016

Last year’s Spanish Grand Prix marked the end to Nico Rosberg’s streak of seven consecutive wins, and it came in the most controversial of fashions after he and teammate Lewis Hamilton collided on the opening lap of the race.

Rosberg had come into the race at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya with a 43-point lead over the Englishman, but it was Hamilton who claimed (a typically vital) pole position on Saturday. Rosberg and Red Bull Racing’s Daniel Ricciardo completed the top three places on the grid.

But Ricciardo’s teammate Max Verstappen who grabbed all the headlines by winning the race on his debut with the team. The Dutch rising star has been drafted in to the Milton Keynes squad, swapping his seat at Scuderia Toro Rosso with Daniil Kvyat just days ahead of the event. At the age of 18 years and 228 days, Verstappen became the youngest ever Grand Prix winner, the youngest driver to score a podium finish and the youngest ever to lead a lap of a Formula 1 race, breaking all three previous records held by Sebastian Vettel.

His victory came in no small thanks to the self-destruction between the Mercedes drivers, who came together – not for the first time in their partnership – on the opening lap of the race.

Despite starting on the dirtier side of the grid, Rosberg swept into the lead ahead of Hamilton with a bold move around the outside of Turn 1. Hamilton could not afford to lose out to Rosberg once again, and immediately launched a counter-attack as the pair exited the long Turn 3 right-hander.

Rosberg appeared slower – it would later turn out that he was in the wrong engine mapping mode – and he moved across the track to the inside to block Hamilton’s passing move into Turn 4. Hamilton refused to yield and was forced onto the grass, whereupon he lost control of his car and hit Rosberg. The two were immediately out of the race, marking another sorry chapter in their deteriorating relationship.

Their retirement handed Red Bull Racing a 1-2 in the running order, with Daniel Ricciardo ahead of Verstappen, while local driver Carlos Sainz Jr was a superb third in front of the two Ferraris of Vettel and Räikkönen.

Vettel quickly moved up to third when the race restarted and began to put the Red Bulls under pressure. He and Ricciardo made their second pit stops, maintaining their relative positions, however their respective teammates were put on an alternate two-stop strategy.

Verstappen held his nerve under immense pressure from Räikkönen until the chequered flag, while Ricciardo was forced to overcome a slower final pit stop by bravely trying to overtake Vettel into Turn 1. Unfortunately the Australian would suffer a puncture with just two laps to go, consigning him to a frustrated fourth-placed finish.

The Form Guide

After the first four Grands Prix in Australia, China, Bahrain and Russia, the honours are split 2-2 between Ferrari and Mercedes in a battle that looks set to last the entire season.

Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel leads the Drivers’ Championship standings with wins in Australia and Bahrain, along with a pair of second-placed finishes in China and Russia. The German sits 13 points clear of Chinese Grand Prix winner Lewis Hamilton, who looked out of sorts last time out in Russia where he finished fourth.

The Englishman’s woes were in direct contrast to his Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas, who underlined his championship credentials with a superb drive to claim his maiden Grand Prix victory. The Finn moved to third place in the standings, within 10 points of Hamilton.

The Constructors’ Championship battle is tighter, with just one point separating the two teams. Third-placed Red Bull Racing is already 79 points adrift of the lead, with its RB13 challenger so far unable to take the fight to the two leading manufacturer outfits.

The Milton Keynes squad is reported to have made many aggressive strides in their attempts to close the gap to the frontrunners, with talks that the RB13’s upgrades will be so significant that the car should effectively be dubbed an RB14.

That, however, is no guarantee that they will be able to close up to Ferrari and Mercedes, as neither squad will have slowed their rate of development ahead of the field’s first sequence of European races. The Mercedes team, in particular, has reportedly identified a number of weight-saving initiatives that will help its F1W08 get below the minimum weight limit to allow it to run and place ballast on the car. The car has also had its wheelbase shortened in an attempt to cure the problems the team has encountered with tyre wear during the opening races.

The midfield battle should once again prove to be a close fight, with the likes of Williams, Scuderia Toro Rosso, Haas and Renault looking to catch Force India, which moved into a clear fourth place in the Constructors’ Championship standings with another double-points finish for its drivers.

McLaren and Sauber are not expected to enjoy particularly strong weekends here, given the nature and demands of the Spanish circuit.

This weekend’s Grand Prix will mark the launch of Formula 1’s ‘Fan Festival’, an initiative developed by the sport’s new commercial rights holders to make the sport more accessible to its race-going patrons.

Among the new features are a dedicated TV channel that will screen live interviews and features from inside the paddock, as well as an interactive ‘fan zone’ that will include racing simulators, pit stop challenges and live performances from local DJs.

There will also be a number of competitions run over the course of the weekend, with ticket-holders able to win Paddock Club passes and photo opportunities with the Formula 1 teams.

The Minardi two-seater Formula 1 car – a mainstay of the Australian Grand Prix for the last decade – will also be in action, with competition winners awarded the chance of a hot lap around the circuit.

Spanish Grand Prix Weather Forecast
Friday Partly Cloudy 16°C – 22°C Saturday Partly Cloudy 15°C – 23°C Sunday Partly Cloudy 15°C – 22°C

Images via, Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team, Red Bull Racing

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Richard Bailey

Founder & Chief Editor at MotorsportM8
Hasn't missed a Grand Prix since 1989. Has a soft spot for Minardi. Tattooed with 35+ Grand Prix circuits.