After an exciting quartest of flyaway Grands Prix in Australia, Bahrain, China and Azerbaijan, the Formula 1 World Championship returns to its European roots at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, home of the Spanish Grand Prix.
|Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya|
|Location||Montmeló, Spain||Circuit Length||4.655 km / 2.892 mi|
|Opened||1991||First Grand Prix||1991|
|Lap Record||1:21.670 – Kimi Räikkönen (Ferrari, 2008)||2017 winner||Lewis Hamilton (Marcedes)|
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 the country 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. While he’s now racing for McLaren and is at long odds to just get on the podium, the two-time World Champion always pulls something special out of the bag on home soil.
And while the spectators 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.
Rewind to 2017
Last year’s Spanish Grand Prix bucked the trend by being an absolute thriller, with Lewis Hamilton claiming victory to narrow Sebastian Vettel’s championship lead to just six points.
The Mercedes driver was outdragged by Vettel at the start and lost further ground after their first pit stops, but Ferrari was fooled into thinking Hamilton was three-stopping and pitted Vettel early for his second tyre change in anticipation.
With Ferrari having fallen for their bluff, Mercedes tried to keep Hamilton out on track to run a more conventional two-stop strategy and hope that the slower traffic could interfere with Vettel’s run on fresher tyres.
Hamilton lasted for a further five laps before stopping and switching to the slower Medium compound tyres as the Mercedes team hoped to have the race come to them in the final stint.
By now Vettel was being held up by the new race leader Bottas, who was playing a superb team job – despite damage to his car – by holding up the German and allowing Hamilton to rapidly close onto the back of them.
A frustrated Vettel managed to get ahead with a bold dummy and lunge down the inside of the Finn at Turn 1 to reclaim the lead and once again have the task of rebuilding a gap to Hamilton. Bottas would later retire with a blown engine.
A Virtual Safety Car was called when Stoffel Vandoorne collided with Massa at Turn 1. That critical moment gave Mercedes the window in which to pit Hamilton for a second and final time with minimal penalty. Ferrari elected to pit on the very next lap, but by then the track was under race conditions. That meant that Vettel’s hard-fought lead had evaporated and as he emerged from the pits, he found himself running side-by-side with Hamilton on the run to Turn 1.
Holding the inside line, Vettel gave Hamilton the squeeze at the right-hander and the pair touched. Given the incidents that had contributed to three drivers’ retirements already, it was a high-risk move, but the pair lived to survive another day.
Undeterred, Hamilton regrouped and used his new Soft tyres to close onto the Medium-shod Vettel; five laps after his failed attempt, he took advantage of a healthy DRS-assisted slipstream to ease ahead at Turn 1.
The Englishman was now ahead of Vettel but running on the less-durable tyre, but Hamilton managed to control the gap over the remainder of the race to negate the possibility that Ferrari would switch their driver to a three-stop strategy.
The pair crossed the line 3.4 seconds apart, while almost a lap adrift Daniel Ricciardo finished third to give Red Bull Racing its first podium of the season.
The start of the race proved dramatic, with Kimi Räikkönen and Max Verstappen both retiring on the first lap after coming off worse in a three-way tussle for position with Valtteri Bottas at Turn 1. Further behind, Williams’ Felipe Massa and former teammate Fernando Alonso (McLaren) tangled as they tried to avoid the melee ahead of them, leading to damage for both.
Ironically, Räikkönen’s early retirement brought about one of the year’s best moments. With cameras spotting a young French boy in tears at the demise of his favourite driver, the sport’s new owners managed to find the youngster and his family and invited them into the paddock for a meet-and-greet with the Finn.
Tyre Compound Selections
Williams will enter the weekend with an intention to attack on tyres after nominating up to ten Supersoft tyre sets for Sergey Sirotkin and nine for teammate Lance Stroll.
Of the ‘big three’ teams, Ferrari will suit up with seven red-walled Supersoft sets for both of their drivers, as well as taking two and four of the Medium and Soft compound sets respectively.
Rivals Mercedes have broken even with their tyre choices by taking only five of the red-walled sets – the lowest of anyone on the grid – and five of the yellow-walled Softs for their. With an additional three sets of Mediums, the Silver Arrows seem confident in the F1W09’s pace over long runs.
Red Bull Racing has split the middle with its strategy, selecting six sets of Supersofts and four sets of Softs for Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen.
Down the rest of the pit lane, Force India has elected to take the most batches of Medium tyres (four) for the each of their drivers.
Renault also look like serious threats for the weekend, aggressively picking eight sets of red-walled rubber for local driver Carlos Sainz Jr. and teammate Nico Hülkenberg. The remainder of the grid has gone for no more than seven Supersoft sets.
Below shows the complete grid’s tyre choices for this weekend’s Grand Prix:
Contribution by Luke McCullough
- This will be the 48th running of the Spanish Formula 1 Grand Prix as a World Championship-level event and the 28th at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, which hosted its first race in 1991 and has been on the F1 calendar ever since.
- Six different venues in Spain have hosted the Formula 1 World Championship but only five did so as a Spanish Grand Prix. The first ever Spanish Grand Prix took place in Barcelona on the Pedrables street circuit in 1951, which hosted its second and final Grand Prix in 1954. Spain slipped off the World Championship calendar until 1968, alternating between Madrid’s Circuito de Jarama and Barcelona’s Montjuïc Park street circuit. The 1975 Grand Prix at the latter was the last at Montjuïc following the deaths of several spectators. Jarama played solo hosting duties from until 1981 (the 1980 event was controversially declared a non-championship round) before the Circuit de Jerez took over between 1986 and 1990. Jerez (1994 and 1997) and the Valencia Street Circuit (2008-12) both staged rounds dubbed the ‘European Grand Prix’.
- Michael Schumacher is the most successful driver in the Spanish Grand Prix’s history with six victories to his name (1995-6, 2001-4). Of this year’s drivers, Kimi Räikkönen (2005, 2008), Fernando Alonso (2006, 2013) and Lewis Hamilton (2014, 2017) are the only multiple race-winners, while Max Verstappen (2016) has won once.
- Schumacher is also the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya’s most successful qualifier, with seven of the German’s 68 career pole positions earned here in 1994-5 and 2000-4. Among this year’s drivers, Lewis Hamilton is considered the one-lap specialist in Spain with three pole positions (2014, 2016-17).
- Monaco and Hungary aside, qualifying well at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya is vital to claiming victory. Just three Grands Prix here have been won by a driver who did not qualify on the front row of the grid.
- Mercedes non-executive director Niki Lauda claimed the first of the 24 Formula 1 Grand Prix victories of his career in the 1974 Spanish Grand Prix at Jarama, driving for Ferrari.
- Of the 23 drivers to have claimed just one Grand Prix victory in their career, two did so at the Spanish Grand Prix. McLaren’s Jochen Mass was the first to do so at the red-flagged race of 1975, while the mercurial Pastor Maldonado upset the form guide in 2012 to claim victory for Williams – it remains the Grove team’s last race win to-date.
The Spain Form Guide
The Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya is what is known as a ‘bellwether’ circuit, meaning a car that proves quick here it should perform well at pretty much any other circuit on the calendar.
Its broad range of corners will quickly unmask any car with poor handling, and after the first four Grands Prix have taken place across a broad range of temperatures and conditions, the Montmeló circuit will perhaps give us the first true indication of the grid’s pecking order.
A complete resurfacing of the circuit and unexpected poor weather during the pre-season threw up more questions than answers. With considerably warmer – but not hot – conditions forecast this weekend, how the field manages its allocation of Medium, Soft and Supersoft tyres will prove key to the outcome of Sunday’s race.
A thrilling Grand Prix in Baku less than two weeks’ ago brought about a number of changes in the Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championship standings, with Azerbaijan race-winner Lewis Hamilton now leading the points’ race for the first time this year. Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel sits in second, just four points adrift with teammate Kimi Räikkönen a further 18 points back in third. Ferrari leads the Constructors’ Championship standings, with a slender four-point buffer to Mercedes.
Pre-season testing saw Ferrari as the ultimate pace-setters over one lap, but the smart money suggested the Mercedes F1W09 easily had its measure on longer runs. That hasn’t exactly played out in the season proper, with the SF71H proving it can beat the Silver Arrows in a straight fight.
Red Bull Racing sits just off the pace and is comfortably the third-fastest car, but the team will need to show it has overcome its Baku implosion that saw teammates Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen take each other out of the race. It was an accident as clumsy as it was stupid, costing the team valuable points and proving that no driver is bigger than the team he represents.
The midfield battle will again be fascinating to watch and you could throw a blanket over Renault, McLaren, Haas, Force India and Toro Rosso in predicting who will finish in the points on Sunday. Even Sauber showed improved form and pace with its second points’ finish of the season, while Williams too will be more confident after Lance Stroll claimed the Grove team’s first top-ten finish last time out in Azerbaijan.
|2018 Spanish Grand Prix Weather Forecast|
|Friday||12°C – 22°C||Saturday||11°C – 20°C||Sunday||11°C – 19°C|
Images via FIA, Force India F1 Team, Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team, Pirelli Motorsport