Circuit de Catalunya: What You Need to Know

Plenty has go on since we departed Turkey, not least the buzz surrounding Adrian Sutil and Eric Lux (Genii Capital CEO), the latter making a criminal complaint against the German Force India driver. Sutil issued a statement regarding the incident that occurred in China following the race, “At the event something happened that was a result of an unfortunate action by myself in which I injured someone, but totally unintentionally.” Legal action looks highly likely at the moment, and if an investigation is instigated there is a possibility that Sutil could have his superlicense revoked by the FIA. Force India had this to say, “Although the team continues to monitor the situation, it remains fully committed to its driver line-up at this weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix.” Not exactly a huge pile of support for their driver is it?

This week the teams are heading back to a circuit they are very familiar with, not only has it been around since 1991 (taking over from fellow Spanish track Jerez), it’s a place they visited over the winter for testing. And why do we visit it twice? The Barcelona track is credited as being the hardest on aerodynamic set up, so it takes a well balanced team to be successful around here, and with the master aerodynamicist still at Red Bull it takes a brave person to bet against them, right? Michael Schumacher will no doubt be reminiscing about better times here, he is the most successful driver in these parts with 6 wins under his belt. He knows how to win here, but whether he can pass his team mate to do it is another matter.

Several teams are bringing big upgrades with them to give them the aero boost this weekend. Williams are trying out a new exhaust blown diffuser and upgraded rear wings. Sauber will be implementing a ‘significant’ aerodynamic package, including a new front wing and new bodywork. McLaren are going to have another go at using upgrades intended for Turkey.

Fact File: Circuit de Catalunya, Barcelona, Spain

Image credit: Will Pittenger

Laps 66
Circuit Length 4.655 km (2.875 miles)
Race Length 307.104 km (190.826 miles)
First Race 1991
Fastest Lap K Raikkonen 1:21.670 (2008)
2010 Winner Mark Webber (Red Bull)

Layout and Approach:

The Circuit de Catalunya is such a tough workout for teams aerodynamic design due to the tight and twisty infield which is complemented by a familiar long main straight. The nature of this track requires a high level of downforce to keep the car true through the corners, something that Red Bull managed extremely well last year. Getting the car set up correctly is a given, but teams will also need to have a car with the ability to take on these high speed corners, a notable one being turn 9 (Campsa). The run up from the bottom of the hill leads up to a fast corner with a blind apex, but getting a good entry and exit allows the driver to have a decent run up the inside on the way to turn 10 (La Caixa).

Being a challenge for car set up naturally lends the track to being a proving ground for F1 cars, many saying that if your cars is good here it will be good everywhere. So with two rounds of winter testing for the teams, set up will be considerably easier as they will have already have some Pirelli tyre data to hand. Although how useful this will be remains to be seen as the rubber wranglers are introducing a new compound (see below).

But before you start counting your chicanes (come on, it’s Alonso’s home race!), Barcelona can throw up some interesting situations. Changeable conditions on track can put a spanner in the works and catch some off guard, and it’s wind direction that can have the influence. It can drastically change throughout the day, in one area of the track a driver can experience massive drag and understeer, but then later on that day they could be suffering from oversteer instead.

Overtaking and Strategy:

This circuit is not exactly known for excessive overtaking, for instance during the 1999 visit they managed a single manoeuvre across the whole grid, something that will change this year for sure. So with overtaking at a premium, pole position is where you want to be when the lights go out. For the last 10 years, the polesitter has won the race which has added to the ‘boring’ tag the circuit has been saddled with (got your bets on for Vettel yet?).

DRS will be active down the long pit straight, giving an opportunity to pass there as well as into turn 1, which is already considered one of the few overtaking points on the track. DRS and KERS are going to be heavily relied upon to shake things up during this visit, with Vettel’s dominance and wins determined by pole position fans are calling out for a challenge. Teams know that qualifying position is key here and will be pulling out the stops to grab the front row, but they also know that saving a set of options is also providing an edge in the latter stages of Sunday. Another aspect to consider is the pitlane, it takes much longer to enter and leave the pits than it did in Turkey, so drivers will be expected to ‘box, box, box’ with that time in hand.

A quick look at the weather brings no surprises, it is expected to be dry and warm, with an appearance from some cloud on Friday and Saturday. Temperatures will be hovering around the mid-twenties across the whole weekend

Tyres:

The circuit is generally considered to be kind on tyres, but we will not be seeing the single-stoppers we had last year again. Pirelli are forecasting the upcoming race to be a 3 stopper, and are also introducing the new evolution of the ‘hard’ compound (silver). It was tested previously in Turkey, and the aim is for it to provide a little more durability and a wider gap between hard and soft (yellow). Pirelli intend for this gap to encourage teams to use more ‘creative strategies’.

Why Spain Rocks:

Some may argue that it just doesn’t, that we spend too much time in Spain during the season with winter testing and 2 races (Barcelona and Valencia). Easy to argue this as true, however in its past it has produced a classic moment in motorsport during its inaugural year. In 1991 Ayrton Senna (McLaren) and Nigel Mansell (Williams) battled for supremacy wheel to wheel down the main straight, at 200 mph there was barely an inch between them, but Mansell came out on top for the win. The track is also partial to the odd cosmetic procedure, in the search for eternal youth it revamps itself if and when like a Hollywood starlet. In 2007 it added a chicane before the last turn in an attempt to reduce speed on the main straight, this combined with other modifications had dulled the high speed edge it once had, but manages to remain a technical and physical challenge.

It’s not looking good is it? Well, it’s not helped by the race result often relying heavily on qualifying and strategy rather than racing, but this year could prove to be a turning point. We’ve seen plenty of overtaking so far this year, to the point people are now complaining there is too much, so now comes the real test of DRS and KERS. Also on the plus side, the passionate home crowd has 2 drivers and a team to cheer on in the form of Fernando Alonso, Jaime Alguersuari and Hispania.

5 Key Points:

  • Changeable conditions
  • Pole position importance
  • Tough aerodynamic workout
  • New hard compound
  • Home race for Fernando Alonso, Jaime Alguersuari and Hispania
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