Once again Azerbaijan provided a breathtaking spectacle in a race that had it all, as Formula 1 returns to action this weekend for the Spanish Grand Prix at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya. There was drama from the word go in Baku, with collisions aplenty, two Safety Car periods, and late tyre blowouts, as Lewis Hamilton somehow emerged unscathed to record a surprise first win of the year for Mercedes. However, Scuderia Ferrari are expected to fight back in Barcelona, as German driver Sebastian Vettel looks to continue his fantastic start to the 2018 season.
Spain has some way to go to match epic back-to-back races in China and Azerbaijan, but the traditional first leg of F1’s European tour has conjured up some brilliant races of its own over the years. 17 different drivers have scored wins in the 27 races staged since the Circuit de Catalunya became the home of the Spanish Grand Prix in 1991.
The Spanish Grand Prix can trace its history back to 1913 and in World Championship terms it is one of the longest running events. Spain first joined the calendar with a pair of races around the Pedralbes district of Barcelona in the 1950s, and from 1967 to 1981 was shared between the permanent Jarama circuit, near Madrid, and a street track that navigated its way around the hilly Montjuic suburb of Barcelona. Following a brief absence, the newly-built Jerez track held a handful of races from 1986 through 1990 but since 1991 the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya has been Formula 1’s home.
Only Silverstone, Monza and the Hungaroring have a longer concurrent spell on the calendar than the circuit that was built in the run-up to the Summer Olympics that rejuvenated Barcelona. The track, located close to the town of Montmelo – on the northern fringes of Barcelona’s reach – has also emerged as the sport’s preferred pre-season testing venue in recent years. Spain’s presence in Formula 1 has also extended to staging the European Grand Prix at Jerez (in 1997) and at the Valencia street circuit (from 2008 to 2012).
The Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya tests various components of a Formula 1 car through its mixture of low-, medium- and high-speed corners, heavy braking zones, kerbs and straights. The lap begins with a heavy braking zone and a medium-speed flowing right-left sequence that immediately opens out into the long right-hander through Turn 3.
A long-radius 180-degree right-hander at Turn 4 quickly leads into the plunging downhill left-hander at Turn 5, before a short burst of power through the Turn 6 kink, into the Turn 7/8 right-left complex. Turn 9 – also known as Campsa – is the circuit’s standout corner, a flat-out medium-radius right-hand bend, the challenge heightened by the slight off-camber and uphill nature of the turn that can easily suck a driver to the outside – or the run-off – and exploit any weakness in a car’s aerodynamic potential, or if a driver has a lack of confidence with their package.
The final sector is fiddlier – none more so than the final chicane, introduced in 2007, from where strong traction exiting the corner is vital in order to carry speed all the way to Turn 1: “It’s three quite different sectors, each with some fast and flowing corners.” – says home representative Carlos Sainz Jr. – “The tarmac is new this year all around the track and this makes it even more interesting.”
Friday: Sunny, 21°c
Saturday: Cloudy with a risk of showers, 17°c
Sunday: Sunny with a risk of showers, 18°c
Friday 11 May
FP1: 11:00 – 12:30
FP2: 15:00 – 16:30
Saturday 12 May
FP3: 12:00 – 13:00
Qualifying: 15:00 – 16:00
Sunday 13 May
Race: 15:10 (66 laps or two hours)