The European season starts this weekend at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya as the paddock travels to Spain for the fifth round of the campaign. Barcelona is a familiar venue for the teams after all eight days of pre-season running took place at the circuit, and this weekend’s stay will be extended with two days of running set to take place on Tuesday and Wednesday.
After an intriguing start to the year, teams and drivers will now have a reality check on their development since the beginning of the season. The track data they have from the pre-season tests won’t result in any advantage going into this weekend but will give them the opportunity to compare and contrast with data from the winter. This information will be useful in order to allow teams to be better prepared, especially for the likes of newcomers Haas, even though the conditions and the temperatures are going to be very different from winter testing.
Familiarity does not mean this race will be easy for the drivers. The track only has a handful of slow corners, its layout being a mix of medium and high-speed corners while the abrasive and bumpy surface will, literally, leave them under pressure.
This will be the 48th Spanish GP to date and the 26th consecutive Grand Prix staged at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, located between the communes of Granollers and Montmeló to the north of the city. The Spanish Grand Prix has taken place in several locations across the sport’s history: Pedralbes, Jarama, Montjuic Park and Jerez before settling on its current permanent home. Valencia also hosted a handful of races on Spanish soil, albeit under the European Grand Prix designation.
The track is one of the four Formula 1 venues that are connected with the Olympics. The circuit was the start/finish line for the road team time trial cycling event of the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona. Sochi, Circuit Gilles Villeneuve and Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez also have Olympic connections.
Catalunya is a very demanding track that has a strong combination of features: a good mix of fast, medium and slow speed corners, swift changes of direction and a long start-finish straight. This is why it is considered a good judge of a car’s ability as it shows that you can have good downforce at high speed and good mechanical grip in the low-speed turns.
Haas’ Esteban Gutierrez explains the challenges of the circuit “You come into the first section into Turn 1, focused on the entry speed and also the line, in preparation for Turn 2 and 3, which is crucial in order to have a good exit out of the famous and fast Turn 3 of Barcelona. Approaching into Turn 4, you have a very sharp brake to turn in very quickly, carrying the speed into the corner. The exit is very long with a lot of load on the rear tyres.”
“You arrive into Turn 5, it’s a bit downhill, quite a slow corner, on braking you don’t really see the entry well and, at the same time, it is very important not to miss the apex. Turn 7 is very sharp. The corner has some banking, which makes it faster than what you can see from outside approaching. Then into Turn 9, it’s uphill. You turn in with very small brake, and a short lift on the throttle. The exit is a bit blind, and the car usually is moving around, trying to go on power as quickly as possible and a very, very fast corner. From Turn 10 onwards, you have the first sector which is usually very challenging because of the tyre temperatures. You have the tyres heated up from the previous two sectors and it makes it the most important and challenging part of the track because it’s where you can gain or lose a lot of time as it is the most technical part of the track.”
Nico Rosberg comes to Barcelona as the favourite, having not only won at the circuit in 2015, but having triumphed at the most recent seven Grands Prix. That, together with a 43-point lead in the Drivers’ Championship over his team-mate Lewis Hamilton, gives the German a good vibe approaching the weekend. His Mercedes team has an 81-point advantage over closest rivals Ferrari in the Constructors' championship, with only six points separating Red Bull and Williams in third.
With an assortment of teams planning on bringing, running and subsequently assessing upgrades, there is the potential for the order to be shaken up slightly. However, one thing we know about the Spanish Grand Prix is that starting on the front row is a huge bonus. History shows us that on 19 occasions the victory in Barcelona came from pole position and only twice from outside the front row. Michael Schumacher won the 1996 Spanish GP from third in torrential conditions while Fernando Alonso’s four-stop 2013 victory came from fifth. Nine different drivers have won the nine most recent Spanish Grands Prix: Felipe Massa began the streak in 2007, followed by Kimi Raikkonen, Jenson Button, Mark Webber, Sebastian Vettel, Pastor Maldonado, Alonso, Hamilton and Rosberg. Can someone else make it 10 this weekend?
Perhaps a different victor could come from Red Bull, which has opted to shake up its driver pairings earlier than anyone anticipated. Daniil Kvyat has been demoted to Toro Rosso in place of Max Verstappen, who graduates to the senior team at the age of 18 and after only 23 Grands Prix. As tyre designations are assigned to the car rather than its driver, Verstappen and Kvyat will have the number of compounds originally meant for the other.
One of the biggest challenges this weekend will be to understand Pirelli’s Hard tyre, which has not yet been used at a Grand Prix in 2016, after the company elected to bring the Super Soft, Soft and Medium compounds to the opening four races. Tyre wear is high here due to the abrasive surface of the circuit and because of this drivers are expected to make at least two pit stops during the race.
Tyres: Hard, Medium, Soft (mandatory compounds: Hard and Medium, Q3 compound: Soft)
DRS: Zone 1 (detection point before Turn 9, activation point after Turn 9), Zone 2 (detection point before Turn 15, activation point on main straight)
Driver Steward: Martin Donnelly
Facts and stats
- Circuit length: 4.655 km
- Turns: 16 (9 right and 7 left)
- Direction: clockwise
- Race laps: 66 laps
- First Grand Prix: 1991
- Lap record: 1:21.670 (Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari, 2008)
- Most wins (driver): Michael Schumacher (6)
- Most wins (constructor): Ferrari (12)
- 2015 Qualifying: Nico Rosberg (Mercedes)
- 2015 Race: 1. Nico Rosberg (Mercedes), 2. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes), 3. Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari)
Timetable (GMT +2):
Friday 13 May
- Practice One: 10:00 – 11:30
- Practice Two: 14:00 – 15:30
Saturday 14 May
- Practice Three: 11:00 – 12:00
- Qualifying: 14:00 (60 minutes)
Sunday 15 May
- Race: 14:00 (66 laps or two hours)