The European season kicks off this weekend as Formula 1 moves from the Middle East to Barcelona for the fifth round of the Championship. Although the teams know the Circuit de Catalunya well, the temperatures will be around 15°C higher this weekend compared to during testing in February and large upgrades will provide the teams with a stern test.
Three drivers have won the opening four races of the season but with 15 races remaining, the Championship is far from decided. Red Bull, Ferrari and Lotus – victorious so far - are in the hunt for the title, but Mercedes and even McLaren should not be written off.
Sebastian Vettel leads Kimi Raikkonen by 10 points while Red Bull and Lotus are separated 16 points in the Constructors standings. Lewis Hamilton and home hero Fernando Alonso are a little further back.
The Spanish GP was added to the Formula 1 calendar in 1951 and was first held at the Pedralbes Circuit. The event moved to Jarama, the fearsome Montjuich Park, Jerez and finally to Catalunya where it has remained since 1991. The inaugural race saw one of the most iconic moments in Formula 1 history when Nigel Mansell and Ayrton Senna went wheel-to-wheel along Barcelona’s 300km/h pit straight while dueling for second place.
Michael Schumacher finished in second in 1994 despite driving most of the race stuck in fifth gear. The German driver also scored the first of his 72 wins for Ferrari at the 1996 Spanish GP after a dominant performance during torrential rain.
In 2001, Mika Hakkinen was looking for his fourth consecutive Spanish victory but retired on last lap - while leading the race - due to a clutch failure. Five years later Fernando Alonso became the first Spanish driver to win their home race.
The first two sectors of the 4.655km long Circuit de Catalunya are biased towards higher speed corners whilst the third one is a technical sequence of lower speed turns. Overtaking is notoriously difficult here, with the braking areas into Turns 1 and 10 – after the DRS zone – providing the best chances. The penultimate sweeping corner was replaced by a fiddly chicane for the 2007 race.
Qualifying is particularly important in Barcelona as from 22 races, 18 have been won from pole position. Finding a good set-up is tricky at the circuit as the wind direction at the track can change drastically during the day.
Lotus’s Romain Grosjean says “the first four corners which make up the first sector are pretty fast, then there’s the slow final sector with between turns 10-15. Out of turn 15 you need a good rear end of the car with strong traction.”
“It’s important not to overheat your rear tyres and managing degradation will be important - even with the harder tyres which are now allocated - as when you reach high degradation levels on your tyres you are nowhere on lap time. Tyre management will still be the key area for a good performance in the race. In Barcelona it will be important to qualify well as it will be much harder to overtake than in Bahrain,” the Lotus driver added.
The Spanish Grand Prix's position as the first European round of the season means it is traditionally a key venue in the development race. With a three week gap since the Bahrain Grand Prix - as well as its close proximity to the teams bases - several teams will be bringing large updates with the hope of improving the performance of their cars. It's a particularly tense time for McLaren, Williams and Caterham. All three teams have pinpointed Barcelona in terms of extensive upgrades. If they work, then it puts them in the hunt. If they don't, it's time to focus on 2014.
Three times the Spanish GP has been decided by less than one second. In, 1986 - Ayrton Senna and Nigel Mansell were separated by 0.014s, while in 1981 Gilles Villeneuve and Jacques Laffite finished just 0.21s apart. Two year ago, Sebastian Vettel led home Lewis Hamilton by 0.63s.
Michael Schumacher is the driver with the best record in Catalunya. He claimed seven pole positions and six victories from his visits to Barcelona. Ferrari has taken seven victories, followed by Williams with six wins and McLaren with four.
The 1975 Spanish GP is remembered as a tragic weekend due to Rolf Stommelen's crash which killed five spectators. That was also the race in which Lella Lombardi became the first and only woman to score points in Formula One.
Last season, Lewis Hamilton originally qualified on pole position but was excluded for failing to return to the pits under his own power and supply a fuel sample.
Williams’s Pastor Maldonado inherited pole position and pulled off a stunning victory over Alonso. Maldonado’s victory saw a number of ‘firsts’ recorded as it was his first start from pole position, his first victory, and the first win for a Venezuelan in Formula One. It was also Williams’s first win for eight years.
Friday 10 May
- Practice 1: 10.00-11.30
- Practice 2: 14.00 - 15.30
Saturday 11 May
- Practice 3: 11.00-12.00
- Qualifying: 14.00-15.00
Sunday 12 May
- Race: 14.00