The European season gets underway at Barcelona this weekend, at a circuit that all the drivers know very well from winter testing – even if they did not visit the venue in 2014. The three-week break since the last race in China has been a busy time for the struggling teams in their efforts to close the gap to their rivals, while those up front have also been pushing on in the title fight.
The Spanish Grand Prix will mark the start of the next phase of the season as the teams will be bringing upgrades and updates to the cars, with the hope of finding some extra performance. Barcelona might give us a better view to the upcoming of the Championship as if a car performs well at this track, it’s likely to perform well for the rest of the season.
The Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya is the fifth venue to host the Spanish Grand Prix, the others being Pedralbes, Jarama, Montjuich Park and Jerez. The track was built in 1991 and staged its first grand prix just weeks after it was completed, becoming a regular fixture on the Formula 1 calendar ever since.
Barcelona provides five high speed stretches, three slow turns and two ideal spots for overtaking. The race is a 66-lap course, each of 4.655km, and it’s hard for both car and the driver.
The track is not particularly demanding on the brakes or engine but requires probably the best combination of power, handling and aerodynamics of the entire season. The aero package challenge gets even bigger as the wind direction at the circuit can change drastically during the day, which unsettles both driver and car.
Sauber’s Adrian Sutil says "the Circuit de Catalunya is a nice track with high aerodynamic demands on the car. There are some fast corners and only one long straight. The last sector is quite tight, therefore slower and not easy to drive. We have to find a compromise in terms of the car's aerodynamic set-up. With one setting the first and second sectors will be good, but the last sector will be a disadvantage, or vice versa.”
“It’s a ‘bit of everything’ circuit - which is why it’s proved so popular as a testing venue,” Daniel Ricciardo thinks. “The first sector is really nice, with the corners all flowing together and the second sector, while a bit more technical, is also really interesting. The final sector is less good but you can understand why they changed it; I assume the old layout was more exciting. It’s a good track to defend on, but one that demands a lot of concentration and the right set-up. The trade-off is that you need fairly low downforce on the long main straight but that compromises the rest of your lap and makes the car difficult to control. Finding the right balance isn’t simple,” the Red Bull driver added.
LISTEN: Caterham reserve driver Robin Frijns discusses a lap of Barcelona
With Mercedes wining the first four rounds of the championship the biggest question this weekend is whether the other teams will be able to catch up with them. The updates introduced to the cars could play a significant role in this equation, but Mercedes won't be standing still either.
Ferrari arrives in Spain in a more optimistic mood after their first podium of the 2014 season in China. Fernando Alonso finished the race behind the Mercedes duo, still with a 23 seconds gap to the leader. The Spaniard is highly motivated this weekend as it’s his home race and he won it last year, from his current team mate Kimi Raikkonen and his former, Felipe Massa – to date Alonso’s – and Ferrari’s - most recent win.
Friday is expected to be a busy day at the track when the teams will be trying to find the right set-up for the new package. Saturday will be crucial to get a good qualifying position as Barcelona doesn’t offer too many overtaking opportunities.
The track is very challenging on the tyres because of its abrasive track surface and its high-speed corners, which is why Pirelli has nominated the medium and hard compounds for the race. Despite Fernando Alonso’s four stop strategy win last year, Pirelli believe drivers should not have to pit for more than three times on Sunday.
Two DRS zones will be in use this weekend; one on the pits straight and the other on the 'back' straight. Former F1 driver and Indianapolis 500 winner Danny Sullivan is the driver steward.
Friday 9 May
- Practice One: 10:00 - 11:30
- Practice Two: 14:00 - 15:30
Saturday 10 May
- Practice Three: 11:00 - 12:00
- Qualifying: 14:00 - 15:00
Sunday 11 May
- Race: 14:00