Spanish Grand Prix Preview

Ahead of the Spanish Grand Prix, Sudha Sundararaj takes a look at the venue for the fifth race of the 2017 Formula 1 Season.

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The Spanish Grand Prix, the fifth round of the 2017 Formula 1 World Championship, will take place at the Circuit de Catalunya in Barcelona this weekend. After the first four flyaway races of the season, the main European leg of the season gets underway in Spain.

Spanish Grand Prix Preview

The History

The Circuit de Catalunya has been the home of the Spanish Grand Prix since 1991, moving from the circuit in Jerez that year. The circuit is located just outside the city of Barcelona, the capital of the Catalonia region of Spain. The circuit was built near the 1992 Barcelona Olympic venue and that year was called the ‘Grand Prix of the Olympic Games’. It is one of the oldest venues in F1, with twenty-six F1 races held here. The inaugural race in 1991 was won by Nigel Mansell for the Williams team. In 2013, Fernando Alonso scored an emotional victory in front of his adoring home fans.

The Drivers and Teams

Ferrari has been the most successful team on this circuit winning eight races (twelve Spanish GP wins overall), followed by Williams with six wins (seven wins overall) and McLaren with four wins (eight wins overall). The first four races at the Circuit de Catalunya were won by the Williams team, with Nigel Mansell being the very first winner here. In a memorable and rain-soaked race in 1991, the fiery Briton won the race and kept his drivers’ title challenge alive against Ayrton Senna.

Michael Schumacher has won six races here – the most races of any driver. Mika Hakkinen with three race wins is the other prolific winner here. In the current field Kimi Raikkonen (2005, 2008) and Fernando Alonso (2006, 2013) are the only multiple winners with two wins each. Max Verstappen (2016), Lewis Hamilton (2014), Sebastian Vettel (2011), Felipe Massa (2007) have a solitary win each. Last year, a high voltage drama unfolded as the Mercedes drivers Hamilton and Nico Rosberg collided in the first lap. This opened the way for Verstappen to script a fairytale by winning his first race for Red Bull Racing at 18 years old and becoming the youngest winner of a Grand Prix in history.

The Circuit

The 4.655 kilometer Circuit de Catalunya has a high downforce layout with a combination of 16 high and medium speed corners and a long straight. It is normally said that if a car performs well at this circuit, it will perform well on any F1 circuit. The cars with the best aerodynamic setup are rewarded here.

The circuit has an average top speed of 317 kph, with the cars at full throttle 60% of the time. It is a high fuel consumption circuit, with medium brake wear. The strong winds at the circuit significantly impact on the aerodynamic performance of the cars. The change of wind direction can cause the cars to oversteer or understeer, with the same setup.

Sectors, Corners, and DRS Zones

Sector 1 (Turn 1 to Turn 3) offers overtaking opportunities at Turn 1, on a circuit where overtaking opportunities are rare. Turn 1 is a braking zone at the end of the long DRS straight, followed by Turn 2 and the right-hander at Turn 3 taken at full throttle, flat out.

Sector 2 (Turn 4 to Turn 9) features a series of medium-speed corners leading to the high-speed Turn 9. The sector starts with Turn 4 which is similar to the Curva Parabolica at Monza. This is followed by the slow speed left-hand corner going downhill at Turn 5, followed by the medium speed uphill corners at Turn 7 and Turn 8. This leads to the final Campsa Corner at Turn 9 which is taken at high speed and leads to a short straight.

Sector 3 (Turn 10 to Turn 16) is a series of medium-speed corners leading to the high-speed Turn 16 and the long pit straight.

There are two DRS zones at this overtaking resistant track. The first DRS detection point is at the entry to Turn 9 and the DRS zone is between Turn 9 (Campsa) and Turn 10 (La Caixa). The second DRS detection point is at the entry to Turn 16 and the DRS zone is on the start-finish straight. Only thrice in the history of this circuit has a driver won from beyond the first row. Schumacher won starting from third in 1996, Alonso from fifth on the grid in 2013 and Verstappen from fourth in 2016. The pole-sitter normally wins the race at this tight circuit.

Tyre Strategies

Pirelli tyre choices for this race are the orange-striped hard tyres, white-striped medium tyres, and yellow-striped soft tyres. The race is likely to be a two-stop race given the durability of the tyres this season. The hardest compounds are not finding favour with the teams so far this season. In general, the teams have struggled to get the harder compound tyres in the right operating window temperature-wise.

Current Form

The 2017 season has been close so far, with an intense battle between Mercedes and Ferrari for the top spot in the constructors’ title race. Mercedes (136 pts) leads Ferrari (135 pts) by a solitary point, Red Bull Racing (57 pts) is a distant third. Force India (31 pts) leads the midfield teams. Sauber and McLaren teams are yet to score a point.

There have been three winners in the first four races so far. Sebastian Vettel (86 pts) leads the drivers’ title race. Lewis Hamilton (73 pts), Valtteri Bottas (63 pts), Kimi Raikkonen (49 pts) and Max Verstappen (35 pts) complete the top five in the drivers’ championship.

Bottas won his first Grand Prix at the previous race in Sochi. The Finn also gave his teammate Hamilton a lot to think about by performing better than him all weekend in Russia. Vettel clinched pole for Ferrari and has been the most consistent performer of the season, with two wins and two second places. Hamilton, who had a disastrous Spanish GP in 2016 when a collision with teammate Rosberg resulted in a DNF and much acrimony, needs a good race and a turnaround in form. Verstappen will find it hard to repeat last year’s success with Red Bull not at the same performance-level as Mercedes and Ferrari. There have been ten different winners in the last ten races here. All the teams have brought a raft of updates to their cars for this race. Will the pecking order remain the same? Will we have another new winner this year at the Spanish GP? There is everything to play for on Sunday at the Circuit de Catalunya.
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