MONTMELO, SPAIN - MAY 10: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP shakes hands with karting kids during previews ahead of the Spanish Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Catalunya on May 10, 2018 in Montmelo, Spain. (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)

The Spanish Grand Prix, the fifth round of the 2018 Formula 1 World Championship, will take place at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya this weekend. After the first four flyaway races of the season, the main European leg of the season gets underway in Spain. This is the 28th running of the race at this venue.

The History

The Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya has been the home of the Spanish Grand Prix from 1991. The race moved from the previous venue 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-seven 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 Teams and Drivers

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 this circuit were won by the Williams team. Mercedes has won three of the four races in the hybrid era, with Red Bull Racing stealing a win from them in 2016.

Nigel Mansell was the very first winner here. In a memorable 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), Fernando Alonso (2006, 2013) and Lewis Hamilton (2014, 2017) are the only multiple winners with two wins each. Max Verstappen (2016) and Sebastian Vettel (2011) have a solitary win each.

Verstappen returns to the venue where he scripted a fairytale win in 2016. The Dutchman won his first race for Red Bull Racing at eighteen years old and became the youngest winner of a Grand Prix in history.

The Circuit

The 4.655 kilometer Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya has a high downforce layout with a combination of sixteen 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 kmph, 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 impacts 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 start-finish 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 white-striped medium tyres, yellow-striped soft tyres and red-striped supersoft tyres. The race is likely to be a two-stop race given the durability of the tyres this season. The track has been resurfaced and the surface is much smoother than the old surface. To prevent overheating of the tyres, Pirelli has brought tyres with shorter treads to this race.

Current Form

Ferrari (114 pts) has retaken the lead in the constructors’ championship by four points from arch-rival Mercedes (110 pts). Red Bull Racing (55 pts) stays in third position, even after the disastrous outing in the previous race that saw both their drivers crash into each other.

McLaren (36 pts) leads the tight midfield in fourth position. Renault (35 pts) completes the top 5 positions. Force India (16 pts) has now moved into sixth position. Williams (4 pts) opened its account in the last race at Baku.

So far this season, Ferrari has been the form team with two wins and three pole positions in four races. Mercedes has been plagued by tyre overheating problems and this race will demonstrate if the team has found a solution. All teams will bring significant updates package to their cars at the first European race of the season.

Red Bull Racing will look to make a significant step forward. Force India finally put together a good race with Sergio Perez finishing third in Baku. McLaren has said that with a B-Spec car here, they hope to make a big step forward in performance.

Drivers’ Championship

Hamilton (70 pts) leads the title race, by four points from Vettel (66 pts). The reigning world champion scored his first win of the season at Baku. Raikkonen (48 pts) is now third, after he finished second at the chaotic race in Baku.

The unlucky Valtteri Bottas (40 pts) is in fourth position, after the puncture that ended his race in the final laps and robbed him of a win in Baku. Daniel Ricciardo (37 pts) is in fifth position and rounds out the top 5 in the drivers’ championship.

Vettel with three consecutive poles and two wins in the four races is the form driver. Hamilton was lucky to score a win in Baku and appears to be struggling to come to terms with the car. The two Finns, Raikkonen and Bottas, have shown early season form, though the points tally does not reflect it.

The two Red Bull drivers, after their unfortunate crash that ended both their races, have been suitably chastised. Verstappen in particular needs a good outing to regain his confidence. The first European race of the season sets the tone for the rest of the season. Will Vettel and Ferrari take a firm grip on both the title races with another win here?

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