The Spanish Grand Prix has now been part of the Formula One calendar for over a quarter of a century, and the Montmelo circuit in Barcelona will host its 26th race this weekend. Five different venues have held the event across the years, with the first taking place in 1951 at Pedralbes, followed by Montjuic, Jarama and Jerez, before organisers settled with the Circuit de Catalunya in 1991. It also acts as a test circuit as well as being a Grand Prix venue.
The circuit is fabled for its true test of a car’s aerodynamic efficiency due to its mixture of high and medium speed corners. The long right-hander at Turn 3, will be particularly tough on the tyres, with degradation a crucial factor in Barcelona, the abrasive surface at the Circuit de Catalunya only adding to the already high demands placed on the rubber.
Much has happened across the years at this well used track, and Checkeredflag.co.uk bring you five interesting race facts, to wet your appetite:
- Jackie Stewart runs rings around rivals
Sir Jackie Stewart has won the Spanish Grand Prix on three occasions, and with three different teams – his first with Matra back in 1969, then again with March the following year, and finally Tyrrell in 1971.
At the 1970 Spanish Grand Prix, Jackie Stewart earned the March F1 team their first ever win in Formula One. The Brit took victory in such supreme style that he lapped everyone in the race at least once, although it may be worth noting that there were only five finishers by the end of what was a gruelling Grand Prix for most of the drivers! Held at the Jarama circuit near Madrid on that occasion, it was an incident packed event which included a first lap collision for Jacky Ickx and Jackie Oliver, that saw both cars explode into flames. The drivers escaped, with Oliver unhurt and Ickx with minor burns, but there was no warning for the drivers making their way towards the scene, with some having to drive through or dangerously close to the flames at speed to get by. How, thankfully, times have changed!
- Schumacher El Rey de España
Michael Schumacher is the most successful driver at the Circuit de Catalunya, the German having taken six wins in Spain, double the amount of the next person on the list at three. The seven time world champion bagged his first victory in Barcelona back in 1995 when driving for Benetton-Renault. It was a race the German dominated, as his winning-margin of 51.988 seconds over team-mate Johnny Herbert, shows. He followed that up the next year in his first season with the Scuderia Ferrari squad, and also enjoyed a four-year winning streak at the track between 2001 and 2004, during his dominant years with the Italian squad. At a track that really shows up the men from the boys, Schumacher reigned supreme.
- Consistent Alonso
Apart from two DNF’s, last year and in 2008, Fernando Alonso has finished no lower than sixth in the Spanish Grand Prix, since 2003. The Spaniard clearly loves the home advantage, and has secured victory there twice. His first win was in 2006, and was also the first time a Spaniard had won his home event, something Alonso was incredibly proud of. In 2013 he got a flying start to move into third position from fifth on the grid, a move that allowed Alonso to control his race from there on in, undercutting Sebastian Vettel at the first round of pit stops, before passing Nico Rosberg to take the lead and build up a big enough gap to have the luxury of making a second stop without anyone able to get ahead of him on track.
The McLaren F1 team scored their first double points haul last time out in Russia, but will the upgrades the team have brought to the Circuit de Catalunya, improve the performance of the MP4-31 enough for the double world champion to achieve a strong result this time around?
- Changing of the guard
There have been nine different winners of the Spanish Grand Prix in the last nine races, which shows just how tricky it is to master this track. Of the last fifteen Grand Prix, thirteen have been won by the man on pole, making going well during Saturday’s session all important. With qualifying clearly being the key to success at the Circuit de Catalunya, can Lewis Hamilton overcome the technical problems he has experienced during the last two races, or will they return to destroy his chances?
- Ferrari favourite
The Scuderia Ferrari team have had the most success around the Montmelo track, winning here twelve times throughout Spanish Grand Prix history. The first was back in 1954, when Yorkshireman Mike Hawthorn, also known as Papillion due to his love for donning a bow tie, took victory at Pedralbes ahead of Luigi Musso and Juan Manuel Fangio, in the final race of that year and the last Spanish Grand Prix to be held at the former Barcelona street venue.
The last victory for the iconic prancing horse squad was in 2013, when Fernando Alonso took the red machine to victory despite not being on pole. A classic move in the very first lap of the race, saw the Spaniard go round the outside of both Kimi Raikkonen and Lewis Hamilton in one fell swoop, as they headed towards Turn 3, a clear sign Alonso definitely meant business. As the Maranello based squad look to close the gap to Mercedes AMG PETRONAS once again this season, could this track, where the team have gone so well in the past, be the one that brings them that much needed victory?
The differing tyre choices selected by the teams ahead of this weekend’s race, at a track where tyre wear is knowingly high, could play even more of a factor in the outcome of the race this time around, with the majority of drivers opting to bring a larger quantity of the softest tyre option for use across the weekend.
Going into the 2016 Spanish Grand Prix, Nico Rosberg is still comfortably leading the title chase after four wins in succession, and if the German takes victory in Barcelona, he will join Alberto Ascari and Sebastian Vettel in winning eight consecutive F1 races.
As it is the first race on the F1 calendar to take place in Europe, the Spanish Grand Prix sees many teams introducing major upgrade packages. The likes of McLaren, Renault Sport F1, Sahara Force India, Haas F1 and the Manor Racing team have all confirmed they will be bringing development packages to Spain in the hope of advancing further up the field.
For Mercedes the main priority is to solve the MGU-H problems suffered by Hamilton at the last two races, as the Brit cannot afford to lose any more points to his team-mate and main rival. Closest challengers Ferrari, having brought an extensive upgrade package to Russia only to see one of their cars taken out on the opening laps, will be looking to see some improvement in Spain.
Can the current world champion do anything to stop Rosberg’s momentum here at the Circuit de Catalunya? Can Ferrari make any gains on the dominant Mercedes machine? We will all find out in the next few days!