Spanish Grand Prix Preview: Taking Barcelona pole, is a crucial goal

Max Verstappen - Red Bull Racing, wins the Spanish Grand Prix 2016. Credit: Red Bull Content Pool

The Spanish Grand Prix has now been part of the Formula 1 calendar for almost fifty years, having first come onto the scene in 1968, and the Montmelo circuit in Barcelona will host its 27th race this weekend.

Five different venues have played host to 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 Barcelona-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 is particularly tough on the tyres, with degradation a crucial factor in Barcelona.

There have been ten different winners of the Spanish Grand Prix in the last ten races, which shows just how tricky it is to master this circuit. Since the year 2000, thirteen of the races have been won by the man on pole, making qualifying well extremely crucial here in Spain.

The Scuderia Ferrari team has had the most success in Spain, winning on twelve occasions 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.

With so many races to choose from, here are just a couple more of TCF’s favourite Ferrari victories in Spain.

1981 Spanish Grand Prix

Considered by many to be the great Gilles Villeneuve’s finest victory, the 1981 Spanish Grand Prix was one of tactical brilliance.

Having qualified in seventh place, in a Ferrari car considered to have a complete dog of a chassis, Villeneuve set about making up as many places as possible at the start. It was a stiflingly hot day, but the French-Canadian made use of his new Michelin tyres and moved into third place at the first corner, tagging the front wing of Alain Prost in the process.

With just Alan Jones and Carlos Reutemann ahead, after pole man Jacques Laffite bogged down off the line and fell down the order, Villeneuve made short work of catching the Argentine driver, and quickly took second place.

Jones began to pull out a lead at the front, but on lap 14 the Australian made an error, spinning off at the Ascari chicane and handing the lead to Villeneuve, with Reutemann close on his tail. As the pair began to battle it out at the front, the rest of the pack were edging ever-closer.

Reutemann dropped away having encountered gearbox issues, but Lafitte had recovered well and moved right in behind Villeneuve, with John Watson, the Argentinian and Elio de Angelis now nose to tail in formation.

Though the Ferrari chassis was a nightmare the engine power was not, and that allowed the French-Canadian to pull away from his rivals on the straight, giving him just enough advantage to keep the numerous advances from Lafitte at bay through the corners.

Time after time, the Frenchman challenged Villeneuve for position, but the French-Canadian judged things to perfection, positioning his car so that no one was ever able to get past. The top five remained line astern until the chequered flag, with just 1.24 seconds covering them as they crossed the line, recording the second closest race in the history of F1 at the time.

It was a sensational drive of skill from Villeneuve, and was also to be his final grand prix victory.

1996 Spanish Grand Prix

Michael Schumacher has achieved many great victories during his time with Ferrari, but his win at the 1996 Spanish Grand Prix, was nothing short of spectacular.

The Ferrari was a dog of a car that year, but Schumacher was able to make it perform like no other, and that is just what he did on this day.

The conditions for the race were terrible, with heavy rain pouring none stop, and in such a deluge that the grand prix would likely have been called off today. Schumacher had called for a full wet set up, with a light fuel load, gambling that the rain would not stop.

Damon Hill started the race on pole but span twice in the first nine laps, seeing him fall down the order, and allowing team-mate Jacques Villeneuve to surge off into the lead up ahead.

Schumacher also got off to a bad start, almost stalling the Ferrari, causing the German to drop back from his third place on the grid. It was through this lack of fortune however, that Schumacher’s brilliance in the wet came into play, and could be seen in all its glory.

The German set about progressing back through the field, regularly lapping three seconds faster than anyone else, as first of all team-mate Eddie Irvine span out of fifth place, and then Hill crashed into the pit wall, ending the Brit’s race.

Next up was Gerhard Berger who the German sailed by without any problems, before quickly catching second placed Jean Alesi and race leader Villeneuve on lap 12, passing the Canadian to move into first place.

Shortly after Schumacher posted the fastest lap of the race, some four seconds faster than any other driver, and crossed the line 45 seconds ahead of Villeneuve at the chequered flag.

That was the German’s maiden victory for a Ferrari team that were struggling for performance in 1996, making what is one of the greatest wet weather drives in history, all the more impressive.

2017 Race weekend

2017 Russian GP – Valtteri Bottas wins. Credit: Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One Team

Going into the 2017 Spanish Grand Prix this weekend, the Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One Team hold a narrow lead of just one point over Ferrari in the constructors standings, after Valtteri Bottas took his maiden F1 victory last time out in Russia.

Driver Sebastian Vettel leads the way in the drivers’ championship, by thirteen points from Lewis Hamilton, who could only manage fourth place at the Russian Grand Prix.

It is becoming increasingly hard to call who will come out on top at each round of the F1 season, with Ferrari well and truly posing a challenge to that Mercedes crown.

Red Bull Racing still sit third in the standings, despite losing driver Daniel Ricciardo early doors in the last race, but still have plenty to do if they are going to join in with the fight at the front this season. In 2016, driver Max Verstappen took a surprising victory here, on his debut for the Milton Keynes based squad, becoming the youngest ever winner of an F1 race in the process. Red Bull will no doubt be hoping to pull off another result like that on Sunday.

The Sahara Force India F1 Team retain fourth place after Russia, having brought both drivers home in the points in sixth and seventh place, in what was their best result of the season so far. The Silverstone based squad now have a thirteen-point gap to fifth placed Williams Martini Racing.

The British team have done well to remain in the mix, despite rookie driver Lance Stroll not scoring any points so far this season, through no real fault of his own. Returning driver Felipe Massa has remained consistent throughout, which has helped them no end.

Scuderia Toro Rosso are five points further back in sixth place, having picked up one point through Carlos Sainz Jr’s tenth place. An improvement on the previous round, but the Faenza based squad really need to start upping their game if they are to have a successful year.

The Haas F1 Team keep seventh in the standings despite a race to forget in Russia. Driver Romain Grosjean was involved in a collision with Jolyon Palmer on the first lap, ending the Frenchman’s race there and then, whilst team-mate Kevin Magnussen could only manage to make it home in twelfth place, after receiving a five second time penalty for not adhering to track limits.

The Renault Sport Formula 1 Team picked up points through driver Nico Hulkenberg once again, going one better with an eighth place this time out. The French squad continue to improve with every race, and if Palmer could join in the resurgence, they would be well on their way now.

Both the McLaren Honda Formula 1 Team and the Sauber F1 Team are still without points, and having suffered the withdrawal of Stoffel Vandoorne before the start the race in Bahrain, the same fate befell driver Fernando Alonso in Russia. The Belgian did manage to complete the race this time out, but fourteenth position was the best he could manage.

Sauber continue to struggle and again found themselves at the back of the grid come the end of the race. The Swiss based squad are perhaps regretting the decision to use year old Ferrari engines this season.

As with all races so far in 2017, the scene looks set for another close battle between Mercedes and Ferrari, but could the start of the European leg of the calendar bring a boost in performance for their rivals, as updates galore are due to be introduced in Spain.