Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda driver Brendon Hartley says that the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya is the circuit that all drivers know best – and that makes it difficult to gain any advantage.
The circuit – host of the Spanish Grand Prix – is one of the few the drivers use outside of the normal season, and holds winter testing every year. Not only does this mean that drivers already have knowledge of how their car will perform at the Grand Prix but, as Hartley and team-mate Pierre Gasly revealed, it’s also used regularly in simulator training. This additional knowledge makes it both easier and harder for the drivers, Hartley says, as it makes it tougher to gain an advantage.
“Barcelona is probably the track on the calendar that every single driver knows better than any other, which also makes it extremely challenging when it comes to trying to get any advantage over your team-mate or the others drivers and teams,” said Hartley. “But that’s all part of the challenge here.
“It’s not just the actual testing that means we all know it well, because, from my time working in simulators for various teams, I know that the Catalunya track is used a lot in the sim. It’s an enjoyable track to drive and offers a bit of everything. It is also tough physically, especially with the long right hand corners in particular putting a strain on the neck muscles.”
Commenting on his performance this year compared to last year, Hartley said he felt he’d improved in qualifying, having gained a better understanding of the tyres. His results confirm this, with his highest qualifying position in 2018 so far – an eleventh in the Bahrain Grand Prix – being two places better than his previous best – a thirteenth place, in the Mexican Grand Prix.
“Qualifying is very important at this track, because overtaking is not so easy,” said Hartley. “So far this year, I’ve been relatively happy with my qualifying performance, especially compared to last year, when I had not yet developed an understanding of how to get the most out of the tyres. Now, I feel like I’m understanding the car and tyres more and more and that’s given me a lot more confidence going into qualifying sessions.
“It’s one of the most fun parts of the weekend because all the fuel load comes off, the rubber goes down and that’s when these cars really come alive. They’re literally the quickest cars on earth and qualifying really highlights that. It’s not often that you don’t have a smile on your face with the amount of grip that we have and the lap times we’re doing.
“Tyre management will be very important at this track because, even on a qualifying lap, you have to keep the rears alive for that last sector where you need the traction. You can easily destroy the rear tyres through that first part with all the high-speed corners but it’s one of the challenges of getting the most out of the qualifying lap.”