PREVIEW: 2019 Formula 1 Spanish Grand Prix – Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya

by Sudha Sundararaj

The 2019 Spanish Grand Prix will take place at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya this weekend. After the first four flyaway races of the season, the fifth round of the 2019 FIA Formula 1 World Championship will launch the European leg of the season. This is the 29th running of the race at this venue.

The Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya has been the home of the Spanish Grand Prix from 1991, as it 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 Olympics venue and the race that year was called the ‘Grand Prix of the Olympic Games’. It is one of the oldest venues in F1 with twenty-eight F1 races held at this circuit. The inaugural race in 1991 was won by Nigel Mansell for the Williams Racing team.

In 2013, Fernando Alonso scored an emotional victory in front of his adoring home fans. This victory at his home race was the last victory Alonso would score over the next five seasons. The Spaniard will not be taking part in the Spanish GP for the first time since his debut season in 2001.

What happened at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix?

Valtteri Bottas managed to fend off his team-mate Lewis Hamilton to score his second win of the season at the 2019 Azerbaijan Grand Prix. The Mercedes AMG Motorsport team scored their fourth consecutive 1-2 finish of the season.

Sebastian Vettel finished on the podium for the second race in a row, but the expected challenge from the Scuderia Ferrari team did not materialize. Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen drove another mature race to finish in fourth position.

Charles Leclerc was a man on a mission after his crash in qualifying. With the help of a long first stint, Leclerc managed to recover to fifth position. Sergio Perez finished in a creditable sixth position and was ‘best of the rest’.

Carlos Sainz Jr. finished in seventh position ahead of his team-mate Lando Norris for a double points finish for the McLaren F1 Team. Sainz scored points for the first time this season.

Lance Stroll finished in ninth position for the Racing Point F1 Team for a double points finish for that team also. Kimi Räikkönen salvaged a point for Alfa Romeo Racing as he finished in tenth position after starting from the pit lane.

The previous two races at the challenging Baku City Circuit were chaotic and threw up unexpected winners. But this season’s race was bereft of Safety Cars and was rather processional and staid in comparison.

What happened in the 2018 Spanish Grand Prix?

The Mercedes duo of Hamilton and Bottas locked out the front row of the 2018 Spanish GP. After Ferrari had dominated the early season proceedings, the Silver Arrows started their fight back at this race.

Vettel and Räikkönen were on the second row. Verstappen and Ricciardo lined up on the third row. Magnussen, Alonso, Carlos Sainz and Romain Grosjean lined up at the front of the grid.

Hamilton made a good start and led into Turn 1. Vettel managed to nose ahead of Bottas to take second-place. But behind them mayhem reigned as the two Spaniards Alonso and Sainz made contact.

Grosjean hit the brakes hard behind his teammate, spun and came right across the track and took out both Nico Hulkenberg and Pierre Gasly. Three cars were out on lap 1 and the Safety Car (SC) was deployed.

Hamilton scores a dominant win

On this track at which it is hard to overtake, a processional race unfolded. On lap 41, Esteban Ocon retired as he lost power and the Virtual Safety Car (VSC) was deployed. Vettel who experienced more tyre degradation compared to the drivers around him pitted under the VSC for a set of new medium compound tyres.

This dropped Vettel to fourth position behind Hamilton, Bottas and Verstappen. On the VSC restart, Verstappen hit Stroll and lost part of his front wing. The main interest now was centered on Verstappen and if he could stay ahead of Vettel to secure a podium finish. Verstappen was able to maintain his 2+ seconds gap to Vettel lap after lap, even with his damaged car.

Hamilton scored a dominant win at the 2018 Spanish GP as he finished over twenty seconds in front of his team-mate Bottas. Bottas claimed second spot for a Mercedes 1-2. Last season that was the first 1-2 finish for the Silver Arrows. Verstappen completed the podium places in Barcelona.

Vettel finished a disappointing fourth, as Daniel Ricciardo completed the top five. Kevin Magnussen, Carlos Sainz, Fernando Alonso, Sergio Perez, and Charles Leclerc rounded off the top ten positions.

Circuit Guide

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 Formula 1 circuit. The cars with the best aerodynamic setups are rewarded here.

The circuit has an average top speed of 317 kilometers per hour. The cars are at full throttle for 60% of the lap. 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 after starting from third position in 1996, Alonso from fifth position on the grid in 2013 and Verstappen from fourth position in 2016. The pole-sitter normally wins the race at this tight circuit.

Tyre Strategy

The white-striped hard tyres (C1), the yellow-striped medium tyres (C2) and the red-striped soft tyres (C3) nominated for this race are the hardest tyres in the Pirelli range of tyres. The same set of tyres was previously nominated at the Bahrain Grand Prix.

The drivers have chosen seven or more sets of the soft compound tyres (C3) in the thirteen sets allocated to them.  The two Ferrari drivers have taken an aggressive approach and chosen nine sets of the soft compound tyres. The Mercedes drivers have chosen eight sets of the soft compound tyres, while the Red Bull Racing drivers have only chosen seven sets of the soft compound tyres.

The track was resurfaced in 2018 and the surface is less bumpy and abrasive now. The teams are familiar with the track having done eight days of pre-season testing here. The warmer weather conditions this weekend will play a role in tyre performance.

The top three drivers in last season’s race had a one pit stop strategy. The mix of one and two pit stop strategies that the teams will use will make the race interesting.

Credit: Pirelli Media

What should we look out for this year?

The Spanish Grand Prix has been a favourite hunting ground for the Mercedes team. A Mercedes driver has been on pole in all five years of the hybrid-engine era. The Brackley-based team has won four of the last five races here.

In 2016, Hamilton and Nico Rosberg started on the first row and made contact that ended both their races. It gave Verstappen the chance to score the first Grand Prix win of his career.

In 2018, the Mercedes drivers finished 1-2 in the qualification and race. Could the team clinch their fifth straight 1-2 finish of the season this weekend? Not if Ferrari have anything to do with it.

Ferrari has decided to bring new engine updates to this race earlier than scheduled. The Italian team has to turn their season around quickly as they already have a 74-pont deficit to their arch-rivals Mercedes in the constructors’ championship. The team returns to the track on which they performed well in winter testing.

Red Bull Racing has performed well at this venue with a podium finish in each of the last three races. All the teams traditionally bring the first major updates of the season to this first race of the European-leg of the season.

McLaren is in fourth position in the constructors’ championship after the double-points finish in Azerbaijan. The midfield is tightly packed with just a ten point difference separating the teams from fourth to eighth position.

Renault and the Haas F1 team have struggled in recent races. Both teams will hope that the updates they bring to Barcelona with turn their season around.

Bottas (87 points) is now leading team-mate Hamilton by a solitary point in the drivers’ championship. The Finn has had a strong start to the season. His performance against Hamilton at a strong track for the British driver will be watched with interest.

Vettel (52 points) and Leclerc (47 points) are in third and firth position respectively. That Verstappen (51 points) sits between the Ferrari drivers in the driver’ championship is a measure of his strong performance in the first four races.

The battle between the top 3 teams from this race onwards will shape the outcome of both the drivers’ and constructors’ championship for the season.

What’s the schedule?

Friday 10 May

09:00 GMT / 11:00 Local Time – Free Practice One
13:00 GMT / 15:00 Local Time – Free Practice Two

Saturday 11 May

10:00 GMT / 12:00 Local Time – Free Practice Three
13:00 GMT / 15:00 Local Time – Qualifying

Sunday 12 May

13:10 GMT / 15:10 Local Time – Race

How can I keep up with the action?

Follow all the action at the Checkered Flag with our extensive coverage, quotes and analysis of every session of the Spanish Grand Prix.

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