Formula One returns to its European heartland for Round 5 of what is shaping into a vintage season: six champions on the grid, four winners from four races, and a double-podium for Lotus last time out.
A city with its finger firmly on the pulse, Barcelona has always embraced bold design and all things new. So it’s fitting the Catalan capital should be the catwalk for F1’s cross-team major 2012 aero upgrades.
Remember that iconic image of Nigel Mansell and Ayrton Senna racing down a straight, wheel-to-wheel, sparks flying from behind as the cars grazed the tarmac? That photograph, emblazoned on millions of pre-teen boys birthday cards, was shot right here at the Circuit de Catalunya.
And, in case you’re interested, it was Senna who chickened out.
With long straights and a variety of corners, the Circuit de Catalunya is seen as an ‘all-rounder’ circuit ideally suited to testing, and because of this many drivers are said to be able to drive around it blindfolded.
This means that competition is particularly tight, and mistakes are costly.
The lap starts with a straight, dipping down to Turns 1 and 2 – an ‘S’ bend which often sees cars overshoot at the start as they get squeezed by the pack. From here they race through the Turn 3 right-hander foot to the floor, and that really tests the driver’s neck muscles.
Turn 5 is tricky, because the left-front wheel wants to lock under braking, resulting in mid-corner understeer. Then the corner falls away and the car tends to oversteer. The track rises sharply from Turn 7 to Campsa, the highest point of the circuit, which has a blind entry at high speed. The corner at the bottom end of the back straight is tight and it’s very important to judge the car’s braking carefully. The exit is slow and uphill, often resulting in some wheelspin so the driver’s right foot needs to be gentle. The final corner has had a chicane installed, ridding us of a previously sweeping double right-hander.
Because the circuit’s layout is so varied, the right aero balance is critical for a good laptime.
Kimi Raikkonen has won here twice before, with McLaren in 2005 and Ferrari in 2008. Romain Grosjean won the GP2 feature race here in 2009. Both drivers and the team are feeling confident going into the weekend.
Kimi Raikkonen: “I never had any doubts in myself and it is clear we have a good car so in some ways the podium could have come sooner. We had the car already in the first three races to be up there, but we made some small mistakes and it cost us a lot. Barcelona is a challenging circuit - great fun with a good car, but not that great with a not so good car. Usually a car going well in Barcelona, goes well everywhere. I expect Lotus to be very competitive here. It’s going to be very, very close between the top teams. This is the only circuit where the teams have already tested with the new cars, and the set up is crucial as the track changes with the wind and temperature. All the teams have updates for the first European race, which makes it even more interesting and even tighter at the top.”
Romain Grosjean: “In the test we attended we were P1 after the four days so hopefully we will be there again! Every team is working very hard to develop their cars. We have a good understanding of the E20 after the Mugello test and we hope to bring some new parts to Spain too. It’s always a battle to keep ahead in the race to get faster. As we have seen this season, the competition is very close, and a small improvement can make a huge difference. In Barcelona it will be important to qualify well, and it will be much harder to overtake than Bahrain. Qualifying is an area where we can still improve a little bit ourselves, we have some ideas of how to improve, and hopefully we’ll get on to the front row.”
Local start time: 14h00
Number of laps: 66
Circuit length: 4.655km
Race distance: 307.104km
Lap record: Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari, 2008), 1:21.670
“Like a jewel in the sun” was how Freddie Mercury described this city, which rose to international prominence when it hosted the 1992 Olympics. The event was a shot in the arm for post-Gaudi architecture and since then the Catalan capital has figured it’s capable of anything it sets its mind to.
For traditional Spanish food, try 4 Gats. Picasso was a regular in this century-old bar and once designed its menu. And although the current menu was designed on an Apple Mac they didn’t bother translating it into English. So you might need a dictionary handy. The food is good – try the Crema Catalana, a custard-based dessert very similar to crème brulée.
The Carpe Diem Lounge Club, or ‘CDLC’ as it’s known to taxi drivers, is one of those see-and-be-seen places, although in the last couple of years it’s drawn a more mainstream crowd. Come with a group of friends and reserve a ‘bed’, for the lounge spaces are covered in thin white mattresses where you can curl up with a bottle of Absolut. The place is owned by former Barcelona and Netherlands striker Patrick Kluivert.
Designed for the serious clubber, Razzmatazz is humungous and the most popular club in town. Spread over three floors are five rooms – individual clubs – that each play different music. The club can take over 2,000 people so, if you’re of a claustrophobic disposition, you’ll be relieved there’s an open air terrace where you can get some fresh air.
Of course, if culture is more your thing you’ll be in search of Barcelona’s most famous landmark. You think it’s bad when you get the builders in for a week to fit a kitchen, and two months later they’re still at it. Well, have sympathy for the good people of this city who had work commence on this magnificent art nouveau cathedral in 1882 and it’s still not finished. Tea breaks ensure the job won’t be completed before (sucking air between one’s teeth) 2026. It was, of course, designed by the masterful Antoni Gaudí, who said before his death in 1926: “My client is not in a hurry.”