The battle continues in Barcelona

The battle continues in Barcelona

The Circuit de Catalunya, north of Barcelona, was purpose built as an international racing location and finished in time for the 1991 Formula One Grand Prix. While the track has been home to the Spanish Grand Prix ever since, the event had an ...

The Circuit de Catalunya, north of Barcelona, was purpose built as an international racing location and finished in time for the 1991 Formula One Grand Prix. While the track has been home to the Spanish Grand Prix ever since, the event had an erratic history in Spain prior to the construction of the modern facility.

Playa de Catalunya.
Photo by Brousseau Photo.
Racing in Catalonia dates back to the turn of last century. The Copa Catalunya was run in 1908 on a 17 mile circuit of public roads but competition was sporadic and hosted by different venues until an oval track was built at Stiges in 1923. Racing lapsed again after a few years and the circuit fell into disrepair.

In the early 1930s a track was laid out at Montjuich Park, overlooking Barcelona, but the Spanish Civil war meant racing fell by the wayside. It wasn't until 1946, on a road-course track known as Pedralbes, through Barcelona, that competition started again. In 1951 Pedralbes hosted Spain's first Formula One world championship event, which was won Juan-Manuel Fangio for Alfa Romeo.

The Le Mans tragedy in 1955, in which many spectators were killed when a car crashed into the crowd, saw Pedrables, like may other racing events at the time, fade into obscurity. In 1966 the Montjuich Park track was reinstated but the construction of the new Jarama circuit near Madrid saw F1 move there for the 1968 race, although Montjuich Park hosted it for the next few years.

In 1975, tragedy struck at the Grand Prix. Some drivers had protested about the poor safety conditions because the barriers were badly constructed. During the race Rolf Stommelen's Hill-Ford crashed and went over the barrier, killing four spectators. That was the end of Montjuich Park. It wasn't until 1986 that the Catalan parliament voted to build a new circuit near Barcelona and the Circuit de Catalunya was the result.

Nigel Mansell was the first winner at the new venue; Mika Hakkinen won there three times and Michael Schumacher has won four times, including the last two years.

Being quite modern, the circuit is fairly technical but overly familiar to drivers who spend much time testing there. The other side of that coin is that teams can usually get the cars set-up well and the racing can be quite close. It has a few overtaking possibilities, notably the first corner after the start/finish straight. Corners are medium to high speed and downforce tends to be high despite the long pit straight.

The Catalunya paddock.
Photo by Brousseau Photo.
The track surface is quite abrasive so tyre wear is a major consideration. Most teams will probably opt for a mid-to-hard compound and dry weather tyres -- conditions in Spain are generally mild, although obviously the weather can't be guaranteed.

Last year Minardi withdrew both its cars from the race after they suffered rear wing failures in practice and in the warm-up. Rubens Barrichello's Ferrari failed to start but team-mate Michael Schumacher had a trouble free time to take the victory. McLaren's Kimi Raikkonen caught Minardi's problem, his rear wing flying off during the race, and Jordan suffered a double retirement.

The other notable incident was Juan Pablo Montoya running over his chief mechanic in a pit stop. It was not Montoya's fault, the mechanic lifting the lollipop too soon then sticking his foot out in an irrational bid to stop the car. Schumacher won from Montoya and David Coulthard.

Ferrari and Schumacher's win at the last race in San Marino showed the team is certainly not struggling as much as some would make out. The big news for Spain is the debut of the F2003-GA, which has reportedly overcome its reliability issues and is faster than the F2002 by half a second. Ominous news.

Given the competitiveness of the MP4-17D, McLaren is understandably not rushing to bring its own new car out. However, a lot will depend on the performance of the new Ferrari as to when we see the MP4-18 hit the track. Ron Dennis says not until at least the British GP in July, but we will see.

Williams was erratic at Imola, Renault less in the action than it has been but still front runners. The top four teams will again be where the battle is mostly fought. A lot of people are waiting for Jaguar's Mark Webber to consolidate his great qualifying efforts into a decent race result, which could come this weekend. How team-mate Antonio Pizzonia's uncertain future will pan out is yet to be seen -- despite denials all round, it's possible it will be Pizzonia's last race.

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Juan Pablo Montoya
Teams Ferrari , McLaren , Williams , Minardi , Jordan