McLaren well-prepared for tricky technical challenge of Barcelona

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F1 Grand Prix, GP Spain, Circuit de Catalunyaes

The Circuit de Catalunya was one of Barcelona’s many building projects during the build-up to the 1992 Olympic Games. It staged the start and finish of the time trial cycling event at the Games, and has been a permanent fixture on the Formula 1 calendar since ’91.

The track’s wide variety of corners make it a severe test of man and machine, which is why it’s a favourite test venue for the teams. Two of the three pre-season tests took place at the Circuit de Catalunya and, between them, Jenson and Lewis have already notched up 3,500km around the track this year.

An abrasive track surface, combined with high cornering speeds, makes the circuit very demanding on tyres. Pirelli are taking their hard and soft compounds to the race, so three pitstops look most likely, but strategies will vary as teams factor in the lack of overtaking opportunities around the lap.

McLaren is the second most successful constructor in the history of the Spanish Grand Prix, the most recent of its eight wins coming in 2005. Jenson has one victory in the race, in 2009, while Lewis Hamilton achieved a best result of second last year.

Jenson Button: “Barcelona can be a funny circuit: we all test there so regularly that every driver knows it like the back of his hand, yet it can still be an extremely tricky place to get absolutely right.

“But, because every team is so dialled in to the track, even having a well-sorted car isn’t necessarily the answer because it’s sometimes the smallest differences that determine the order.

“You need to have absolutely every box ticked if you’re going to win at Barcelona. It’s a place that punishes poor balance like almost nowhere else – if your car is understeering around here, then you’re going to really struggle.

“There are no particularly stand-out corners, but the blast up the hill through Turns Seven and Eight and the fast right-hander at Turn Nine have a great flow and feel great when you nail it – especially in qualifying.”

Lewis Hamilton: “Our performance at Barcelona during winter testing looked promising – but the form of the season is still very hard to read, so it’s difficult to predict who’ll be at the front next weekend.

“Nonetheless, we had a great race there last year – I pushed Sebastian [Vettel] all the way to the finish. I think we have a comparatively stronger car this year, so I hope we can have another strong race.

“It’ll be interesting to see how straightforward overtaking will be this year. It’s always been a tough place for passing – as I found out last year – but I really hope DRS and KERS-Hybrid combined will make it a little easier.

“I think it’s going to be one of the toughest tracks of the year for overtaking, but I’ll be hoping for a strong performance in qualifying in order to make it as straightforward as possible in the race.”

Martin Whitmarsh, Team principal, Vodafone McLaren Mercedes: “I think the drivers and the engineers enjoy the tricky technical challenge of Barcelona’s Circuit de Catalunya. You really operate your set-up on fine limits around here: every team’s balance is so refined that even the slightest imperfections become highlighted. Get it right and you tend to have a serene afternoon, get it wrong and you’ll be hitting trouble, and traffic, throughout the race.

“As we’ve seen in the first four races, added to that mix will be the additional conundrum of managing the tyres – Barcelona should give all the teams a clearer understanding of how the tyres behave in what’s likely to be a ‘typical’ European race climate. But there will still be plenty to learn.

“I sometimes think of the Santander Spanish Grand Prix as a useful acid test as to the effectiveness of the year’s regulations: it’s a tough, technical circuit where passing is limited. If the racing is good here, then we’re normally set for an interesting year: for 2012, we’ve already seen that the combination of DRS and KERS-Hybrid can spice up proceedings, so I hope we’re in store for a fun and eventful race next weekend.”