Preview: Spanish GP

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F1 Grand Prix, GP Spain, Circuit de Catalunyaes

Circuit de Catalunya will play host to this weekend's Spanish GP and marks the beginning of a string of European races on the F1 calendar. Traditionally, it also marks a considerable number of car updates, and this year will not be any different.

The Spanish circuit is the one that teams know best as it has been on the calendar for many years, and it hosted many winter testing sessions. It is also a particularly good performance indicator for the chassis with teams using winter testing data from this test as a basis for development throughout the early part of the season.

One common unknown factor however is Pirelli's new hard tyre which is closer to the 2012 specification, and hence harder than the previous 2013 hard tyre specification. Several sources have already indicated that teams know very little about this new tyre, with FP1 the first chance for them to actually test them on track. In addition, Pirelli will also supply a special extra hard prototype tyre, designed specifically to last longer and to promote more running in Friday practice.

Also new for teams is the double DRS zone at this track, with previously only the pit straight to be available for DRS. In recent years however, even with DRS it proved particularly difficult to overtake someone, partly due to the high speed Turn 16 and the high entry speed into Turn 1. To help resolve this, an additional zone was added between Turn 9 (Campsa) and Turn 10 (Caixa).

Track highlights

Turns 1 & 2 A quick part of the circuit with swift change of direction. Good pace exiting Turn 2 is important before setting a good line heading into the very quick Turn 3. The approach to Turn 1 is one of the few corners on the track where overtaking is possible

Turns 3 & 4 The high speed Turn 3 and tighter Turn 4 put a lot of stress through the tyres, especially the front left.

Turn 5 Braking downhill into this corner makes it very easy to lock the inside front tyres as the road falls away from the car.

Turn 10 The slowest corner on the track; taken in first or second gear on high fuel before a wide exit into Turn 11 which is taken flat out. Turn 10 is a good tests of the car’s traction.

Turns 14 & 15 A more technical part of the track with some big kerbs, which drivers are advised to avoid as the cars are generally not set up to use these kerbs. It's also a particular challenge for the engine engineers with the right amount of torque needed, not only at the entry of the corner but in the midpoint of the chicane. In fact the driver will just blip the throttle between the entry and the exit of the chicane as he changes direction. Even if he is only on the power for a millisecond balancing the car on this knife edge is critical to keep the car balanced, minimize wheelspin and ultimately gain lap time.

Turn 16 It is essential to have a good car through Turn 16 to maximise your run down the long straight. In qualifying it’s pretty much taken flat out, but with high fuel and a bit of tyre degradation it becomes a little trickier. The pit straight is the longest full throttle section of this track. This length gives the opportunity for a fully charged KERS to be deployed twice as the KERS energy counter resets on the start/finish line. While a double KERS release in the race is useful to overtake, it puts a lot of stress on the KERS cooling system.

Car setup

Front Wing Sufficient front wing is needed to eliminate understeer through the first and final turns.

Rear Wing Similar levels of downforce are required to Bahrain, which itself runs a little bit higher than Shanghai. A reasonably long straight means an effective DRS system helps, despite the straight not being nearly as long as that seen in China.

Suspension It’s a track we know well from testing, but the main difference for the race is that track temperatures are much higher, meaning the tyres will work differently. Setups used in winter testing to make the tyres warm up faster will not be needed. There is no particular kerb usage meaning the car can run lower than otherwise. Turn 16 is the essential corner; if you have a good car through here it will maximise your run down the long straight. In qualifying it’s pretty much flat out but with high fuel and a bit of tyre degradation it becomes a little trickier.

Brakes There are no real issues at all with braking here. The demands are not particularly heavy and we know what to expect having tested here earlier in the year. It will be a case of tuning our front and rear ducts to achieve the correct temperatures for best braking performance, with no particular concerns over wear.

Engine Good driveability from the engine is needed, particularly through the lower speed corners in the second half of the lap.

Tyres Pirelli’s P Zero white medium and orange hard tyres will be nominated. Barcelona can be tough on tyres due to the circuit layout and track surface abrasion, while the long, fast Turn 3 puts a particularly heavy load on the front left tyre. Turn 5 can present a risk of locking the front tyres through a combination of braking and turning into the corner as the road falls away from the car.

Quick facts

Number of Laps: 66
Lap Distance: 4.655km
Start line/finish line offset: 0.126km
Total race distance: 307.104km
Pitlane speed limits: 60km/h in practice and qualifying. 100km/h during the race
Circuit Direction: Clockwise
Top Speed: 318 km/h
Average Speed: 200 km/h
Average Corner Speed: 130 km/h
Longest Straight: 1100 m
Typical Strategy: 3 stop race
Safety Cars (1 or more): 36% chance
Lap record: 1:21.670 (Kimi Räikkönen, Ferrari, 2008)

Fuel Consumption: 2.1kg/lap
Fuel Laptime Penalty: 0.3s/10kg
Full Throttle: 56% of lap