This weekend sees the forty third running of a Spanish Grand Prix, the first dating back to the second year of the Formula 1 World Championship in 1951, when it was held at Pedrables. The current venue, the Catalunya circuit, a short drive from Barcelona, has staged the event every year since 1991, but even so, this track is actually the newest circuit on what remains of the European part of the season. It is also the one all the teams know best, because of all the testing that’s taken place here over many years, including most recently, the last two pre-season tests in February and early March. It was very cold back then, in fact it snowed at the penultimate test, so we can expect very different conditions this week.
The aforementioned European part of the season is shorter than ever these days, with a mere seven races taking place on the Old Continent. However, while it is therefore no longer the case that the championship titles are won or lost on this side of the globe, it is still true that this weekend’s race is particularly important. There are a couple of reasons for that: the first is due to the nature of the track itself, which has two relatively fast sectors and a third final tighter one and this combination is particularly good at highlighting weak points in a car’s package, so that a car that goes well around the 4.655 kilometres here, is reckoned to be good on just about all the circuits we will visit over the course of the season. But before you point it out, yes we are aware that Pastor Maldonado won last year and Williams were never quite able to repeat that form again in 2012. The second reason why the trip to Catalunya is eagerly waited by tipsters, pundits and fans is that, after the hectic schedule that saw two sets of two back-to-back “flyaway” races crammed together, teams have been able to pause for breath after Bahrain. Therefore, Spain will see a great number of technical updates on the car and with the next five races coming up in the space of eight weeks, the Iberian inquisition will be a good litmus test of who has made the best use of the time available.
That applies to Scuderia Toro Rosso and we will be keen to make up for some missed points scoring opportunities at the first quartet of races, while also being relieved that Daniel Ricciardo’s very slow pace in Bahrain was quickly traced to a set-up error, rather than a design fault or failure with STR8.
All the teams know what’s required technically at the Catalunya circuit, with the usual compromise in terms of downforce to deal with the high and lower speed sections. The track surface is smooth enough, but is also very abrasive and the corner types give the tyres a hard time: last year, Pirelli brought the Soft and Hard compounds, while this year, it has decided to be more conservative, running the Medium as the Option along with the Hard as the Prime. In fact, Pirelli has used the break to tweak the Hard compound, so that it will be more similar to the 2012 version from now on.