Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Spanish GP preview

The Spanish Grand Prix at Barcelona next weekend, fourth round of the 2007 Formula 1 World Championship, is the home Grand Prix for Vodafone McLaren Mercedes driver Fernando Alonso, who leads the Drivers' ranking with 22 points. His team mate Lewis Hamilton is level on points and third overall. Kimi Raikkonen is second, also with 22 points. Prior to the start of the European season, Vodafone McLaren Mercedes leads the Constructors' table with 44 points ahead of Ferrari with 39 points.


How has the track been modified prior to the race this year?

The main change to the layout of the Circuit de Catalunya is to the final two corners at the end of the lap. The two very quick bends have been replaced with a chicane that flicks left then right. Primarily for safety purposes, the modification is designed to encourage more overtaking at the event with drivers being able to follow the car ahead more closely as they sweep onto the long, fast straight. This should allow for better slipstreaming and therefore overtaking opportunities into the first corner.

What are the key differences for the team to race in Europe rather than fly-away destinations?

The proximity of races in Europe to the McLaren Technology Centre and Mercedes-Benz HighPerformanceEngines allows the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team to depart for the Grands Prix later than for flyaway races. This allows for the unrelenting development process that takes place within the team to continue to have an impact in the days directly leading into a race weekend. It also means that team personnel depart for the event closer to the weekend, which is welcome following the recent spell of over five weeks away from home. In addition, at the European races the team also operates from its bespoke trackside facilities, both from a technical and hospitality perspective. The Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team takes its racing equipment to each Grand Prix in 15 Mercedes-Benz Actros race transporters, including seven for the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes Communications Centre, with three of the vehicles remaining in the paddock as office space and support facilities. The equipment comprises 30 tons including the three race cars. Vodafone McLaren Mercedes travels to the European Grands Prix with 135 team members. This is 40 people more than at flyaway races.

How does wind affect the performance of Formula 1 cars at the Circuit de Catalunya?

The Circuit de Catalunya is famed for having a changeable nature. This can lead to a challenge with the set-up of the cars. A configuration that proved to be quick during the morning will not necessarily work to the same level that afternoon. This can range from the wind along the main straight affecting the aero efficiency or the temperature changing having a significant impact on grip levels.


Fernando Alonso
"As my home race, the Spanish Grand Prix is massively important to me. The support I receive from the crowd all weekend is immense and it really does give me extra motivation to have a great race for them. However, there is no more pressure on me or more focus from me, when I am in the car it is the same as any track, but it is my home and it is only natural to want to win. The race in Bahrain was not great for me, but I have arrived in Spain leading the World Championship and that is a good position to be in going into the European season. We had a strong test at this track earlier this week and we got to understand more about how the car performs at the Circuit de Catalunya and the changes to the layout. Although I have always really enjoyed the final two corners and their speed, the new chicane at the end of the track will hopefully lead to more overtaking during the race, which is great for the spectators."

Lewis Hamilton
"It seems to have been a very long time since we last raced, and I cannot wait to get back in my car and back to the action. There has not been any relaxing on our part though, when I returned to the UK I had a couple of days before returning to the McLaren Technology Centre to work with the team on the development programme. This break has also given us the opportunity to get some serious physical training in. During the races, it is more about maintaining fitness levels, when we have a couple of weeks we can really focus on improvements in performance. The Barcelona track is great to race on, it will be interesting to see how the new chicane affects this. I enjoyed the GP2 weekend last year, where I achieved a second and fourth place, and am looking forward to fighting for more points for myself and the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team."


Ralf Schumacher (Car 11): “Bahrain was disappointing for me but we had a productive test in Barcelona last week so I am expecting a better result at this race. We all know the Circuit de Catalunya very well from testing but this will be the first time we have raced on the new lay-out after the chicane was added to replace the penultimate corner. It is certainly better from a safety point of view but it has made it quite tricky to drive. We have made some aerodynamic changes to our car since the last race and, after a positive test at Barcelona, I am confident we will see an improvement in our performance this weekend. We will have to wait and see how much we have moved forward but my goal is to get back among the points after two disappointing races.”

Jarno Trulli (Car 12):
“I had a great race in Bahrain to finish seventh so I am going to the Spanish Grand Prix in a good mood. It was a difficult race for me but I was very pleased with my performance. However, we saw in Bahrain that we need to work on a few things if we are to compete with the fastest cars. We will have an updated car for this race and in testing that seemed to be a good step forward. Obviously everyone else is likely to have improvements on the car but I hope we can make a performance gain. We tested at Barcelona last week and that should help us when it comes to finding a set-up, especially now the lay-out has changed. My most recent podium finish was in Spain two years ago – I don’t know if we can repeat that result but I am certainly hoping for more points.”

JENSON BUTTON "The fact that we test here so much makes the Grand Prix weekend feel very familiar and of course we know the track inside out. The key to a really quick lap at the Circuit de Catalunya is having a car with good downforce; you need to feel confident when you commit to the very high speed corners. Overtaking can be a real challenge here and one of the best opportunities is going into the first corner after the start. You can squeeze by there once the race has settled down but it is very difficult. The new chicane can also be tricky as it is extremely slippery and so very slow. One little mistake could cost you a lot of time there. It’s also slowed the approach to the old final corner which was a great challenge. ”


“The Circuit de Catalunya is almost like a home circuit now because the F1 teams conduct most of their European testing there and like all of the drivers, I know the track like the back of my hand. A lap around here feels something like this:

When you exit the fast right-hand turn thirteen onto the long main straight for the start of the lap, the engine noise echoes through the vast and towering grandstands which gives a feeling of real exhilaration, I love that noise!

Then it’s downhill towards turn one where you brake hard down to second gear from 310kph, throwing the car hard right, then left and straight into turn two. Then you accelerate hard into the long right-hand turn three which can be taken at full throttle with the grip of new tyres.

For the short drag down to turn four, you are back up to 300kph, then into the slow right-hander taken in second gear from where the track falls downhill into the hairpin left of turn five. Here you have to be careful not to lock your wheels on the undulating track.

Accelerating hard once again towards the medium-speed left-hand turn six, running hard over the kerb as we push uphill to the fast right-hander turn seven which leads on to the back straight. Again you are again at over 300kph approaching turn eight, braking hard down to second gear and negotiating the slippery new track surface through the right-hander. Then it’s into the long right-hand turn nine which is taken in second gear.

After a short straight, there is now a new complex of right-left-right turns, which in contrast to the old fast right-hander that it replaces seems so slow. Exiting the last of this series, being careful not to hit the high kerbs, you accelerate hard to the fast right-hand turn thirteen and back on the pit straight to enjoy those amazing grandstand acoustics once again.


No of Laps: 66 laps
Circuit Length: 4.655 km
Race Distance: 307.104 km

Built as part of Barcelona’s Olympic development programme, the Circuit de Catalunya is located 20km north of the Calatan capital on land purchased by the Real Automóvil Club de Catalunya. It was finished in time for the 1991 Spanish Grand Prix and has hosted the race ever since.

Former Minardi driver Luis Perez Sala advised on the layout of the track and it follows the principles of many modern circuits with a long straight and a number of high-speed corners, making the aerodynamic efficiency of cars particularly important. The nature of the track is such that it “loads” the left front corner of a car particularly heavily, causing understeer problems. The circuit was modified at the start of this year for safety reasons with a new chicane replacing the two very quick corners at the end of the lap.

The Circuit de Catalunya hosts many pre-season tests so it is one of the most familiar venues on the F1 calendar. However, its high-speed nature makes it a physically tough challenge for drivers, although by this stage of the season, they will have reached a good level of race fitness. For the huge amount of spectators who flock to the circuit on race day, it is a well laid-out circuit with easy access and good viewing positions that give a stadium-style ambience.

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