F1 2018: Spanish Grand Prix track preview & strategy
After the mayhem in Baku, all eyes turn to the first date on the European calendar as the Circuit de Barcelona takes the baton. Neil Morris previews the track & strategy.
(Photo credit: Jcorengo)
Amplifiers were turned up to 11, instruments were smashed to pieces, and the crowd were left in a daze. No, this wasn’t Woodstock 1969, this was the 2018 Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
But as the Baku Street Circuit drops the mic and walks nonchalantly off the stage, we ask: How does one of the veteran performers on the tour follow an act like that? Over to you, Circuit de Barcelona.
The spectacle that unfolded on the Baku Street Circuit was incredible, and it would be unfair to expect the Spanish Grand Prix to even provide half the thrills and spills. But the event has produced classic races in the past across five different circuits.
A circuit full of surprises
In 2012, Pastor Maldonado notched up his only pole position and career victory when he crossed the line three seconds ahead of the local favourite Fernando Alonso. What more proof do you need that anything can happen in Barcelona?
Ferrari have won seven times in Catalonia while 17 drivers representing 10 nationalities have stood on the top of the podium. At 730m (0.454 miles), the track features the longest run to Turn One of any track on the calendar.
Balance is key
The first two sectors of the circuit are the quickest and the drivers will carry a lot of speed into the right-handers at Turns Three and Nine. As the track progresses into sector three the pace slows right down so the tyre temperature fluctuates a lot.
Turn One is tricky and drivers approaching at an optimum pace will use the inside kerb to avoid under-steering and losing track position into the left-hander at Turn Two. The pace is steady between there and the sharp left-hander at Turn Five before being picked up again and carried through the rest of the sector.
Turn Ten marks the start of the third sector where six fairly tight corners keep the drivers on their toes as they look to get a clean and fast exit from Turn 16.
Despite some fast sections on the track, the best lap times are achieved when maximum downforce is applied. This helps the best drivers to carry speed through the corners and to push through the twisty bits.
Brake wear is fairly high with eight of the 16 turns classed as braking zones, the biggest two being Turns One and Ten.
Improved surface for 2018
The nature of the track requires good tyre management in terms of temperature and wear. The left side will take a good pounding in the early part of the lap but all four tyres need to be working well to pick up time in the slow final sector.
The surface has a reputation for being coarse after years of deterioration but some resurfacing works should make things smoother this time round. The increased grip levels will raise the stress on the rubber but thinner treads from Pirelli should keep rear tyre temperatures down.
Softer tyres emphasise strategy
Historically, the hardest compounds have been utilised in Barcelona. However, this year, Pirelli have selected a softer range of tyres which could completely change the dynamic of the race. Especially considering the 2018 options are already softer than their equivalents from last season.
Those drivers who can manage degradation on the thinner options will put in longer stints so we should see another intriguing battle with teams opting for different strategies. Any midfielders who get their car set up right and choose the optimum strategy could get amongst the big three this weekend.
After the drama in Baku, can Catalonia provide yet more thrills for F1 fans? Share your views below.