Spanish F1 Grand Prix 2012: Preview (VMM)

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.

Race distance - 66 laps (190.825 miles/307.104km)
Start time -  14:00 (local)/12:00 (GMT)
Circuit length - 2.892 miles/4.655km
2011 winner - Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing) 66 laps in 1hr 39m03.301s (186.020km/h)
2011 pole - Mark Webber (Red Bull Racing) 1m20.981s (206.937km/h)
Lap record - Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari F2008) 1m21.670s (205.121km/h)

McLaren at the Spanish Grand Prix
- Wins: 8 (1975, 1976, 1988, 1989, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2005)
- Poles: 8 (1976, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1998, 1999, 2005)
- Fastest Laps: 7 (1976, 1988, 1989, 1998, 2000, 2010, 2011)

Car 3: Jenson Button

- Age: 32 (January 19 1980)
- GPs: 212
- Wins: 13
- Poles: 7
- FLs: 7

“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.”

Car 4: Lewis Hamilton

- Age: 27 (January 7 1985)
- GPs: 94
- Wins: 17
- Poles: 21
- FLs: 11

“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.”

How McLaren defined nine days in the history of the Spanish Grand Prix

1. April 27 1975
A controversial fourth and final Spanish GP to be held at Montjuich Park in Barcelona. Emerson Fittipaldi refuses to race due to safety concerns, while his McLaren team-mate Jochen Mass scores his first – and what would turn out to be only – F1 victory.

2. May 2 1976
James Hunt’s first win in his world title-winning season. However, this is another contentious race because the stewards at Jarama disqualify James’s M23 for being too wide. McLaren appeal the decision and he is reinstated when it’s proved that the extra width is due to tyre expansion.

3. October 2 1988
Alain Prost beats pole-sitter Ayrton Senna away from the line at Jerez and the Frenchman is at his imperious best all afternoon. He beats second-placed Nigel Mansell by 26s, while Ayrton suffers fuel readout problems and comes home fourth.

4. October 1 1989
An utterly dominant performance from Ayrton at Jerez. He leads from lights-to-flag, beating Gerhard Berger and his team-mate Alain Prost. As a result, the battle for the championship goes on to the penultimate race in Japan…

5. May 10 1998
McLaren’s first win at Barcelona’s Circuit de Catalunya. Mika Hakkinen is utterly dominant: he’s fastest in every practice session and starts from pole position. With his McLaren team-mate David Coulthard following him home, the result is McLaren’s third 1-2 in four races.

6. May 30 1999
Mika dominates the race from pole position to take his second win of the ’99 season. He’s followed home by David and then the two Ferraris of Michael Schumacher and Eddie Irvine.

7. May 7 2000
A third successive one-two for McLaren at the Circuit de Catalunya, and a third victory for Mika. Michael Schumacher runs him close this time, having started from pole, but the Ferrari driver drops back to fifth during the latter stages. David takes second once again.

8. April 29 2001
The one that got away. Mika leads into the final lap, but his Mercedes V10 gives up at Turn 3 on the 65th and final lap and he’s forced to pull off. He’s classified ninth, handing victory to arch-rival Schumacher.

9. May 8 2005
Kimi Raikkonen is in dominant form all weekend. He starts from pole position and is never headed, although a Safety Car after the start gives him plenty of think about. Juan Pablo Montoya finishes seventh in the second MP4-20 in his first race back from injury.

~ Official photo and details courtesy of Vodafone McLaren Mercedes ~

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