"Barcelona follows the first three-week gap of the season after a near constant testing and racing itinerary since late January. For our trackside personnel in particular, it’s offered some respite and a chance to recharge the batteries for what is going to be a long year with the in-season tests also now on the calendar. The break in on-track action also presents an opportunity to work on the cars and to bring more new parts to the next event than you would see during back-to-back race weekends. Aside from being the first European race of the season, Barcelona is classically seen as the first big milestone for upgrades from the teams and we can expect to see quite a range of developments throughout the pit lane. The circuit itself is highly demanding on the cars: arguably requiring the best combination of power, handling and aerodynamics seen during the entire season. It’s often said that a car which performs well in Barcelona will be a great car for the season, so we’re looking forward to seeing where we stand relative to the competition. There has been no sense of complacency or backing off just because our car has shown strong performance in the opening few races. The objective is to not only match, but to better the development rate of our rivals and to build on our lead in both Championships."
Barcelona: On the Pit Wall
With the exception of Melbourne, itself different by nature of being a street circuit, the season so far has consisted of some of the more modern circuit designs. These tend to reveal more specific areas of car performance rather than a complete package. Barcelona, by contrast, is very much a more traditional style of race track. Not only is the circuit well-known amongst the teams, it also provides a good reference to how the performance of a car compares to its competitors. It is a true test of a car, requiring a balance of strong aerodynamic, engine and mechanical performance.
Barcelona is one of the major performance upgrade events of the season. Part of the reasoning behind this is that, for flyaway races such as the first four rounds, bringing bulky packages such as floors, bodywork sets and wings is both difficult and expensive. Obviously, every team wants to be as competitive as possible at all times. But there is a balance to find in terms of cost versus performance. Barcelona, therefore, is where we will see teams bringing major package upgrades: fundamental re-workings of their cars as opposed to just individual developments. Where some cars were quite closely matched in performance prior to this race, the first European round of the season will likely see small shifts in performance: moving some teams slightly ahead of others where they perhaps would not have been previously. Furthermore, with four races of the season now complete, rival teams will have had sufficient time to evaluate and attempt to replicate clever design features seen on other cars, be they aerodynamic or mechanical. Combined, these factors are what make Barcelona a significant landmark on the calendar.
The track surface at Barcelona is visibly rippled into Turns One and Ten, the braking zones at the end of each of the main straights. This is a characteristic rarely seen amongst venues on the current calendar and can be attributed to the age of the circuit, as the tarmac has effectively been pulled around over time. This can be felt by the drivers but is also visible from off-board camera footage of certain cars.
Similar, although to a lesser extent, to Turn Eight at the Istanbul circuit, Turn Three at Barcelona is a fantastic, long, sweeping, high-speed corner: rated by drivers as one of the more exhilarating challenges of the year. This is where the base performance of a car really shines through. Good balance, a strong aerodynamic package and manageable levels of tyre degradation are all required to be quick through this corner. With no particular mechanical properties differentiating cars down the straight or through Turns One and Two, Turn Three dominates the opening sector of the lap.
Overtaking has historically been a difficult task at Barcelona and this remains true even with the inclusion of two DRS zones. While there were a notable number of passes made in 2013, this was triggered by significant tyre degradation and a varied range of strategies deployed during the race. Although there are two main straights around the circuit, they are not as long as the last few tracks visited thus far this season. To make a passing manoeuvre stick, the driver must therefore be as close as possible to the car in front exiting the preceding corner. The nature of Turns Nine and Sixteen, the two corners leading onto each straight, makes this a tough task. Both are tricky, high-speed corners where drivers are very much on the edge, making it all too easy for the front end to wash away in the turbulent air of the car in front. Mistakes are often seen as drivers push beyond the limit in an attempt to close the gap through Turn Nine, attempting to pass on the run down to Turn Ten.
Barcelona is one of the tougher circuits of the year in terms of tyre degradation, hence the allocation of hard and medium compounds for this event. Turns Three and Nine, in addition to the Turn Seven and Eight combination, put high amounts of energy through the tyres. The abrasive tarmac seen at Barcelona also tears the surface of the tyres a little bit more than normal. These characteristics combine to generate high tyre temperatures, particularly on the left-hand side. With the relatively short straights on offer around the circuit, there is limited time for the energy and temperature within the tyres to be dissipated. Through the tighter sequence of corners towards the end of the lap in particular, the drivers will feel the effect of the tyres overheating, as the continuous sequence of high energy corners which precedes the final sector offers little respite.
Unlike Melbourne or Shanghai where weather conditions can vary quite significantly from one day to the next, the Barcelona climate tends to remain constant once the weekend is underway. From an engineering perspective this reduces the challenge, as the emphasis on predicting weather patterns for the purpose of optimising cooling packages and tyre preparation is reduced. However, year-on-year temperatures in the region can vary from around 18 to 29 degrees. This presents its own challenge in that, until the teams arrive at the circuit, it can be tough to know what solutions are required to best suit the conditions.