How different is the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya in the fastest cars F1 has ever seen? We asked the Red Bull Racing star.
THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM
Ask any Formula One driver to draw you a map of the circuit they can recall with the greatest accuracy, and there’s a fair chance the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya will appear in front of you.
Why? Most F1 drivers have spent more time lapping the Spanish circuit than any other, mostly because of its use as a pre-season testing venue of choice in the northern hemisphere winter while the rest of Europe shivers in February. Every corner, every straight, every camber change – F1 drivers have this track down-pat. Or at least they did, until this season.
Wider cars with more downforce and bigger, grippier tyres greeted the F1 pilots when they arrived in Barcelona for pre-season testing three months ago, and for those drivers who have been pounding around the Spanish track for years, it was quite an eye-opener. When the rule changes for 2017 were announced in 2015, Nico Rosberg set pole for the Spanish GP with a lap of 1min 24.681secs. This year, in pre-season testing, Kimi Raikkonen’s Ferrari set the benchmark of 1:18.635, a whopping six seconds faster than just two years ago.
For the drivers, 2017 has meant recalibrating their brains for the fastest cars F1 has ever produced. At all four races so far this year – Australia, China, Bahrain and Russia – the pole position times have smashed the overall circuit lap records, some of which had stood for 13 years.
This weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix is the first time the drivers arrive at a track knowing exactly what to expect from this new generation of cars, and for Red Bull Racing’s Daniel Ricciardo, it’s a chance to test his memory on what he learned back in February. “They’re a lot different to drive anywhere compared to last year’s cars,” he says, “but this time, we know what we’re getting ourselves into.”
Which sections of the 4.655km track below are a game-changer compared to last year? Our affable Aussie highlights four bits below to keep an eye on when you’re watching round five of the season this weekend.
As Ricciardo highlighted earlier this year, the revered Turn 3 at Barcelona has gone from being a 220km/h corner last year – no walk in the park – to an eye-watering flat-out 255km/h right-hander that places massive strain on the drivers’ necks. “It’s a big jump, not a gradual one,” he says.
What’s more, Turn 2, the sharp left-hander that sets up the long run into 3, has become a challenge in its own right.
“Turn 2, I think there were a few laps in winter testing where it was full-throttle,” Ricciardo grins.
“If you set a lap up good and stayed tight on the exit, you could do Turn 2 AND Turn 3 full, so that was a big difference – and very cool!”
There was nothing particularly special about this corner in the past, other than seeing how much of the inside kerb the drivers would dare to take as they strained to save valuable milliseconds in qualifying. In 2017-spec F1 machinery? Ricciardo’s verdict: “sweet”.
“Turn 7, the little left-hand flick, that was a lot quicker in these cars than I can ever remember it,” he says.
“That’s only ever been a fourth-gear corner, and now it’s fifth gear. So, intense!”
Along with Turn 3, this is the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya’s signature corner. The right-hander comes at you over a crest, meaning the car feels light as the drivers are stomping on the loud pedal to blast down the back straight. Attempting to keep your foot buried in the throttle for this turn in testing became a game within a game for the drivers, and we saw several spinners as the tyres simply couldn’t cope with the entry speed.
“With Turn 9, the right-hander into the back straight, if we get a headwind there this weekend, we could take that one full (throttle) as well,” Ricciardo says.
“(Teammate) Max (Verstappen) tried it in testing but ran out of road and had to lift out of it. But in these cars, this one is super-quick.”
Barcelona doesn’t quite save the best for last, but it’s not far off. While the last section of the lap isn’t the flat-out blast that it once was before the current configuration of corners were brought in before 2007, it’s still a challenge – although Ricciardo admits to considering what it would be like with the former layout.
“With these new cars, it makes me wonder about the last sequence of corners where we can see the track that MotoGP has used and F1 used to with the two high-speed right-handers,” he says.
“I never got to drive those with the old layout by the time I came into F1, but in these cars – wow! The track is always physical anyway, but that would have made it something else for your neck. Brutal.”
As it is, the new cars have added a physical element to what had become a corner that was only occasionally a challenge.
“The very last corner has been full with very low fuel in the past, but on high fuel and when the tyres wear, that’s been pretty tricky,” he says.
“But the grip and downforce now is so good that in testing this year on our long runs, that was still easily flat.”