The Circuit de Catalunya was built in 1991 and hosted its first Grand Prix that same year - it was won by Nigel Mansell. Construction coincided with the Olympic Games scheduled to take place in 1992 when the circuit acted as the start and finish for the road team time trial cycling event.
Because so much testing is done at the circuit, drivers, engineers and mechanics are extremely familiar with it, consequently this has led to criticism that this reduces the amount of on-track action.
When first used, overtaking was frequent as cars could follow closely through the last two corners and slipstream down the long pit straight. As aerodynamic balance became more critical, this drastically decreased as cars were unable to follow each other through the fast final corner due to turbulence. Consequently, in 2007 the first of the two final corners was replaced with a slow chicane in an effort to improve overtaking, however, it has yet to have a significant effect.
The circuit has been the site of some memorable moments. In 1991, Ayrton Senna and Nigel Mansell raced down the entire pit straight side-by-side while duelling for second place, with Mansell eventually taking the position and ultimately the race itself. In 1994, Michael Schumacher managed to finish in second place despite driving over half the race with only fifth gear. In 1996, the German took his first win as a Ferrari driver, after a dominant performance during a torrential rainstorm.
he 1999 race was notable as there was only one reported overtaking move during the entire Grand Prix. In 2001, Mika Hakkinen suffered a clutch failure on the last lap whilst leading, thereby handing the win to Schumacher. At the 2006 event, Fernando Alonso became the first Spanish Formula One driver to win at his home country's track.
The wind direction at the circuit can change drastically during the course of the day, a significant factor given the importance of aerodynamics to modern Formula One cars. Consequently, it is hard to find a good set-up since cars can have massive aerodynamic drag and understeer on one part of the circuit in the morning, but suffer oversteer at the same part of the circuit in the afternoon. A given tyre compound can work well when tested, but not so well a couple of months later. These changeable conditions can make for unexpected performances from some teams during races.
The Circuit de Catalunya plays host to many other racing series, including MotoGP. However, the chicane which was put in the penultimate turn for F1 does not play a part in the track layout for Moto GP.
The end of the long pit straight is a quick part of the circuit with swift change of direction. Good pace exiting Turn 2 is important before setting a good line heading into the very quick Turn 3. The approach to Turn 1 is one of the few corners on the track where overtaking is possible.
The high speed Turn 3 and tighter Turn 4 put a lot of stress through the tyres, especially the front left.
Braking downhill into Turn 5 makes it very easy to lock the inside front tyres as the road falls away from the car, while Turns 7 & 8 are a challenging uphill sequence.
The slowest corner on the track, Turn 10 is taken in first or second gear on high fuel before a wide exit into Turn 11 which is taken flat out. Turn 10 is a good tests of the car's traction.
Turns 14 & 15 comprise a more technical part of the track with some big kerbs, which drivers are advised to avoid. The car is not set-up to use these kerbs.
It is essential to have a good car through Turn 16 to maximise your run down the long straight. In qualifying it's pretty much taken flat out, but with high fuel and a bit of tyre degradation it becomes a little trickier.