The European curtain-raiser of the 2007 Formula One World Championship has the added attraction of being a kind of second start to the season. Barcelona offers the F1 teams the first opportunity of the year to roll out their stylish yet practical motorhomes, meaning that they no longer have to live out of containers. The first race back in the old continent invariably draws huge crowds. The organisers are reporting a full house and expect 145,000 spectators for the race.
Meanwhile, the BMW Sauber F1 Team is doing its bit to bring the Formula One feeling from the race track – located outside Barcelona – into the centre of the Catalan capital. On its latest stop-off, the Pit Lane Park is taking shape in the city's portside area within eyeshot of the Columbus Monument.
The BMW Sauber F1 Team has just completed four days of testing at the Circuit de Catalunya with race drivers Nick Heidfeld and Robert Kubica. After establishing itself as the third-strongest outfit on the grid in the first three grands prix of the year, the team is looking to defend its position in Europe.
Nick Heidfeld: "I've been on the move a lot during the break since Bahrain – in Leipzig, Munich and Hinwil, in Monza for filming work, at the Nürburgring Nordschleife and in Barcelona for the test. At the Nürburgring I did my inspection lap in a Formula BMW car. It was a funny feeling getting back into a junior racing car, but there's no comparison between this car and the single-seaters I started out in. I'll be at the wheel of the Formula BMW car once again on the Wednesday before the Barcelona race, this time in Valencia as part of a three-pronged sporting challenge with yachtsman Tony Kolb and golf pro José Manuel Lara.
"Taking a Formula One racer out on the Nordschleife was an extraordinary experience. I very much enjoy driving the car in unusual surroundings – I took it for a spin on the ice of St Moritz and now I've put in a few laps at the ‘Green Hell' as well. We'll have to wait and see if there's more to come.
"Of course, all the teams have used the time leading up to the first race of the European season for development work. The test in Barcelona was also important, although the weather was pretty poor. The extensive testing carried out here means that all the drivers know the track like the back of their hand. It's a fast circuit and has some nice corners. The fact that this is now the home GP for the world champion has made it much more attractive. Additional grandstands were built for the 2006 race, and they filled up as well. Racing in this kind of atmosphere is great for all the drivers, not only Fernando. The track layout has been modified – the new section is less exciting, but safer. Now I'm hoping for another good result for my 30th birthday!"
Robert Kubica: "I'm looking forward to getting started in Europe again and am aiming to earn myself a few more points in the coming weeks. Like all the Formula One teams we know the Barcelona track very well thanks to all the testing we do here. However, the circuit has been changed since last year. The last two corners are not as fast as they used to be, and that will affect car set-up. We have done some more testing in Barcelona in the lead-up to this year's race. Here, it was important to go the right way and find the ideal balance for the car. We have a lot of data at our disposal and I think we can be quick from the start.
"I like the track, but I'm afraid that the new corners have taken away some of its charm. Fast corners with high downforce are a real treat in a Formula One car. But now the two high-speed corners have been replaced by a tight chicane, where you are only doing 60 or 70 km/h. We used to hit 260 km/h through that part of the track. This change to the track means less fun, but greater safety."
Mario Theissen, BMW Motorsport Director: "Our performances in the first three rounds of the World Championship have given us a very good start to the season and we have used the time since the Bahrain Grand Prix to fit in some intensive development work. Our rivals will certainly have been doing much the same, though, and the burning question is whether the balance of power has shifted as a result. Our aim is very clear – to maintain our position as the third-best team on the grid. The Circuit de Catalunya is a circuit which places a variety of different demands on the cars, and this has often resulted in it being used as a gauge of a team's overall competitiveness.
"The first race back in Europe is also like a second start to the season in another respect. This is the first time in 2007 that the Formula One World Championship will be reeling out its full regalia. The trucks and hospitality facilities certainly look very impressive, but more importantly they also lighten the workload on the teams. And that's something we're all very pleased about.
"As announced, following the overseas races we have been looking closely at the driver line-up for the Friday of the GP weekends. Until further notice, the two race drivers will be on track for the whole of Friday.
"Barcelona will see us offering fans and spectators their second opportunity of the year after Kuala Lumpur to visit the BMW Sauber F1 Team Pit Lane Park. Like last year, this high-tech experience park will be set up in the portside area, near the Ramblas in the centre of Barcelona. The Park is an emotional platform and offers visitors high entertainment value. Nowhere else can the fans enjoy this kind of unobstructed glimpse behind the scenes, reach out and touch real Formula One exhibits and witness an F1 car in spectacular action at close quarters. The Pit Lane Park was given a very good reception in 2006 and attracted over 30,000 people to its 2007 debut in Malaysia last month. I am in no doubt that it will leave a lasting impression with everybody who visits it again this season."