The Spanish Grand Prix at Barcelona next weekend, fourth round of the 2007 Formula 1 World Championship, is the home Grand Prix for Vodafone McLaren Mercedes driver Fernando Alonso, who leads the Drivers' ranking with 22 points. His team mate Lewis Hamilton is level on points and third overall. Kimi Raikkonen is second, also with 22 points. Prior to the start of the European season, Vodafone McLaren Mercedes leads the Constructors' table with 44 points ahead of Ferrari with 39 points.
How has the track been modified prior to the race this year?
The main change to the layout of the Circuit de Catalunya is to the final two corners at the end of the lap. The two very quick bends have been replaced with a chicane that flicks left then right. Primarily for safety purposes, the modification is designed to encourage more overtaking at the event with drivers being able to follow the car ahead more closely as they sweep onto the long, fast straight. This should allow for better slipstreaming and therefore overtaking opportunities into the first corner.
What are the key differences for the team to race in Europe rather than fly-away destinations?
The proximity of races in Europe to the McLaren Technology Centre and Mercedes-Benz HighPerformanceEngines allows the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team to depart for the Grands Prix later than for flyaway races. This allows for the unrelenting development process that takes place within the team to continue to have an impact in the days directly leading into a race weekend. It also means that team personnel depart for the event closer to the weekend, which is welcome following the recent spell of over five weeks away from home. In addition, at the European races the team also operates from its bespoke trackside facilities, both from a technical and hospitality perspective. The Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team takes its racing equipment to each Grand Prix in 15 Mercedes-Benz Actros race transporters, including seven for the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes Communications Centre, with three of the vehicles remaining in the paddock as office space and support facilities. The equipment comprises 30 tons including the three race cars. Vodafone McLaren Mercedes travels to the European Grands Prix with 135 team members. This is 40 people more than at flyaway races.
How does wind affect the performance of Formula 1 cars at the Circuit de Catalunya?
The Circuit de Catalunya is famed for having a changeable nature. This can lead to a challenge with the set-up of the cars. A configuration that proved to be quick during the morning will not necessarily work to the same level that afternoon. This can range from the wind along the main straight affecting the aero efficiency or the temperature changing having a significant impact on grip levels.
Fernando Alonso: "As my home race, the Spanish Grand Prix is massively important to me. The support I receive from the crowd all weekend is immense and it really does give me extra motivation to have a great race for them. However, there is no more pressure on me or more focus from me, when I am in the car it is the same as any track, but it is my home and it is only natural to want to win. The race in Bahrain was not great for me, but I have arrived in Spain leading the World Championship and that is a good position to be in going into the European season. We had a strong test at this track earlier this week and we got to understand more about how the car performs at the Circuit de Catalunya and the changes to the layout. Although I have always really enjoyed the final two corners and their speed, the new chicane at the end of the track will hopefully lead to more overtaking during the race, which is great for the spectators."
Lewis Hamilton: "It seems to have been a very long time since we last raced, and I cannot wait to get back in my car and back to the action. There has not been any relaxing on our part though, when I returned to the UK I had a couple of days before returning to the McLaren Technology Centre to work with the team on the development programme. This break has also given us the opportunity to get some serious physical training in. During the races, it is more about maintaining fitness levels, when we have a couple of weeks we can really focus on improvements in performance. The Barcelona track is great to race on, it will be interesting to see how the new chicane affects this. I enjoyed the GP2 weekend last year, where I achieved a second and fourth place, and am looking forward to fighting for more points for myself and the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team."
Martin Whitmarsh, CEO Formula 1, Vodafone McLaren Mercedes: "Our target going into every race is to win, and we have been working at a feverish pace across the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team since the Bahrain race to develop the MP4-22 to enable us to meet this target. It has been a busy period on and off track and we do feel that we have taken a step forward. We have to wait until we get to race day to fully understand the size of the step, as we are by no means alone in pushing performance. The Circuit de Catalunya is very demanding on race cars and is a good indicator of genuine performance. It is therefore an interesting race from a development perspective and a good track to be competing on following this four week break, which by its nature will see the greatest step forward. Whilst the results at each race are equally important, the Spanish Grand Prix as an event has extra significance for Vodafone McLaren Mercedes. As Fernando's home race it will be a busy weekend for us all and we hope that as a team we can put on a performance befitting the support we will receive."