The 49th Spanish GP takes place this Sunday at the Barcelona-Catalunya Circuit, well known to all the drivers who rack up big mileage here during pre-season testing. The track is a mix of fast and slow corners and turn 3 is especially demanding, requiring a well balanced car. The final part used to be very quick, but for several years now it features a slow chicane which leads onto the start-finish straight.
The Spanish GP has had several homes since it was first held in 1951. Ferrari has won this race 12 times, the first victory dating back to 1954 at Pedralbes courtesy of Mike Hawthorn. The race was back on the calendar in 1968 at Jarama, on the outskirts of Madrid and it was here in 1974 that Ferrari won, with Niki Lauda at the wheel of a 312 B3-74, making it a hat-trick, with the victory, pole position and fastest race lap.
The last time the Spanish GP was held in Jarama was 1981, when Gilles Villeneuve produced one of the most special drives of his career. In the 126 CK, the Canadian drove an incredible race, keeping a train of cars behind him that were quicker in the corners, but down the straights when the Ferrari engine was able to keep the 27 car out of reach. Jacques Laffite and his Ligier managed to pull alongside Villeneuve coming out of the corners, but the Canadian kept ahead of the Frenchman down the straight. The time sheet at the end told the story of the race, with the top five all crossing the line within 1"240 seconds.
The race was back on the calendar in 1986 when it was first held at Jerez de la Frontera. Ferrari got its name on the winner's trophy in 1990 when Alain Prost won to reignite the title fight with Ayrton Senna, who had to retire his McLaren.
The race's current home, the Barcelona-Catalunya Circuit, at Montmelo, on the outskirts of the Catalan capital, has seen many wins for Ferrari and Michael Schumacher. It was here in 1996 that the German took his first win with the Scuderia with a masterly performance in torrential rain. The Schumacher-Ferrari combo did it again in 2001, 2002, 2003 and 2004.
Massa won here in 2007 after Fernando Alonso had got off the line well in his McLaren and had tried to pass the Brazilian at the first corner. But Felipe was having none of it, so that the F2007 and the McLaren touched, with Alonso taking to the escape road. The following year, Kimi Raikkonen was victorious, in a one-two finish with Massa. The last Ferrari win to date was in 2013, thanks to the aforementioned Fernando Alonso.
Sebastian Vettel: "I know the Barcelona-Catalunya circuit perfectly and the uphill turn 3 and turn 9 are definitely the most fun. I think the way the final sector is now means it's not as interesting as it used to be, but it is probably even more crucial when it comes to setting a time. In fact, you have to be careful not to make any mistakes, because it's all too easy to ruin the tyres in this sector and lose precious tenths. I've always had very positive weekends in Barcelona with Ferrari, even if we've never won. I hope this might be the moment to put that right."
Charles Leclerc: "This is probably the track where it's hardest for the driver to make a difference. The reason is simple: each one of us knows it by heart, right down to the smallest detail, as it's home to the majority of tests. I have good memories from February's testing, even if the conditions were very different back then, with very low air and track temperatures. All the same, the Barcelona-Catalunya circuit is a benchmark, because if you go well here, you know you have a competitive car. I can't wait to get into the cockpit of my SF90, but then, that's not exactly news!"
Mattia Binotto Team Principal: "It's time for the Spanish GP, traditionally a race where most of the teams bring some updates, therefore we can expect to see a step up in performance from our competitors. We are currently behind in the championship and we have to catch up, which we know means that our development work will be the key to this season. Having brought a new aerodynamic package to Baku, we will also bring some developments in this area to Barcelona.
"On top of that, we will have a new power unit that we are introducing ahead of schedule, as the second specification was due to be brought to Canada. Shell, in close collaboration with our team, has developed a different formulation of race lubricant that will also be introduced with the new power unit, delivering increased performance.
"It's only down to a big team effort with everyone pushing hard to make up ground that we have been able to bring these developments forward."