[F1 2018 VIDEO FEATURE] SPANISH GRAND PRIX: RACE PREVIEW

Formula 1 returns to Barcelona’s Circuit de Catalunya this week, the track incredibly familiar to all the teams given the thousands of laps logged over the years – both in races and testing.

But 2018’s race will be the first on the new tarmac, the track resurfaced in January at the behest of two-wheel pinnacle, MotoGP – which complained about dangerously low grip levels.

For F1, though, which effectively only had one week of proper pre-season running at the track – there will still be some unknowns on arrival.

SOUNDBITE (English) NICO HÜLKENBERG,
F1 DRIVER, RENAULT:
“The tarmac that they’ve put was very different to before, so it’s kind of hard to really get a good conclusion [of where we are], but I think we have a good baseline.”

The Catalonian racetrack is the fifth venue to host the Formula 1 Spanish GP since 1951 – following on from Pedralbes, Jarama, Montjuïc, and Jerez, Barcelona taking over in 1991.

And it’s a popular destination on the F1 calendar, given the track is just 30 minutes’ drive from Barcelona’s Las Ramblas tourist precinct, which is the heart of the action during race week.

The Spanish track remains a strong technical challenge, the 4.6 kilometre circuit featuring 16 turns, seven left and nine right, and a top speed of 335 kilometres an hour. Kimi Räikkönen’s lap record from 2008 for Ferrari still stands. And there are two DRS activation zones – along the back straight, as well as the pit straight, with two DRS detection points.

This year marks the 48th F1 World Championship Spanish event and the 28th at the Barcelona track, which puts an F1 car through its paces, as an excellent indicator of overall form.

SOUNDBITE (English) LEWIS HAMILTON,
4-TIME F1 WORLD CHAMPION:
“It’s a very, very demanding circuit for the car. That’s why we test it there because it’s a perfect place to test the aerodynamics because you’ve got a mixture of low-speed; one very, very slow chicane, in the last sector it’s really all, generally low-speed. And then you’ve got the medium and high, so it’s a great combination in that sense.”

Michael Schumacher is the man in Barcelona, with six wins. Mika Häkkinen has three, while Nigel Mansell and current star drivers Räikkönen, Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton are on two.

Alonso, the last to win for Ferrari in Spain in 2013, will be hoping for better results care of a McLaren-Renault at his home race – he finished 12th last year, but retired in the two Barcelona events before that.

For Hamilton, it’s a chance to go back-to-back, not only for his second win for 2018 after Azerbaijan – but for a second-straight in Spain, one secured after a straight fight with Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel.

… who hasn’t won there since 2011, with Red Bull Racing in the V8 era.

The Austrian-owned team can take its 150th F1 podium this weekend, and will ironically be hoping for a repeat of 2016’s thriller – when Hamilton and former teammate Nico Rosberg crashed into each other at Turn 4.

… Max Verstappen grabbing the opportunity with both hands, and holding back Räikkönen for 56 laps on the soft tyres for his maiden F1 win, on his debut for Red Bull Racing. Making him the youngest-ever winner.

SOUNDBITE (English) MAX VERSTAPPEN,
F1 DRIVER, RED BULL RACING:
"This weekend has been great. I learned a lot, I'm still learning a lot. To come into a new team and straight away win the race: perfect.”

Another unexpected win came in 2012 – when Pastor Maldonado earned his one and only F1 race win there from pole position, expertly holding back a hard-charging Alonso in the closing laps.

With 10 different winners in the last 12 years in Barcelona, will we see an 11th break through for glory this weekend? 

Whatever happens, sparks are set to fly in Spain.