Very artistic, isn't it?
After yet another three-week break, Formula One returns to its traditional heartland in Europe for the Spanish Grand Prix. The race will take place at the Circuit de Catalunya, close to Barcelona.
It will be the 23rd time the event has been held at the track, and only Kimi Raikkonen of the current crop of drivers has more than one win. The all-time record holder here is Michael Schumacher with six victories.
You can normally rely on the Spanish Grand Prix to be one of the dullest non-street-circuit races of the year. To get an exciting weekend, we'll probably have to rely on excessive tyre wear or some unseasonably wet weather.
But on the bright side, all the teams are bringing upgrades to their cars—some major—so we might see some different faces fighting at the front.
Sebastian Vettel's victory in Bahrain saw him extend his lead over Kimi Raikkonen to 10 points in the standings.
Lewis Hamilton is third for Mercedes, with Fernando Alonso fourth. The current top 10 are:
|01||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull||77|
|05||Mark Webber||Red Bull||32|
|08||Paul di Resta||Force India||20|
Red Bull lead the constructors' championship on an impressive 109 points. Lotus are second after a double-podium in Bahrain, but Ferrari have slipped back after a difficult weekend in the Middle East.
Three teams have zero points. The current top eight (those with at least one point) are:
The Circuit de Catalunya, located a few miles outside Barcelona, has hosted the Spanish Grand Prix every year since 1991. It features a mixture of different corner types and is one of an ever-shrinking number of "organic" racetracks remaining on the calendar.
By that I mean if a driver makes a mistake, there is a decent chance he will find a gravel trap waiting for him, instead of a benign, Texas-sized expanse of tarmac.
No track has seen more running in recent years. It is the primary venue for winter testing, and the teams and drivers know this place like the backs of their hands.
Nine of the last ten races have been won from pole—DRS was designed for circuits like this one.
Turns 1, 2 and 3
After a long run down from the start-finish line, the first corner is the most obvious overtaking point on the circuit. It is quite quick by normal first-corner standards, and the first part of a broad, right-left chicane with Turn 2.
Following straight away is the long, very quick right-hander of Turn 3. One big acceleration zone, it is hard on the tyres and the drivers' necks.
Turns 4 and 5
A short straight follows after the exit of 3 before braking for Turn 4, a slower, 180-degree right. It opens up on the exit to ease the run downhill into the tight left-hander for Turn 5.
You'll occasionally see a pass somewhere around here if someone is really struggling for grip, but it's a once-in-a-blue-moon occurrence.
Turns 6, 7 and 8
Turn 6 is a barely-there left-hand jink which gives the drivers something to before the tricky combination left-right of Turns 7 and 8. It is easy to run a little bit wide out of Turn 7 onto the kerbs of Turn 8, but drivers can usually get away with it.
A short, slightly-uphill straight follows. Turn 9 is a fast, right-hand sweep which leads onto the second-longest straight Catalunya has to offer. Overtaking along here might be possible, but it would need a significant raw speed difference between the two cars involved.
DRS being present on this straight for the first time might help.
Turns 10, 11 and 12
At the end of the straight is the slow left of Turn 10. This corner used to be a little quicker and further along the straight. However, it was re-profiled in 2007 along with much of the final sector in a bid to improve safety and overtaking.
The track map at the top of the page shows the old circuit's layout in grey.
Turn 11 is a left-hand flick, and Turn 12 is a 180-degree, medium-speed right-hander.
Turns 13, 14 and 15
Turn 13 is another product of the 2007 changes—a quite sudden right-hander.
The natural line in such a corner would be to drift to the left of the track on the exit, but the drivers have to compromise their exit to get the right line for the approaching chicane (Turns 14 and 15).
It is first left, then right, and the slowest part of the circuit. A good exit here is extremely important.
The final corner, Turn 16, is now a glorified acceleration zone which leads onto the long pit straight. Staying close through here is essential if you want to overtake down the straight—sadly, staying close through here is seemingly rather difficult.
The pit entry is just before Turn 16, with the exit just before Turn 1.
Lots of arty shots today
The Circuit de Catalunya is tough on the tyres. It is usually warm, the surface is somewhat abrasive and the numerous medium to high-speed corners put plenty of lateral load through the tyres.
Pirelli have taken the sensible option and are bringing the white-marked medium and orange-marked hard compounds—the same combination used in Malaysia and China.
The hard tyre being used is not the same as the one used in the opening rounds. The compound has been modified slightly to give it a wider operating range and longer life—at the cost of performance.
Also available in Friday practice will be an extra set of an experimental hard compound tyre, with an emphasis on durability.
This is partly to test it, and partly to ensure we see a bit more on-track action—recent Friday sessions have seen few cars venture out early, and less overall running than the powers that be (and fans) would have liked to see.
Though there is only one step between the compounds, the medium should be quite a bit faster and will fill the role of main qualifying tyre. The hard is expected to be the superior race tyre.
Expect three stops to be the norm, with the odd two-stopper here and there.
Few circuits need DRS as badly as this one, and even with it, overtaking is tough. There will be no repeat of China (where DRS made overtaking very easy) this weekend.
In line with the 2013 trend, there will be two DRS zones in Spain. The main zone will run the length of the pit straight, with a detection point before Turn 16.
A smaller zone will cover the other straight of note, that between Turns 9 and 10. The detection point will be between Turns 8 and 9.
The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain, according to the saying. According to climatologists, it stays mainly in Galacia and the Pyrenees.
And according to F1 fans, it stays mainly somewhere that isn't Catalunya. Rain is a rarity at this race.
The outlook is for a dry and mostly bright weekend, with temperatures close to the long-term average for the region. Precipitation is considered unlikely.
As always, the Spanish Grand Prix weekend will consist of three free practice sessions, qualifying and the race. The session times are:
All are in Spanish local time. Formula1.com has a handy, one-click tool to convert them to your own timezone.
Enjoy the weekend!