F1 Faces Complicated Question of Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya's Future

·4 min read
Photo credit: Mark Thompson - Getty Images
Photo credit: Mark Thompson - Getty Images
  • F1 Spanish Grand Prix lived up to its reputation on Sunday as a tough-to-pass circuit.

  • Lewis Hamilton's win marked the 23rd time in 31 races that the pole winner went on to win the race.

  • With two Spaniards on the grid, Formula 1 would love to have a race presence in Spain.

The Spanish Grand Prix doesn’t have a contract for 2022, and this year’s race was a one-off deal to keep the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya track on the F1 schedule.

It’s unlikely that F1 would drop the race with Fernando Alonso back in action with Alpine and Carlos Sainz Jr. racing for Ferrari. But there are problems as well.

It is a complicated political situation because not all the people in Catalonia want to remain Spanish and the country is not wildly keen to pay for a race in a region that tried to break away just a few years ago.

The biggest problem is not politics, however, nor the difficulty in funding the race. The fundamental trouble is that the circuit is not good for racing. The Formula 1 drivers like it because it is fun to drive, but they all say that racing in almost impossible because there is nowhere to overtake. An attempt was made this year to change that situation with major work at Turns 10 and 11, but it was quickly clear that the F1 drivers thought it was probably worse than it was before, rather than better.

Photo credit: Bryn Lennon - Getty Images
Photo credit: Bryn Lennon - Getty Images

That begs questions about how the design was decided upon.

“Turn 10 was probably the only overtaking opportunity apart from Turn 1,” Pierre Gasly said. “And now there’s not as much of a big braking zone.”

It doesn’t help that the run down into Turn 1 is also not much good these days either, because the F1 cars have so much downforce that the braking zones are too short. And this year, the competition between the teams is so close that there are not sufficient differences in performance to allow one car to pass another.

After qualifying, the drivers all said the same thing, some more diplomatically than others.

“It’s difficult to create the delta you need to overtake when people are separated by hundredths of a second,” said Lando Norris.

“It’s important to get a good start because it’s very difficult to overtake and easier to defend,” said Charles Leclerc.

“We know that the start is very important here and it can impact the race result,” said Max Verstappen, “so of course we are focused on it, but we want to keep it clean as well as it’s a long race.”

Even Spain’s hero Alonso does not try to disguise the problem.

“It’s very tight and obviously very difficult to overtake in the race,” he said. “But we’ll try to have a good first couple of laps and see where we end up tomorrow.”

Alonso finished 17th in the F1 Spanish Grand Prix, a lap down from the leaders.

To put the lack of passing opportunities in perspective, there is a startling statistic: 23 of the 31 races held at he track to date, including this year’s race, have been won by the driver on pole position. Another five wins went to the driver who qualified second. So only three winners were not on the front row. No driver has won the Grand Prix from lower than fifth on the grid.

You can say it’s predictable and indeed boring, and some Spanish GPs have been horribly dull in the past, but the strategic battles can be incredible, even if it is harder to explain to the fans who want the cut and thrust of drivers dicing.

Sunday’s Grand Prix was a brilliant battle, a terrific contest of strategic thinking between Mercedes and Red Bull as both their lead drivers gave everything they had. Mercedes outfoxed Red Bull.

Verstappen was forced to admit that the team still doesn’t have the pace it needs to challenge Mercedes in every event. But could we have asked for a better battle on a track that is so difficult?

“I’m continuing to love this battle we’re having,” Lewis Hamilton said, after winning the race. Hamilton knows how good Verstappen is and being able to beat him is a source of great satisfaction.

Last week, another level of the Mercedes-Red Bull competition was put under the spotlight when Red Bull announced that it had hired five top engineers from the Mercedes AMG HPP at Brixworth. They will be joining Ben Hodgkinson, the new technical director of Red Bull Powertrains, which will be building Red Bull’s F1 engines in the future.

But that’s Formula 1. It’s not always easy to tell the story to new fans because it is competition that happens on so many different level. That is what makes it so fascinating. It’s not just warriors trading blows.

It’s a rich and complex story.

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