Mark Webber Drives the Circuit de Catalunya

It’s nearly three weeks since the Formula 1 flyaway adventure concluded and despite the best efforts of an Icelandic ash cloud, the field is now in Spain readying themselves for the beginning of the European season. The last time the teams were in Barcelona was for testing in the last days of February and at those sessions, the top times were held by the top two Mercedes-powered teams, Red Bull and Williams.
Now four races in, it is apparent that neither Mercedes or Williams were quite as strong as initially thought and that Red Bull, while the strongest overall car, is still having some reliability issues. Right now, McLaren lead both the Drivers and Constructors championships, but it is Jenson Button that sits on top of the pile rather than than Lewis Hamilton… and few could have predicted that. A cause for celebration in the HRT camp; this is their home event and will be looking to push forward on some solid finishes that they achieved in Malaysia and China.
Early forecasts for the weekend are showing poor weather with rain over all three days of the event – this may be a blessing though, as while the circuit is most certainly an aerodynamically efficient track, the Circuit de Catalunya is hardly known for producing thrilling races.  Of those that stand out there is the 1994 Spanish Grand Prix where Michael Schumacher drove to an excellent second place even though he only had 5th gear for two-thirds of the race – it was a race that was also significant for being the first Williams victory since Ayrton Senna died at Imola four weeks previously and it was won by the 1996 World Champion, Damon Hill. The Barcelona race during Hill’s title winning season was also full of drama and was the race where Schumacher officially cemented his title of “rain-master”. Such were the dreadful conditions on the day, that the event could easily have been classified as having run in monsoon conditions; but regardless of how deep the water flowed on the Catalunya tarmac, Schumacher trounced the field while Hill floundered with an early retirement.  Whether the Schumacher of 1996 returns has yet to be seen. Perhaps the Barcelona circuit’s finest moment is, and may always be that incredible drag race between Senna and rival Nigel Mansell during the inaugural race at the track. As the pair raced down the start/finish straight in drying conditions with the Brazilian just ahead, Mansell got alongside and ran wheel-to-wheel, nearly touching, before gaining an advantage into turn one – a truly stunning moment whereby Mansell wavered on his line and intimidated Senna, yet the eventual 1991 Champion did not move an inch. You Tube was invented for moments like that.
Unfortunately, more often than not, the Spanish Grand Prix has delivered some truly awful racing and little in the way of predictability – in fact, 18 of the 19 Barcelona events have been won a front row starting car.  It is considered so aerodynamically efficient, that a type of stalemate is reached whereby absolutely no one can get by anyone else and it is sadly one of the few events on the calendar that needs rain to make it watchable.  A prime example was the 1999 Spanish Grand Prix – a race that had one on track overtaking manoeuvre during the entire race and that happened on the third last lap when Hill, by then in his Jordan, overtook the Stewart-Ford of Rubens Barrichello. I, like may fans, will be wishing for a little less of the latter and more of the former if you please.

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