The Circuit de Catalunya (, also known as Circuit de Barcelona) is a racetrack in Montmeló, to the north of Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain. With long straights and a variety of corners, the Circuit de Catalunya is seen as an all-rounder circuit.
The Circuit de Catalunya was built in 1991 and began hosting the Spanish Grand Prix that same year. Construction also coincided with the Olympic Games scheduled to take place in Barcelona, the next year, where the circuit acted as the start and finish line for the road team time trial cycling event. The Circuit de Catalunya should not be confused with the Montjuïc circuit, which hosted the Spanish Grand Prix four times between 1969 and 1975 and, unlike the Circuit de Catalunya, is actually located within the city of Barcelona.
Because so much testing is done at this circuit, Formula One drivers and mechanics are extremely familiar with it. This has led to criticism that drivers and mechanics are too familiar with Catalunya, reducing the amount of on-track action.
When first used, overtaking was frequent as cars could follow closely through the last two corners and slipstream down the long straight. As aerodynamic balance became more critical, this overtaking method drastically decreased as the cars were unable to follow each other through the fast final corner due to turbulence created by the leading car.<ref name=espnCatalunya /> This made it much more difficult for a car to get close enough to the car in front of it to attempt a pass at the first turn, which is perhaps the best—and most popular—of very few natural overtaking points on the circuit. The 2007 season saw the first of the two final sweepers replaced with a slow chicane in an effort to improve overtaking. However, the redesign did not noticeably increase the amount of overtaking.<ref name=espnCatalunya />
The Circuit de Catalunya also plays host to many other racing series, including Moto GP. The chicane which was put in the penultimate turn for Formula 1 does not play a part in the track layout for Moto GP, and there are at least five points on the track (turns 1,2,4,10,14) where riders are known to overtake. As in Formula 1, turn one is arguably the most popular place for overtaking. The circuit is not known to produce copious amounts of overtaking, despite the long straights.
The wind direction at the circuit can change drastically during the day, a significant factor given the importance of aerodynamics to modern Formula One cars. It is then hard to find a good setup since cars can have massive aerodynamic drag and understeer on one part of the circuit in the morning, but suffer oversteer at the same part of the circuit in the afternoon. A given tyre compound can work well when tested, but not so well a couple of months later. These changeable conditions can make for unexpected performances from some teams during the race.
The circuit has been the site of some memorable moments. In 1991, Ayrton Senna and Nigel Mansell went down the entire front straight side-by-side while duelling for second place, with Mansell eventually taking the position and ultimately the race itself.<ref name=espnCatalunya /> In 1994, Michael Schumacher managed to finish in second place despite driving over half the race with only fifth gear. In 1996, Schumacher took his first win as a Ferrari driver, after a dominant performance during a torrential rainstorm. The 1999 race was notable as there was only one reported overtaking move during the race. In 2001, Mika Häkkinen suffered a clutch failure while leading the race on the last lap, handing the win to Schumacher. At the 2006 event, Fernando Alonso became the first Spanish Formula One driver to win at his home country's track.<ref name=espnCatalunya />
In 2008, Heikki Kovalainen left the track at 240 km/h after a wheel rim failure at turn 9. He managed to decelerate to 130 km/h when he hit the tyre barrier. He was temporarily unconscious and suffered minor concussion, but a few minutes later, spectators were relieved when he gave a thumbs up.
- Circuit de Catalunya
- Circuit de Catalunya History and Statistics
- Circuit de Catalunya at Google Maps