Lap times at the Circuit de Catalunya

Fastest qualifying times at the Circuit de Catalunya, 1991-2008 (click to enlarge)

Fastest qualifying times at the Circuit de Catalunya, 1991-2008 (click to enlarge)

F1 has raced at the Circuit de Catalunya for the last 18 years and, compared to many other circuits, the track has changed little in that time.

So how have lap times at the circuit changed over the years – and when were F1 cars at their fastest?

Changes to the track

1994 – Temporary tyre chicane inserted at Nissan corner to slow the cars down. One of many tracks to gain a temporary chicane following the Imola tragedies earlier that year. (See 10 worst?? chicanes)

1995 – Nissan cut back into Campsa corner, which remains today.

2004 – La Caixa tightened in (largely unsuccessful) attempt to increase opportunity for overtaking.

2007Chicane inserted before New Holland for safety reasons.

Other reasons for lap time changes

Three main factors influence lap times: the rules, the track configuration, and whether there are competing tyre manufacturers in the sport.

For example, during the Bridgestone-Michelin tyre war of 2001-2006, the technical regulations were largely stable, and lap times generally decreased.

In 1997 the arrival of Bridgestone sparked a tyre war with Goodyear and lap times plummeted. But the next year the FIA reacted by introducing grooved tyres and other changes, and lap times went back up.

The latest changes to the circuit have made the lap slower. There were concerns that there was inadequate run-off at the final two corners on the circuit.

Inevitably, you have to wonder how much quicker the cars would be on the original track if they still had V10 engines (or, indeed, V12s), unrestricted aerodynamics, and competing tyre manufacturers.

In a later article I’ll take a look at how lap times changed at a different circuit at a different period in time, giving us a chance to compare how quickly the cars improved.

Read more: 2009 F1 cars quicker than in 2008

Michael Schumacher did a 1'14.637	around Barcelona in 2006

Michael Schumacher did a 1'14.637 around Barcelona in 2006

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22 comments on Lap times at the Circuit de Catalunya

  1. Ronman said on 6th May 2009, 7:31

    Would be cool if one of the manufacturers designed and built a car today to the specs of the V10 unrestricted Era and gave us a taste of what it would be like if unrestricted progress never stopped.
    cars were almost at if not putting out more than 1000hp and RPM’s had never been higher, i guess it will remain a fantasy for those fans that other than the racing were impressed and hooked by the almost impossible performance number that F1 cars generated.
    On the other hand, the post says that the Spanish circuit hasn’t changed much, but adding a chicane or tightening a turn would almost dramatically change lap times to the worst, so how are we supposed to measure circuit changes, and proper year to year car performance.

    a car comparo from Era to Era should be done, but Horsepower and performance numbers in F1 are as stable as the FIA regulations and lap times are flawed because of changes in track layouts.
    With Ferrari you can dig up the Fiorano circuit test lap times, but the others are not that lucky.
    Anyway, can’t wait till Sunday to see how much the lacking teams have improved…

  2. Adam Tate said on 6th May 2009, 9:16

    I agree with Ronman, I’d love to see something like an F2008 with a V-10 and the new slick tires to see how truly fast it could be.

  3. Oliver said on 6th May 2009, 9:22

    We’ve also had a change in engine displacement from 3.5L through 3.0L to 2.4L

  4. K said on 6th May 2009, 9:59

    Inevitably, you have to wonder how much quicker the cars would be on the original track if they still had V10 engines (or, indeed, V12s), unrestricted aerodynamics, and competing tyre manufacturers.

    Active suspension, Turbos, Ground Effect, Scramjets, Ayrton Senna?

  5. PJA said on 6th May 2009, 10:03

    Nice article. As the lap times used in the chart are the fastest qualifying times another major rule change to affect the times would be when the cars had to qualify with race fuel.

    I don’t know if you have done an article on this before, but something I have often wondered about are how lap times for different motorsport series compare. Has F1 ever raced at the same circuit, with the same layout, in the same year as other major series such as Indycar? Considering F1 is supposed to be the pinnacle of motorsport you would expect the F1 cars to be the quickest but I wonder how much by and how much this has decreased with all the changes in recent years.

    With regards an unrestricted regulations F1 car, I remember a few years ago F1 Racing Magazine did an article with Williams BMW on this subject, I can’t remember if it was based on totally unrestricted regulations or just the regulations from a particular year, but they had a picture of what the car would look like and a predicted lap time.

    • lol I remember that F1 Racing article the car was hideous, it had six wheels and the aerodynamics looked lame, it had active suspension and ground effect skirts, it was designed by someone at Williams I seem to remember which probably doesn’t bode well in the post Newy era. Anyway I stopped buying F1 racing when they became Max’s b*tch and started supporting every ridiculous rule proposal that emanated from his flatulent mouth, they even gave Moseley a column so he could defecate straight into our minds, their editorial line was so biased it was a joke, in the end the only writer I had any gram of respect for was Peter Windsor.

    • Ronman said on 6th May 2009, 11:39

      K I don’t read F1 racing on a regular basis and i never buy it, but what your statement is a gem of English vocabulary, made me laugh out loud…

      ‘F1 racing when they became Max’s b*tch and started supporting every ridiculous rule proposal that emanated from his flatulent mouth, they even gave Moseley a column so he could defecate straight into our minds’

    • lol Thanks Ronman I won’t pretend like I didn’t try but it really annoyed me at the time and that’s how I felt.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 6th May 2009, 19:46

      As the lap times used in the chart are the fastest qualifying times another major rule change to affect the times would be when the cars had to qualify with race fuel.

      Actually no, as the Q2 times are usually quicker than Q3 for example. I think all the times quoted are low-fuel.

  6. antonyob said on 6th May 2009, 10:04

    There was an article done somewhere once about what f1 cars would look like if regs hadnt curtailed development.

    It was of its time but from memory it said the car would probably have 6 or perhaps 8 wheels, a fan at the back sucking the air in and skirts creating a vacuum under the car. Cornering speeds would be so high the driver would have to be in a G suit and probably require oxygen. The run off areas would be so enormous you wouldnt be able to see anything from the grandstands.

    All in all it would’ve become a freak show, a sort of rollerball f1 but it would still be interesting to see what might have been.

  7. Bigbadderboom said on 6th May 2009, 11:38

    @antonyob I remember reading something similar, saying that if designers were left unrestricted the drivers would not be able to complete a full lap at pace due to the G created, you would have drivers blacking out through corners! It would be interesting to get a full list of banned innovations that the designers have come up with over the years, and a list of regs that have been introduced since the 70’s to slow cars down.

  8. Damon said on 6th May 2009, 15:55

    In a later article I’ll take a look at how lap times changed at a different circuit at a different period in time, giving us a chance to compare how quickly the cars improved.

    Keith, I did that kind of analysis myself recently and it is indeed very interesting.
    There aren’t, unforunately, many tracks that can be used for that, as there have been alterations made to pretty much all F1 tracks throughout the years.

    The one perfect track for the comparison is Suzuka: It has been used for over 20 years and its layout has never been changed.
    Then we’ve got the Melbourne street circuit: used since 1996, hasn’t had any changes made.
    Now, Interlagos haven’t had any alterations made either, but it had the complete tarmac replaced with a new one some years ago, which dramatically influenced the lap times.
    Having said that, one must remember that changes to the paving of the track are a crucial factor, sometimes as important as the track layout.

    Other good current track is Silverstone – the last 15 years of it.

    To see F1’s progress in not so recent years, other good tracks that have been stable for a long time are: old Spa (before the bus-stop change), old Monza (before the first chikane change), Imola (until ’94, and since ’95).
    I can’t really say much about the older years, like 50s-70s.

    • 130R was neutered plus Suzuka is a track that rewards good drivers and therefore maybe less suitable for a technology comparison. Albert park hasn’t changed but it’s place as the first race of the season and it’s street track nature produce some anomalous results. I’d go with Silverstone and/or the Hungaroring.

  9. Damon said on 6th May 2009, 19:28

    Suzuka is a track that rewards good drivers and therefore maybe less suitable for a technology comparison.

    Nonsense.
    Every track is as good.
    When you’re comparing 1991 to 1997 to 2005, then you’re always comparing different drivers (Senna, Villeneuve, Alonso) but all of them were the best drivers at the time.

    Even if you compared Schumacher’s 1992 lap time to his lap time in 2004 on a given track – even then you’re not comparing just the technology, because Schumacher a.d. 1992 and Schumacher a.d. 2004 were obviously different drivers, with different experiences and skills.

    I’d go with Silverstone and/or the Hungaroring.

    Because Hungaroring does not reward a good driver?
    Arrows Yamaha + Damon Hill, 1997 :))

    BTW. Hungaroring had some corners modified a couple of years ago.

  10. Damon said on 6th May 2009, 19:31

    Suzuka isn’t a track that just favours good drivers – it favours good cars most of all. You wouldn’t see Damon Hill in an Arrows starting from a front row on such a track, would you?
    The slow, twisty tracks like Hungaroring and Monaco are the ones which favour the driver.

    • Nonsense

      lol

      When you’re comparing 1991 to 1997 to 2005, then you’re always comparing different drivers (Senna, Villeneuve, Alonso) but all of them were the best drivers at the time.

      Well I wouldn’t say Villeneuve was the best driver at the time which is probably why he never won at Suzuka and why in Villeneuve’s championship season Schumacher beat him in an inferior car (if you discount the disqualification he only came 5th).

      Schumacher a.d. 1992 and Schumacher a.d. 2004 were obviously different drivers, with different experiences and skills

      Yes and no. I get your point about experience but Schumacher in ’92 wasn’t a completely different driver to Schumacher in ’04, there was no life altering accident, he hadn’t been on the Bratwurst, he hadn’t “found God”. One of Schumacher’s skills was maximizing a cars potential at any given time, that’s why he was able to qualify the 1991 Jordan 7th at Spa (another track lends itself to good drivers), and that’s a quality that stayed with him throughout his career.

      Because Hungaroring does not reward a good driver?
      Arrows Yamaha + Damon Hill, 1997 :))

      Hill wasn’t that good.

      The Hungaroring doesn’t have corners like Spoon or the “esses” or the Degners or even turns 1 & 2 at Suzuka where a drivers ability can make a big difference. A drivers ability really shows in the medium speed corners rather than the slow or flat out ones. Suzuka also calls for a big compromise in set-up which again is down to ability.

      BTW. Hungaroring had some corners modified a couple of years ago.

      Which corners and how significant was the change? From what I recall there’s been only one significant change and that was 20 years ago. Suzuka was actually shortened which took at least a couple of tenths off the time maybe more and the “Triangle” chicane has been changed a few times.

      You wouldn’t see Damon Hill in an Arrows starting from a front row on such a track, would you?

      You wouldn’t and didn’t see Damon Hill starting on the front row of any track in an Arrows, in Hungary he started 3rd and even then:

      Later Damon was to say that it had really been down to the tyres. Bridgestone had brought a compound that were in Hill’s words, “like chewing gum.”

      Good cars go well on all tracks but not all tracks reward good drivers. You have a point in that slower circuits tend to be levers of technology but that is not an absolute. A track like the Hungaroring can negate some of the advantage gained by a powerful engine but that’s all, for example the low end torque of the RS23 gave both the Renault drivers a significant advantage at slower circuits.

  11. John H said on 7th May 2009, 17:38

    @K

    “Hill wasn’t that good….. The Hungaroring doesn’t have corners like Spoon or the “esses” or the Degners or even turns 1 & 2 at Suzuka where a drivers ability can make a big difference. A drivers ability really shows in the medium speed corners rather than the slow or flat out ones. Suzuka also calls for a big compromise in set-up which again is down to ability.”

    I think Hill’s win at Suzuka in 1994 probably contradicts your analysis here. (Sorry to go off topic)

    • K said on 8th May 2009, 3:05

      I think Hill’s win at Suzuka in 1994 probably contradicts your analysis here.

      No it doesn’t.

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