Changing tracks: Circuit de Catalunya

Two of Catalunya's quick corners were chopped in 2007

Two of Catalunya's quick corners were chopped in 2007

Formula 1 holds its 20th race at the Circuit de Catalunya this weekend.

The track has changed little in that time. But after only three years one corner which several drivers called the best on the track was cut.

More recently two other fast corners have been neutered by the introduction of a chicane. The track has gained an unenviable reputation for producing boring races.

Circuit de Catalunya: 1991

Length: 4.747km

Circuit de Catalunya: 2010

Length: 4.655km

How the track has changed

Campsa and Nissan

The first eight corners on the Circuit de Catalunya are the same now as they were in 1991. Campsa is the first corner to have changed – it became a longer turn in 1995 to bypass the Nissan chicane.

Johnny Herbert was among the drivers who called the fast right-left Nissan chicane the best corner on the track. But in 1994, following a spate of crashes including those which claimed Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberg, the drivers decided this corner had to go. An 11th-hour strike threat on the eve of the Grand Prix forced the organisers to build a temporary tyre wall in front of the offending corner.

The following year Campsa led directly onto an extended straight leading towards La Caixa and the Nissan corner was consigned to history.

La Caixa

La Caixa was the next corner to be changed, in 2004. By tightening the corner the race organisers hoped more overtaking would be encouraged.

The corner has seen some controversial clashes in other championships – Lewis Hamilton was knocked out of the lead by GP2 team mate Alexandre Premat here in 2006, and too much argy-bargy in the DTM race in 2007 led Audi to make a controversial mass withdrawal.

But there’s been precious little action there in F1.

New Holland chicane

Two more fast corners were neutered in 2007: Europcar and New Holland. Again, this was because the organisers felt the corners were being taken too quickly for the amount of run-off area available.

Like the other changed parts of the circuit the original corners are still there but are no longer used for Formula 1.

An unpopular circuit

The Circuit de Catalunya is a classic example of how even relatively modern circuits have had to change to meet increasingly stringent safety demands.

Although it has retained some of its high-speed corners the changes have altered the circuit’s character. The loss of Nissan and the change at La Caixa have sapped the middle part of the lap of its tempo and rhythm.

When the circuit was first built prevailing wisdom held that the combination of a fast final corner and a long straight leading into a braking zone would encourage overtaking, as cars would be able to slipstream each other down the straight.

However in the two decades which have passed since then increasing aerodynamic refinement on F1 cars has made them more sensitive to following in the disturbed air of a leading car and reduced the beneficial effect of slipstreaming on a straight.

Perhaps modern F1 cars are more to blame than the track for producing unexciting races. The Spanish Grand Prix was voted the third worst race of the year here in 2008 and again in 2009.

What do you think of the changes made to the Circuit de Catalunya over the years? Have they been for the better or worse? Have your say in the comments.

Circuit de Catalunya 2010

Circuit de Catalunya 2010 (click to enlarge)

How F1 tracks have changed

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64 comments on Changing tracks: Circuit de Catalunya

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  1. Bebilou said on 3rd May 2010, 9:41

    The New Holland chicane is an insult to drivers and F1 fans. The runoff area is sufficient as everyone can see on a satellite view.
    We had 4 interesting corners on this track (the last 2 ones, with turns 3 and 9), and they killed 2 of them… What a shame !

    • MigueLP said on 3rd May 2010, 10:16

      the track is outdated for f1 and has to go

    • kowalsky said on 3rd May 2010, 22:28

      i agree. It’s an example of what is happening to the sport we love. How much longer are we going to put up with it? We don’t want chicanes, we want fast corners. And we want the grandstans close to the action, no half a mile away.

  2. Prisoner Monkeys said on 3rd May 2010, 9:49

    Better version:

    http://www.gmap-pedometer.com/?r=3694580

    • David B said on 3rd May 2010, 11:03

      Not bad. First complex sounds really slow (but not bad), the fast kink between Elf and la Caixa looks great and there would be some interesting chance for overtaking at la Caixa and at the first corner.
      Great Prisoner!!!

    • Untitled258 said on 3rd May 2010, 11:24

      I like it, but personally i think the top should be more like this….

      http://www.gmap-pedometer.com/?r=3694759

      Have it flat out around what is currently turn 3, then just a massive straight with a slight kink, into the current turn 10, with that profile it might see overtaking.

      • Scribe said on 3rd May 2010, 11:50

        Track brutalised for overtaking.
        http://www.gmap-pedometer.com/?r=3694759

        • Untitled258 said on 3rd May 2010, 12:07

          Was you supposed to post the exact same link i posted?!? :-p

          • Scribe said on 3rd May 2010, 13:13

            no, strangley enough, though I like’d your track a great deal, I didn’t feel a further link under my name would add to it.

            I’ve done this accidentally before with gpmaps, although before I just reposted my tracks. Anyway here’s what I ment to post before, tested ‘n all.

            http://www.gmap-pedometer.com/?r=3694964

          • sato113 said on 3rd May 2010, 16:21

            that’s one tile-fied track Scribe! lol

          • Scribe said on 3rd May 2010, 20:10

            Tilkerfied? Well, sort of, but really the circuit is already horrifically Tilkefied, an impossible to overtake on. My circuit at least serves a purpose.

            Will give you that it a bit stop go, but i’ve sped up significantly what was turn 2, with another fast corner straight after.

            An two clear an possible overtaking spot.

  3. GeeMac said on 3rd May 2010, 10:14

    The last two corners made Catalunya for me… really fast, no room for error and they were critical for a good lap time. That chicane is the pinnacle of circuit ruining design. The fast Nissan chicane is a great part of the circuit (I think it still forms part of Catalunya’s “Club” circuit), and it would be great to see modern F1 cars going through there, but I guess we will never get the chance.

    Last years race was spiced up by Jenson’s switch to “Plan B”… but it was largely boring. I’m expecting more of the same this year.

  4. Untitled258 said on 3rd May 2010, 10:31

    I thought the new end chicane was added to slow the cars down, so they go through the last corner slower, can flower closer behind meaning they can get a better tow down the straight?

    • Prisoner Monkeys said on 3rd May 2010, 11:10

      That’s the idea, but the layout has so far only been used once, and that was in 2009, so it’s a bit too early to judge.

  5. James Brickles said on 3rd May 2010, 10:33

    “Two more fast corners were neutered in 2007: Europcar and New Holland. Again, this was because the organisers felt the corners were being taken too quickly for the amount of run-off area available.”

    I also believe they changed it so that they would be hoping cars could overtake going into the first corner. There is no chance in HELL that they’re going to do that with a chicane. Chicanes just create space between cars.

    I also can’t recall anybody going off at the actual penultimate corner in its 16 years of use, so it was always going to be stupid from the organisers to change the best corner on the track to make it the worst corner on the track

    Montermini (1994) and Sato (2002) both went off at the final corner but thats all I can remember

  6. David B said on 3rd May 2010, 10:56

    Since no modification has increased race appealing it would be great to switch back to the first lay-out. I wonder if with all the money spent in La Caixa and New Holland stupid lay-out they would have easily dislocated some embankement outside of Nissan and make it a safe corner.
    In the end I think Catalunya (first one) was a good track…boring races are due to car aerodynamics.

  7. That chicane nere the end i think has to be struck off. Even while playing Forza 3 I say to myself “I hate that chicane” with every lap, since it just spoils the pit straight intro afterwards.

  8. Zazeems said on 3rd May 2010, 12:30

    The final chicane is a travesty!

    Remove it, add tarmac and tecpro barriers around the outside.

    Job done.

  9. F14EVA said on 3rd May 2010, 12:48

    Spain is usually a fairly dull affair, however early reports suggest we could be in for more rain on race day, that would help spice things up

  10. HounslowBusGarage said on 3rd May 2010, 13:23

    What a sad state of affairs that fans have to hope for bad weather to produce an exciting race.
    Supposing football was so dull that the only chance of a good match was snow, thick fog or a plague of toads.
    But yes, I think I’m hoping for Rain In Spain too.

  11. Icthyes said on 3rd May 2010, 13:26

    The problem with Catalunya is that it just has far too many loops, far too many sections where F1 cars are left trailing because of the dirty air and are therefore too far behind to make up the distance on the straights to pass. Hence why it was considered good for racing in the early 1990s and a bore-fest now.

    Personally, I’d shorten the layout like this: http://www.gmap-pedometer.com/?r=3694991

    Or like this: http://www.gmap-pedometer.com/?r=3694996

    Although the back straight (effectively one even with the kink) might be a bit too long to comply with regulations, but you could have a small chicane to break it up.

    (Apologies for drawing it with jagged lines, the program was having a hissy fit and refused to follow the circuit.)

    It would also help if the teams didn’t know it like the back of their hand! But if the current layout is here to stay, I would cancel the test sessions there and instead make it a non-championship race. With the cars being brand new and barely-known, we could have a more unpredictable race.

  12. Rob said on 3rd May 2010, 13:45

    Considering Heikki survived pretty much the worst accident you could have at Catalunya there’s really no justification for neutering the other turns anymore.

  13. Plushpile said on 3rd May 2010, 14:01

    While the previous changes only robbed the circuit of some of it’s charachter the final chicane totally killed the track.
    I can’t wait til they find a bee venue for either (preferably both) Spanish venues.

    • sato113 said on 3rd May 2010, 16:26

      motorland Aragon?

    • Wificats said on 4th May 2010, 0:07

      Or a new Portuguese GP at Portimao? I really like that Circuit, plenty of elevation changes and a really nice fast final corner like the one they used to have at Catalunya (and Estoril for that matter). It would put another country on the calendar, and it wouldn’t be much harder to get to for Spanish race fans either.

  14. BasCB said on 3rd May 2010, 14:02

    I think the changes are mostly only bad solutions to some uproar.
    The cars have changed a lot from 1994, so why not consider getting closer to the original track. Or alternatively have the drivers and an architect look at the track to find some improvement to make it though and exiting for the drivers and better for looking at the races.

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