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

  1. The most famous tracks in the U.S. have pretty much never changed since they were built.

    There are other forms of motorsport than F1. What right does F1 have to butcher tracks to fit the needs of what F1 cars currently happen to be. The tracks will need changing again in another 5 years.

    It’s up to the cars to make it around the track: bumps, fast, slow corners, camber, hills etc. Fit the cars to the tracks, don’t fit the tracks to the cars.

  2. Steve said on 6th May 2010, 23:00

    I don’t think F1’s high aero is totally to blame as the lower categories also struggle to put on a good race here.

    Series like F3 & GP2 tend to put on better races than F1 elsewhere but this circuit is the exception, Not even the old GP2 car which wasn’t as reliant on aero didn’t do much at this track.

    As to wet, 1996 was wet & it was still a dull race that featured virtually no overtaking (4 according to clip the apex’s overtaking stats).

    The only good races at this track were 1991 & 1992 which were Melbourne style changeable conditions, every fully wet or dry races have been dull in every series regardless of track layout.

  3. Torg said on 7th May 2010, 10:49

    Ive had this in mind for years after seeing nothing but boring GP’s in the past around circuit de catalunya. This is my ‘realistic’ idea of how it should be changed without costing the track owners a vast amount of cash. Please note that its only the last corner that i have changed and have left out the chicane at the end of the circuit. The last corner should represent more of a ‘flick’ of a corner like that of the last corner on the A1 ring in austria. This could promote overtaking into turn 1 as the last corner would now be not so much effected but turbulent air when following another car and add the extra challenge of having to perfect the flick without oversteer/understeer. Having this more challenging corner in theory will create more opputunities for cars to keep within pouncing distance of the car in front and allow the slipstream down the straight.

  4. Torg said on 7th May 2010, 10:52

    Oppps, sorry. Not the link above, this one >

  5. Anthony said on 7th May 2010, 12:26

    They should dump the circuit all together and go to the really promising circuit at Aragon

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