Changing tracks: Circuit de Catalunya

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

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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