Circuit de Catalunya - the engineers view 06 May 2004
The technical low-down on this weekend's race venue
Barcelonas Circuit de Catalunya has a unique mix of corners that show up all the performance aspects of a Formula One car. No wonder then that the teams choose to test here so often...
James Robinson, Head of Race and Test Engineering, Jordan:
"We have already done a lot of homework for this circuit and believe we have got the right tyre choice. Its a very technical track and traditionally one of the hardest for which to set up an F1 car. The curves and corners are long and sweeping with high levels of G-force exerted on the drivers and in terms of the car, the corners make it crucial to get the balance right and aerodynamics play the key role. The optimum set-up is not easy to find and the technical challenge is all about finding the best compromise. Our testing work with tyres and aerodynamics in preparation for this race has been encouraging so we hope for an improved performance from the whole package.
David Pitchforth, Managing Director, Jaguar Racing:
"Although the Circuit de Catalunya in Barcelona is a race track that we know well we cannot be complacent, on the contrary the competition is extremely tough at the moment and we know that all the teams are making incremental steps forward. We scored here last year with Mark, and we have undertaken numerous tests and even our launch here, so we are confident that the track will suit the R5. We are constantly working on developing the car to increase competitiveness and I am pleased with how we have been working with our tyre partner Michelin, and confident about the tyre choices that we have made in advance of Barcelona. Since Imola the workforce here at the factory in Milton Keynes has done a fantastic job, repairing damage to Christian's chassis in plenty of time for us to take it to Barcelona. The engine development has also been progressing and we have been pleased with our tests on the dyno in Northampton. We go to Barcelona focused on our goals and confident that we can achieve them."
Sam Michael, Chief Operations Engineer, Williams:
Barcelona is a challenging circuit for the drivers and engineers to find a well balanced set-up. We obviously spend a lot of time here during winter testing but the changeable conditions mean that you are still experimenting with the set-up during the actual race weekend. With four high speed corners, the tyres need to be harder than usual to cope with the high levels of degradation. A large emphasis is therefore placed on aerodynamic efficiency.
We have made further improvements to the cars since the last Grand Prix, both mechanical and aerodynamic, while Michelin have two good tyre compounds that we have been testing. Combined, these steps should help us in our efforts to return to the front of the field where we obviously want to be competing.
With the new rules introduced this year, qualifying and strategy go hand in hand. As overtaking is so difficult in Barcelona, it's even more important to hook up a good qualifying lap, find the perfect strategy and get the race start right.
Willy Rampf, Technical Director, Sauber:
"We know the Circuit de Catalunya very well because it is such a popular venue for testing. Besides the usually benign weather there is a good reason for this: the circuit has a blend of corners that show up all the performance aspects of a car. There are four high-speed corners, several medium-speed, and new for 2004 is a sharper turn at the entrance of the La Caixa bend.
"It's not particularly demanding for the brakes, for example, but aerodynamic efficiency is very important and we run close to our 2004 maximum level of downforce there.
"The other big factor is tyre degradation due to the abrasiveness of the track surface. Even though there is the long main straight, you need high downforce to stop the car sliding around and exacerbating the tyre wear.
"Another thing is that the nature of the track changes very much with temperature. This influences the balance of the car and of course the lap time. When the track temperature goes up the grip generally goes down and the tyre degradation increases. These factors, together with poor weather in the last Barcelona test, mean we will have even more work to do on tyre evaluation and selection on Friday, to find the right compromise for qualifying and the race.
"We will have several new aerodynamic components on the car for this race. I'm very pleased with the reliability of the C23 and I hope that we can carry on the trend of significant improvement that was evident in Imola."
Mike Gascoyne, Technical Director Chassis, Toyota:
"The Circuit de Catalunya is obviously a track on which everyone has done a lot of testing in the pre-season period and it is a circuit that requires good aerodynamic efficiency. As a team, Panasonic Toyota Racing has made progress over the last few races and we have some minor updates on the aero side for the Spanish Grand Prix. Over the last couple of races we have found a good balance on the car and I think that will benefit us in Barcelona. Certainly, we have moved closer to the group of cars in front of us and we now have to try to qualify ahead of that group and subsequently race in front of them. If we can do that, I am pretty confident we can pick up some points, which has to be our aim for this weekend."
Geoffrey Willis, Technical Director, BAR:
"After our strong performance in San Marino last weekend, we are very much looking forward to Barcelona, where we have a great deal of experience with the BAR Honda 006 and the Michelin tyres. Despite our familiarity with the Circuit de Catalunya, the Spanish Grand Prix remains a challenging race for both car and driver. Its high-speed corners make it a fairly demanding circuit and it is a good test of the car's stability and aerodynamic performance. For this race we have a small step with the engine and a development of the Imola aerodynamic package, so we expect to be able to maintain our current momentum and continue the fight with our competitors. If we are able to extract the true performance of the car, then we can expect another exciting race weekend for the team."
Hisao Suganuma, Technical Manager, Bridgestone:
"Barcelona is a very tough track for tyre wear and degradation - especially rear tyres. The nature of the track's abrasive surface means we have had to think carefully about our choice for this race. Fortunately, despite the rain last week, Ferrari was able to conduct some useful testing at Mugello for this purpose. The Barcelona circuit modifications which were made over the winter have resulted in the addition of quite a demanding corner so the need for a good car and tyre set-up is imperative. High braking forces and good traction out of corners will also be a factor. We do test at this circuit quite regularly and we have an excellent record here so I'm looking forward to this weekend's challenge."
Pascal Vasselon, Formula One programme manager, Michelin:
We began working on a specific range of race options for Barcelona a few weeks ago and finalised them recently after a test at Silverstone. We will offer our partner teams a selection of three dry-weather compounds. For the first time this season we will be using tyres from the harder end of our spectrum very different from those we took to the previous race in Imola. Barcelona is one of the seasons most challenging tracks for a tyre manufacturer. The asphalt isnt a great deal more abrasive than that used elsewhere, but the layout of the circuit puts a real strain on rubber because there are so many long, high-speed corners.
Denis Chevrier, Engine Operations Manager, Renault:
The circuit is characterised by a high average engine speed around the lap - owing to the numerous high-speed corners - and therefore high loads. However, the percentage of the lap spent at full throttle is similar to the season average, at 61%. Equally, the long main straight means the longest single period during which the engine is at full load is just over twelve seconds - while a high value, this is by no means the most severe of the year, and is indeed similar to what we saw earlier in the year at Bahrain.
However, selecting a final drive gear ratio provides one of the biggest challenges of the weekend, as the main straight effectively acts as a 'wind tunnel' between the large main grandstand and the pit complex opposite. It is a delicate balancing act, as too conservative a choice will bring a loss of top-end performance if you do not get a tow down the straight, while too risky a choice can endanger reliability by causing the engine to over-rev. This decision is rendered all the more difficult by the fact that it must now be made the day before, and wind conditions and directions are difficult to predict with complete certainty. In this domain, our experience of the circuit is without a doubt a key asset.
The other characteristic of the circuit, owing to the high-speed corners, is high lateral loads. However, for the engine, this poses no particular problems: the entire lubrication system of an F1 engine is designed to cope with high, long-duration lateral loads.