If there?s one track which Formula One drivers can lap with their eyes closed it is the Circuit de Catalunya.
Its variety of corners makes it a revealing benchmark track for the season ahead. Especially as teams often use it to introduce their first major upgrades of the season.
But having already logged a combined 7,400 laps of the track in pre-season testing this year alone, the venue is unlikely to offer the drivers any surprises.
Key places to watch will be turns three and nine, which the new-generation cars are expected to tackle flat-out. Will that allow them to qualify five seconds faster than they did two years ago?
They?ve already lapped quicker than that in testing. However that was achieved on super-soft tyres which won?t be available this weekend. This will be the true test.
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A lap of the Circuit de Catalunya
Daniel Ricciardo calls the Barcelona track ?one of the better circuits on the calendar? which as ?got a bit of everything?.
Catalunya features some serious quick corners?Turns one, two and three are really good flowing corners.? The run towards them is not as long as at Sochi?s mammoth sprint to the first braking zone, but at over 700 metres it is one of the longest on the calendar. It is narrower too, which makes a greater difference with this year?s wider cars.
The entry speed to turn one is fairly high which means drivers have to be fully committed to make an overtaking move work. It?s one of the reasons why passing at this track is especially difficult.
Turn three previously required a lift on the throttle to achieve an entry speed of around 210kph. This is no longer the case, which may allow drivers to adjust their exit from turn two accordingly.
Last year the two Mercedes drivers got no further than turn four during the race as they collided while disputing the lead. On an ordinary lap drivers are minded to avoid locking the front brake before taking an early apex.
The track drops as the drivers quickly approach the next corner. ?The hairpin into turn five, going down you don?t see the apex until late, so it?s a tricky corner,? explains Romain Grosjean.
Turn six serves only to keep sign-writers in employment; the next true corner is number seven. This was a significant braking zone last year, where drivers reduced their speed by around half. They should be able to attack it with considerably more commitment this time.
Slow chicane was added ten years agoThe same is true of turn nine. On his 2016 pole position lap Lewis Hamilton reduced his speed from 261 to 217kph here, but we should see the drivers keep the throttle wide open this weekend. It can be gusty at this point on the track, however, and a messy exit will prevent drivers from being able to open DRS immediately on the following straight.
The final sector of the lap is considerably slower than it was when the circuit first opened 26 years ago. Turn ten became a sharp hairpin in the name of overtaking back in 2004, with mixed results at best. It is ?very tricky under braking? according to Grosjean. This begins a busy sequence of mostly slow corners.
Turn 12 is the only corner left on this part of the track which is unchanged from the original configuration. The long turn sets the drivers up for the sharp, slow right-left-right which was introduced ten years ago as the run-off on this section of the track was though too small for the old, high-speed final corners. The final corner is much the same as it was, but the approach speed is now so low it?s just an acceleration zone.
2017 Spanish Grand Prix
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