If Formula 1 could be said to have a home venue, then the Circuit de Catalunya is it. Host venue of the Spanish Grand Prix for a quarter of a century, the circuit is also F1’s favoured test track. Good facilities, advantageous logistics and climate contribute to F1’s frequent testing presence in Barcelona, but plenty of other circuits in Mediterranean Europe fit that description. The Circuit de Catalunya also has the advantage of being as close to the nominal F1 circuit as the sport possesses.
Barcelona has something of everything: a long main straight, high speed corners in the first sector, medium speed in the second and a slow, technical complex to end the lap. It’s a high downforce power track that’s also tough on tyres – all of which leads to a perception that a car that runs well at the Circuit de Catalunya is likely to be good everywhere. The statistics bear that out: rarely does the winning car in Spain not go on to claim the Constructors’ Championship.
That hasn’t necessarily translated into great races, however, with the perception being that familiarity dials out some of the variables. To date, the driver starting from pole position has a strong history of going on to win the race – though Pirelli’s tyre philosophy and the arrival of the DRS have greatly improved the show in the last few years.
It hasn’t been a particularly rewarding circuit for McLaren, providing only four of the team’s eight Spanish Grand Prix victories – though the four did include a memorable hat-trick for Mika Häkkinen in the years 1998-2000. Undoubtedly the all-time most popular victories here were Fernando’s wins in 2006 and 2013.
McLaren’s record at the Spanish Grand Prix
Since the Spanish Grand Prix returned to the Formula 1 World Championship calendar in 1968, we’ve had a driver on a Spanish Grand Prix podium 23 times, and nine of those were race wins.
In the past 44 years, four venues have hosted the race – Jarama, Montjuich Park, Jerez and Catalunya. We’ve won at all of them.
In 1976, James Hunt beat his title rival Niki Lauda, of Ferrari, to the flag by over 30 seconds. Lauda had passed Hunt at the start of the race at Jarama, but Hunt managed to take back the lead just before the halfway point.
Alain Prost and Stefan Johansson scored the team’s first-ever double podium finish at the Spanish Grand Prix in 1987 after both drove solid races from seventh and 11th?on the grid respectively, finishing ?ahead of that year’s world champion, Nelson Piquet.
Prost went one better in 1988, winning by 26 seconds from Nigel Mansell. ?Ayrton Senna suffered problems with his fuel computer, so had to drive cautiously in order to make it to the finish and crossed the line in fourth.
Senna took a lights-to-flag victory in 1989, winning some 27 seconds clear of Gerhard Berger’s Ferrari. Prost brought his car home in third place to score the team’s second double podium finish at the grand prix in three years.
Nearly ten years later, in 1998, the team scored its first-ever Spanish Grand Prix one-two. In a dominant race for the team, polesitter Mika Hakkinen led David Coulthard home, and both were almost 30 seconds clear of Ferrari’s Michael Schumacher who finished third.
The team’s Spanish supremacy would continue in 1999 and 2000. Mika Hakkinen set the pole position times and won both races, while David Coulthard followed him home in second place.
Kimi Raikkonen won the race from pole position in 2005, finishing some 27 seconds ahead of Fernando Alonso’s Renault. It was his first victory of the season, and the race saw his title challenge gain true momentum for the first time that year.
In 2007, Lewis Hamilton continued his run of podium finishes by crossing the line in second place. His team-mate and home race hero Fernando Alonso completed the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes double podium finish as he raced to third.