The Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya that’s long served as the venue for the Spanish Grand Prix is not a track that tends to produce great racing. In fact, aside from Romain Grosjean lighting up his tires and causing a bad accident in Turn 3 in 2018 and the infamous collision between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg in the first lap of the 2016 race, I can’t immediately call to mind any exciting moments from Formula 1's trips to Catalunya over the past decade.
But Catalunya is where F1 is headed this weekend, and as it happens, the circuit’s tightest corner has been re-profiled for this year’s running. Turn 10 — an obnoxiously sharp and narrow left-hander, has now been extended with a wider radius that flows more gently into the long right Turn 12, skipping the little kink that used to split the two corners. It figures to be much faster than the previous layout, while also winding up the cars in Catalunya’s recognizable stadium section.
But will it produce better racing? Probably not, though it also might not necessarily make things more boring. It really depends on which driver you ask.
AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly offered positive thoughts on the change in a press conference interview on Thursday:
Clearly, I think there will be slightly more lines possible out of Turn 10, so I do hope racing improves, and it gives us the opportunity to put a bit of pressure on braking and maybe try something different on exit and overtake. [That would] give us a bit more opportunities in terms of racing, but in terms of driving, yeah, it’s mostly a bit more open, a bit faster corner.
Carlos Sainz, who’s looking forward to his first home race as a Ferrari driver, seemed undecided:
In the past, Turn 10 was obviously very difficult to follow a car in front just because there was only one line. There is a strong point [about the change] that maybe having a wider line, you can maybe place your car a bit differently compared to a car in front and get a bit more clean air. But, at the same time, it’s a higher speed corner, [where] we will feel the downforce loss if we follow. One thing might compensate the other.
While Red Bull’s Sergio Perez doesn’t appear to be a fan:
I don’t think, looking at it, it will bring anything in racing conditions. Overtaking is already very hard, so removing the slowest corner in the circuit probably wasn’t the best idea. Let’s see how it works — it might turn out that it’s better to follow and so on. It will be interesting to see what it does in terms of tire energy through the lap, whether that changes anything for the final sector. That’s a variant that we need to learn.
The benefit of a really tight corner following a long straight, particularly in F1, is that it gives drivers an opportunity to out-brake their opponents and sweep up the inside for a pass. But, as many drivers have remarked in the lead up to Sunday’s race, there was really only ever one line through the old Turn 10 due to its narrowness. Couple that with the turbulent, “dirty” air that following cars are subject to, and it wasn’t conducive for passing — tight though it was.
This marks the second time in the past two decades Turn 10 has been adjusted at Catalunya. The original layout was somewhat similar to the new one, but longer and faster. That was replaced with the super-tight hairpin that had a knack for sending cars off track on corner exit when racing closely anyway, which brings us to the latest implementation.
Personally, whether the turn encourages passing or not, I’m just looking forward to not having to deal with the old one in this year’s F1 video game. If navigating it in real life was anything like it is virtually, it really must have sucked for the drivers.