There’s been a Spanish Grand Prix on and off since 1951, with venues including Jamara, Jerez and the almost impossible for an English speaker to pronounce Montjuïc circuit.
In 1991 it moved to its current home in Montmeló- check out Badger’s spiffy circuit guide for more info- and it’s memories from that track we’re looking back on today. So here, good people, are Badger’s 3 to remember from the Circuit de Catalunya.
Williams Fight Back
The 1994 Spanish Grand Prix fell at the end of one of the darkest months in F1’s history. Just 4 weeks earlier both Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger had lost their lives during the San Marino GP weekend, whilst Austrian driver Karl Wendlinger was still in a coma following a crash at the preceding Monaco Grand Prix.
So it’s a relief to say that there was something of a good news story at this race, with Senna’s Williams teammate Damon Hill claiming their first win of the season and sparking hopes of a championship assault.
But it was by no means a perfect weekend, with Andrea Montermini, who replaced Ratzenberger at the Simtek team, suffering a broken foot in a practice crash. The race also saw the introduction of some utterly ridiculous tyre chicanes, aimed at slowing the cars down on quicker sections of the track. Unsurprisingly these proved to be a poor solution, but still made a reappearance at the Canadian Grand Prix a fortnight later. As you can see from the picture above they were primitive to say the least.
Anyway, on to the racing. Having won the opening 4 grand prix it was little surprise that Michael Schumacher took pole in his Benetton ahead of Damon Hill in the Williams. Schumacher led from the start, followed by Hill and the McLaren of Mika Hakkinen, but neither could keep pace with the German, who was pulling away at close to a second a lap.
But the race was to change during the first round of tyre stops. Schumacher seemed to cruise out of the pits and was quickly passed by a number of lapped cars. He was stuck in 5th gear, and even completing the race was looking unlikely.
Hakkinen now lead from Hill and an ailing Schumacher. When Mika made his stop Damon took the lead. Somehow Schumacher was hanging in there with the Williams and the McLaren, adjusting his lines to compensate for only having one gear. When Hakkinen’s engine expired he was promoted to 2nd, but he never had a chance of catching Hill, who took the chequered flag for an emotional victory. Mark Blundell came home third, taking what would turn out to be the legendary Tyrrell team’s final podium finish.
Schuamcher actually had a great drive that day. The fact that he drove much of the race in 5th gear and still finished 2nd was a huge achievement, but after the events of the preceeding month Spain 1994 belonged to the Williams team. Hill put it nicely afterwards:
“This was the best medicine, it was what everyone at Williams needed. I give this victory to Ayrton’s fans”.
Remember what Michael Schumacher used to be like? You know, when he drove a red car and won a lot of races? Surely you remember? It was before he signed for Mercedes, started wearing a racesuit that makes him look like a cyberman and trundled round in 8th place. Okay, we’ll jog your memory.
The 1996 Spanish Grand Prix was one of Schumacher’s finest performances in an F1 car. In fact, it was one of the finest performances anyone has ever produced in an F1 car.
Schumacher started 3rd behind the two Williams cars of Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve. The German had been nearly a second shy of Hill in qualifying, unable to match the brilliant FW18’s pace. For the race itself conditions were awful, with torrential rain that Spain won’t likely see again (intentional rhyming there). Schumacher made a bad start and fell back to 6th, whilst Villeneuve led from Jean Alesi and Hill.
But while all around him were losing their heads Schumacher was keeping his. Teammate Eddie Irvine spun in to retirement, whilst Hill had a spin that would drop him behind his fierce rival. Schumacher quickly passed Gerhard Berger for 3rd and began reeling in Alesi and leader Villeneuve. Alesi was disposed of easily, the Benetton driver showing far less confidence in the rain than Schumacher. A lap later Villeneuve was passed for the lead.
This was only lap 10, but Schumacher’s overtaking spree was over. He spent the rest of the race running nearly 3 seconds quicker than any one else and came home a whole minute clear of Alesi. He had been totally untouchable in a car that was nowhere near being the class of the field.
What would Michael Schumacher do for a repeat of that performance this weekend? We don’t imagine there’s much. But the big, unavoidable question is this: is Michael still capable of driving the way he did at the Circuit de Catalunya 14 long years ago? When will we see the Return of the King?
Not the greatest race but one of some significance. The Spanish Grand Prix didn’t used to attract particularly large crowds. Spain’s motorsport of choice took place on 2 wheels rather than 4, with Spanish motorbike racers having enjoyed considerably more success than their car racing compatriots. At least that was the case before Fernando Alonso- and Alonsomania.
In 2006 Alonso arrived at the Circuit de Catalunya a hero. Spain’s first grand prix winner had taken the 2005 championship six months earlier and caused an explosion of F1 interest in his homeland. Now the world-conquering hero was riding back in to town with a new goal: victory at his home grand prix.
Alonso delighted his public in qualifying by taking pole, though his teammate Giancarlo Fischella was just 6 hundreths of a second slower, with the Ferraris of Schumacher and Massa on row 2.
The grandstands were a sea of blue and yellow, the colours of both Alonso’s home province of Asturias’ flag and the 2006 Renault cars. Alonso made a good start and began pulling away, half a second quicker than Fisichella and over a second faster than Schumacher.
Alonso pitted first, enjoyed a trouble free stop, and regained the lead on lap 24. Meanwhile Schumacher had leapforgged Fischella in the stops; could he chase down Alonso and spoil the local hero’s homecoming parade?
Err, no. Alonso was comfortable out front and only lost his lead to Schumacher for a few laps when he made his second stop. When Schumacher also pitted Fernando regained the lead and held on to it until the chequered flag. The blue and yellow masses in the stands went wild for their man Fernando.
Alonso is Spain’s only F1 race winner, their only world champion, and when he hangs up his helmet we’re pretty sure they’ll be naming a corner after him here at the Circuit de Catalunya. Not that he cares about that right now. All he’ll be interested this weekend is taking his second win on home turf- this time at the wheel of a Ferrari.