Changing tracks: Circuit de Catalunya

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Two of Catalunya's quick corners were chopped in 2007

Formula 1 holds its 20th race at the Circuit de Catalunya this weekend.

The track has changed little in that time. But after only three years one corner which several drivers called the best on the track was cut.

More recently two other fast corners have been neutered by the introduction of a chicane. The track has gained an unenviable reputation for producing boring races.

Circuit de Catalunya: 1991

Length: 4.747km

Circuit de Catalunya: 2010

Length: 4.655km

How the track has changed

Campsa and Nissan

The first eight corners on the Circuit de Catalunya are the same now as they were in 1991. Campsa is the first corner to have changed – it became a longer turn in 1995 to bypass the Nissan chicane.

Johnny Herbert was among the drivers who called the fast right-left Nissan chicane the best corner on the track. But in 1994, following a spate of crashes including those which claimed Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberg, the drivers decided this corner had to go. An 11th-hour strike threat on the eve of the Grand Prix forced the organisers to build a temporary tyre wall in front of the offending corner.

The following year Campsa led directly onto an extended straight leading towards La Caixa and the Nissan corner was consigned to history.

La Caixa

La Caixa was the next corner to be changed, in 2004. By tightening the corner the race organisers hoped more overtaking would be encouraged.

The corner has seen some controversial clashes in other championships – Lewis Hamilton was knocked out of the lead by GP2 team mate Alexandre Premat here in 2006, and too much argy-bargy in the DTM race in 2007 led Audi to make a controversial mass withdrawal.

But there’s been precious little action there in F1.

New Holland chicane

Two more fast corners were neutered in 2007: Europcar and New Holland. Again, this was because the organisers felt the corners were being taken too quickly for the amount of run-off area available.

Like the other changed parts of the circuit the original corners are still there but are no longer used for Formula 1.

An unpopular circuit

The Circuit de Catalunya is a classic example of how even relatively modern circuits have had to change to meet increasingly stringent safety demands.

Although it has retained some of its high-speed corners the changes have altered the circuit’s character. The loss of Nissan and the change at La Caixa have sapped the middle part of the lap of its tempo and rhythm.

When the circuit was first built prevailing wisdom held that the combination of a fast final corner and a long straight leading into a braking zone would encourage overtaking, as cars would be able to slipstream each other down the straight.

However in the two decades which have passed since then increasing aerodynamic refinement on F1 cars has made them more sensitive to following in the disturbed air of a leading car and reduced the beneficial effect of slipstreaming on a straight.

Perhaps modern F1 cars are more to blame than the track for producing unexciting races. The Spanish Grand Prix was voted the third worst race of the year here in 2008 and again in 2009.

What do you think of the changes made to the Circuit de Catalunya over the years? Have they been for the better or worse? Have your say in the comments.

Circuit de Catalunya 2010 (click to enlarge)

How F1 tracks have changed

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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64 comments on “Changing tracks: Circuit de Catalunya”

  1. The New Holland chicane is an insult to drivers and F1 fans. The runoff area is sufficient as everyone can see on a satellite view.
    We had 4 interesting corners on this track (the last 2 ones, with turns 3 and 9), and they killed 2 of them… What a shame !

    1. the track is outdated for f1 and has to go

    2. i agree. It’s an example of what is happening to the sport we love. How much longer are we going to put up with it? We don’t want chicanes, we want fast corners. And we want the grandstans close to the action, no half a mile away.

    1. Not bad. First complex sounds really slow (but not bad), the fast kink between Elf and la Caixa looks great and there would be some interesting chance for overtaking at la Caixa and at the first corner.
      Great Prisoner!!!

      1. Prisoner Monkeys
        3rd May 2010, 12:01

        You can’t have a circuit that’s made up entirely of fast corners.

        1. um, yes you can!!!

          1. like an oval track?

          2. Prisoner Monkeys
            3rd May 2010, 16:23

            Well, you can have something like an oval track, but that’s not very challenging.

      2. I think that looks like a good track maybe just keep the hairpin going into sector 3 the same in stead of extending it.

    2. Untitled258
      3rd May 2010, 11:24

      I like it, but personally i think the top should be more like this….

      Have it flat out around what is currently turn 3, then just a massive straight with a slight kink, into the current turn 10, with that profile it might see overtaking.

      1. Track brutalised for overtaking.

        1. Untitled258
          3rd May 2010, 12:07

          Was you supposed to post the exact same link i posted?!? :-p

          1. no, strangley enough, though I like’d your track a great deal, I didn’t feel a further link under my name would add to it.

            I’ve done this accidentally before with gpmaps, although before I just reposted my tracks. Anyway here’s what I ment to post before, tested ‘n all.


          2. that’s one tile-fied track Scribe! lol

          3. Tilkerfied? Well, sort of, but really the circuit is already horrifically Tilkefied, an impossible to overtake on. My circuit at least serves a purpose.

            Will give you that it a bit stop go, but i’ve sped up significantly what was turn 2, with another fast corner straight after.

            An two clear an possible overtaking spot.

  2. The last two corners made Catalunya for me… really fast, no room for error and they were critical for a good lap time. That chicane is the pinnacle of circuit ruining design. The fast Nissan chicane is a great part of the circuit (I think it still forms part of Catalunya’s “Club” circuit), and it would be great to see modern F1 cars going through there, but I guess we will never get the chance.

    Last years race was spiced up by Jenson’s switch to “Plan B”… but it was largely boring. I’m expecting more of the same this year.

  3. Untitled258
    3rd May 2010, 10:31

    I thought the new end chicane was added to slow the cars down, so they go through the last corner slower, can flower closer behind meaning they can get a better tow down the straight?

    1. Prisoner Monkeys
      3rd May 2010, 11:10

      That’s the idea, but the layout has so far only been used once, and that was in 2009, so it’s a bit too early to judge.

      1. PM, the layout with the New Holland chicane has been in place since 2007. ;)

  4. James Brickles
    3rd May 2010, 10:33

    “Two more fast corners were neutered in 2007: Europcar and New Holland. Again, this was because the organisers felt the corners were being taken too quickly for the amount of run-off area available.”

    I also believe they changed it so that they would be hoping cars could overtake going into the first corner. There is no chance in HELL that they’re going to do that with a chicane. Chicanes just create space between cars.

    I also can’t recall anybody going off at the actual penultimate corner in its 16 years of use, so it was always going to be stupid from the organisers to change the best corner on the track to make it the worst corner on the track

    Montermini (1994) and Sato (2002) both went off at the final corner but thats all I can remember

    1. At the time they only said it was to improve safety.

  5. Since no modification has increased race appealing it would be great to switch back to the first lay-out. I wonder if with all the money spent in La Caixa and New Holland stupid lay-out they would have easily dislocated some embankement outside of Nissan and make it a safe corner.
    In the end I think Catalunya (first one) was a good track…boring races are due to car aerodynamics.

  6. That chicane nere the end i think has to be struck off. Even while playing Forza 3 I say to myself “I hate that chicane” with every lap, since it just spoils the pit straight intro afterwards.

  7. The final chicane is a travesty!

    Remove it, add tarmac and tecpro barriers around the outside.

    Job done.

  8. Spain is usually a fairly dull affair, however early reports suggest we could be in for more rain on race day, that would help spice things up

  9. HounslowBusGarage
    3rd May 2010, 13:23

    What a sad state of affairs that fans have to hope for bad weather to produce an exciting race.
    Supposing football was so dull that the only chance of a good match was snow, thick fog or a plague of toads.
    But yes, I think I’m hoping for Rain In Spain too.

  10. The problem with Catalunya is that it just has far too many loops, far too many sections where F1 cars are left trailing because of the dirty air and are therefore too far behind to make up the distance on the straights to pass. Hence why it was considered good for racing in the early 1990s and a bore-fest now.

    Personally, I’d shorten the layout like this:

    Or like this:

    Although the back straight (effectively one even with the kink) might be a bit too long to comply with regulations, but you could have a small chicane to break it up.

    (Apologies for drawing it with jagged lines, the program was having a hissy fit and refused to follow the circuit.)

    It would also help if the teams didn’t know it like the back of their hand! But if the current layout is here to stay, I would cancel the test sessions there and instead make it a non-championship race. With the cars being brand new and barely-known, we could have a more unpredictable race.

    1. Your first one is the “club circuit” if I remember correctly. The second one looks wicked, a bit like the old Hockenheimring.

    2. i like the 2nd one! here’s my take on an FIA tilke ***k up-

  11. Considering Heikki survived pretty much the worst accident you could have at Catalunya there’s really no justification for neutering the other turns anymore.

  12. While the previous changes only robbed the circuit of some of it’s charachter the final chicane totally killed the track.
    I can’t wait til they find a bee venue for either (preferably both) Spanish venues.

    1. motorland Aragon?

    2. Or a new Portuguese GP at Portimao? I really like that Circuit, plenty of elevation changes and a really nice fast final corner like the one they used to have at Catalunya (and Estoril for that matter). It would put another country on the calendar, and it wouldn’t be much harder to get to for Spanish race fans either.

  13. I think the changes are mostly only bad solutions to some uproar.
    The cars have changed a lot from 1994, so why not consider getting closer to the original track. Or alternatively have the drivers and an architect look at the track to find some improvement to make it though and exiting for the drivers and better for looking at the races.

  14. The Circuit de Catalunya was designed by former racing driver Luis Perez Sala. Has anyone can recall Sala overtaking? I can’t.

  15. and i feel hermann tilke should not be used to upgrade any track!!!!..he has killed the rhythm of the last section and catalunya looks a sorry figure now
    I can’t understand why is Tilke used for every track????
    I am bored with his tracks no flow no rhythm just chicanes long straights and a twisty section!! Isn’t there any other track designer??
    I feel ppl who watched f1 in the 60s and 70s were damn lucky in that respect.Aleast the tracks were more challenging then!!!

  16. Why do I have this feeling that Alonso is going to win this race ?

    1. Because you’re a smart person ;)


    2. hope fully massa will edge him off in turn 1 like in 2007 ;). GO MASSA!

      1. I hope it doesn’t go quite like 07 but a good result from both of them would be appreciated by me. Hopefully a Massa win …

  17. I think that F1 cars are slightly to blame for this one as the moto gp guys tend to have a decent enough dog fight here. :)

    Maybe they should get the guys in who did silverstone (assuming it works out).

  18. I think the Circuit de Catalunya in Montmelo is a victim of the aero bias on todays F1 cars and, I’m sorry to say guys but, I find all the alternatives posted here pig ugly ******** of a beautiful flowing circuit… including the current real life variation.

    Personally they should return the track to its original form (including the Nissan right/left) and fix any safety issues by creating more run off and better barriers, and leave the track well alone!!… even if that means moving the land about a bit. From what I’ve seen on the satellite view its perfectly possible.

    MotoGP 2009 at Montmelo was the one and only top level event I’ve been to live in my life… I will get to an F1 event yet, once I’ve saved a life fortune, and my wee boy is old enough to understand and enjoy the entire weekend… however, the entire MotoGP event and race was simply awesome.

    The problem is not the circuit.

    1. Or rather, the problem doesn’t have to be the circuit.

      Considering, though, the amount of changes that have been made to circuits to improve them (whether they’ve succeeded or not), and the amount of changes made to the cars to improve them, I think you’d have to say that changing the circuit is more realistic.

      Racing quality aside, I always found Catalunya boring to drive around on Playstation, and from the on-board shots. Spa and Monza flow; to me, Catalunya just feels like going around in alternating half-circles.

  19. I think Catalunya would be a much bigger challenge and more exciting if they went the other way around it(anti clockwise) without the chicane.

    Probably wouldn’t improve chances of overtaking, though.

  20. remember the 1999 GP here..only one on-track overtake..was there as much emphasis on aero as it is today?

  21. As Circuit de Catalunya provides good racing with MotoGP-bikes, we should come to the conclusion that the track is not the main problem. Aerodynamics and pit stops are.

    1. Yup, all we need to do is make the cars no more than 1 foot in width and give the the ability to tilt!

      1. GP2 cars aren’t 1 foot wide, but produce good races at locations like Valencia where the F1 cars keep having processional races.

  22. think of how many lines can a motorbike take through turn 3, or any other turns for that matter, compared to a 180 cm-wide F1 car

  23. I think they should drop the two spanish races and replace them with a race at motorland aragon and make a new event at Potrero de los funes in Argentina

  24. As an “all times attendant” in Barcelona’s track I think I have right to say my oppinion, this is what I think about this discussion. Circuit de Catalunya is one of the most challenging circuits in calendar. All F1 teams, choose this track to test the cars, year over year, and not only for climate conditions. Catalonian people always have been recognised for dedication and hospitality, showing all the world that Montmeló is a “must seen” GP for the sport. Only the best at Catalunya!

  25. I rate Campsa still as a good and quick corner, La Caixa hairpin is okay but I always loved to see the cars going round the last two downhill high speed corners. Please bring them back!

  26. ESPImperium
    4th May 2010, 16:32

    Personally, if they re-posistioned the grandstands to be more going away from the track, this would give the run off area needed, but with that id also tighten the last corner, make this more of a 90 degree lefthander, altho not great for Moto GP, would be ideal for F1.

    And with this lies the problem, is theis a bike track that has to be neutered for F1 or a F1 track that needs to be neutered for Moto GP. There needs to be a ballance here.

    I think that the orginisers here should maybe see what has been done at Suzuka and now being implemented at Silverstone to take the track into the next 20 years of its life. As the only way this track is gonna go is off the callander, just like the French GP.

    I just wish the chicane before the last corner wasnt there as it takes the momentum and rythm of the track away.

  27. Very nice showing all the old GP tracks.. But you’ve missed the old Albert park track

    1. Stealthman
      5th May 2010, 9:31

      Those races were run before F1 came to the circuit.

  28. Take away the chicane and bank the last corner so its easily flat plus tighten the first turn

  29. The most famous tracks in the U.S. have pretty much never changed since they were built.

    There are other forms of motorsport than F1. What right does F1 have to butcher tracks to fit the needs of what F1 cars currently happen to be. The tracks will need changing again in another 5 years.

    It’s up to the cars to make it around the track: bumps, fast, slow corners, camber, hills etc. Fit the cars to the tracks, don’t fit the tracks to the cars.

  30. I don’t think F1’s high aero is totally to blame as the lower categories also struggle to put on a good race here.

    Series like F3 & GP2 tend to put on better races than F1 elsewhere but this circuit is the exception, Not even the old GP2 car which wasn’t as reliant on aero didn’t do much at this track.

    As to wet, 1996 was wet & it was still a dull race that featured virtually no overtaking (4 according to clip the apex’s overtaking stats).

    The only good races at this track were 1991 & 1992 which were Melbourne style changeable conditions, every fully wet or dry races have been dull in every series regardless of track layout.

  31. Ive had this in mind for years after seeing nothing but boring GP’s in the past around circuit de catalunya. This is my ‘realistic’ idea of how it should be changed without costing the track owners a vast amount of cash. Please note that its only the last corner that i have changed and have left out the chicane at the end of the circuit. The last corner should represent more of a ‘flick’ of a corner like that of the last corner on the A1 ring in austria. This could promote overtaking into turn 1 as the last corner would now be not so much effected but turbulent air when following another car and add the extra challenge of having to perfect the flick without oversteer/understeer. Having this more challenging corner in theory will create more opputunities for cars to keep within pouncing distance of the car in front and allow the slipstream down the straight.

  32. Oppps, sorry. Not the link above, this one >

  33. They should dump the circuit all together and go to the really promising circuit at Aragon

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