The Circuit de Catalunya has one of the longest straight runs to turn one of any track on the calendar. It rewards good starts and powerful engines.
But one driver in particular seems to have mastered how to make up places on lap one here – local hero Fernando Alonso – although it hasn’t always gone according to plan for him.
Williams locked out the front row in 1997 but from third on the grid David Coulthard McLaren was already ahead of the pair of them as they passed the pit lane exit. He and Jacques Villeneuve went through the opening corners side by side but it was the Williams driver who came out ahead. Heinz-Harald Frentzen, who had started second, fell to sixth.
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Pole sitter Michael Schumacher kept Mika Hakkinen at bay as the cars sprinted towards turn one in 2000. However their team mates were passed by Ralf Schumacher, the Williams driver giving a compelling demonstration of the grunt of BMW’s new V10 engine by jumping from fifth to third in one go.
David Coulthard qualified third but failed to get away on the formation lap, leaving a gap on the second row. In a repeat of the previous year Michael Schumacher’s Ferrari held the lead while Ralf Schumacher’s Williams moved up to third.
Heinz-Harald Frentzen’s Jordan also failed to move when the lights went out. As with Coulthard, his problems were a consequence of the FIA’s decision to legalise the previously banned traction control systems.
Michael Schumacher took his fourth consecutive pole position at the Spanish track but Ferrari were alert to the threat from the fast-starting Renaults on the second row. Sure enough, Alonso instantly passed Rubens Barrichello for second and was bearing down on the other Ferrari as they reached turn one. Aided by the slipstream and Ferrari power, Barrichello then rocketed back in the hunt for the lead – he drew alongside Schumacher on the outside, was edged wide by his team mate, but managed to rejoin with Alonso’s Renault still behind him.
It was a hellish start for McLaren. Coulthard was taken out by Jarno Trulli at turn two, and Kimi Raikkonen hadn’t even got that far. Having started last after an error in qualifying, Raikkonen smashed into Antonio Pizzonia’s slow-starting Jaguar a few meters after he’d let the clutch out.
Not one of Alonso’s better efforts. In his troubled first season with McLaren he arrived at his home event tied for the lead of the championship with rookie team mate Lewis Hamilton and Raikkonen.
But his efforts to to wrest the lead from pole sitter Felipe Massa, who defended his position in uncompromising fashion, caused Alonso to drop behind Hamilton and Raikkonen.
Jenson Button started from pole position followed by Sebastian Vettel and Barrichello, and the fourth-placed Ferrari of Massa threatened to get in among them, being the highest-placed car with the benefit of the new KERS hybrid boost.
But while Massa out-dragged Vettel for second it was Barrichello who pulled off the real surprise, driving around the outside of Button to take the lead. Barrichello was far from impressed when he crossed the finishing line in second place, blaming the team for deploying a three-stop strategy which cost him the victory to Button.
There wasn’t enough room for Trulli’s Toyota at the exit of turn two, and after losing control on the gravel he skidded back into the back, colliding with Adrian Sutil’s Force India and forcing both Toro Rossos out as well.
With Red Bull enjoying a near-monopoly on success at the start of 2011, Alonso’s fans came to the Circuit de Catalunya hoping he would do something special. And he did: from fourth on the grid he somehow found a gap on the inside of Mark Webber’s Red Bull which was a few millimetres wider than his Ferrari and snatched the lead.
It couldn’t last – he slipped to fifth at the flag behind the faster Red Bull and McLaren cars.
Having taken the lead from fourth the previous year there was little surprise Alonso was able to do the same from second in 2012. But the identity of the pole sitter and eventual race-winner was a real shock – Pastor Maldonado inherited first on the grid when Hamilton was thrown out of qualifying due to a technical infringement, and his subsequent defeat of Alonso remains one of the most astonishing and unlikely results of recent seasons.
Mercedes locking out the front row of the grid is standard form these days, but two years ago it was remarkable. Nico Rosberg held his advantage from pole position but Hamilton was passed first by Vettel and then – brilliantly – by Alonso on the outside of turn three. The Ferrari driver went onto win while tyre trouble confined the Mercedes duo to sixth (Rosberg) and twelfth (Hamilton).
Twelve months later the front row was similar – albeit with the order reversed – and the outcome utterly different. Hamilton led Rosberg home in a one-two. Meanwhile Romain Grosjean, despite locking up heavily at the first corner, gave the wretched Lotus E22 its best result – qualifying fifth and finishing eighth.
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17 comments on “Start shots: Spanish Grand Prix”
4th May 2015, 12:27
I hope Alonso starts from the middle of the pack and not the back, for sure he will try his best to impress his home crowd.
4th May 2015, 12:41
Great new feature. Hope to see this again going forward
4th May 2015, 13:07
That was a great effort by Grosjean last year.
Maldonado’s win in 2012 was amazing! :P
4th May 2015, 14:28
Indeed, that was a great effort by Grosjean last year – apparently he had a sensor issue in the race, and without it he could have even finished somewhere like 6th.
I was really perplexed about Lotus’ form last year. They had improved greatly in the first couple races (Grosjean’s qualifying results in the 5 races went 22nd, 15th, 16th, 10th, then 5th in Spain). In Spain both Grosjean and Maldonado looked very much Q3 material throughout practice (though Maldonado crashing in Q1 potentially cost Lotus a double points finish) and at the time I thought they had sorted out their problems and would be capable of consistently scoring points over the rest of the season. However, Spain was the most competitive they ever got, and they fell back over the rest of the season. After Grosjean’s 5th in Spain qualifying, he produced another great performance to qualify 8th in Monaco, but they weren’t quite as competitive, and then they slipped back with 14th in Canada and never had another top-ten grid slot for the rest of the season. The ban on FRIC hurt them a lot, as they had a very advanced FRIC system that their car was heavily designed around, but even before that was banned they were quickly slipping back, despite moving forward so quickly in the first couple of races. I wonder if they went in the wrong direction with car development, much like Force India did in the second half of the season.
4th May 2015, 14:30
Just to clarify, that first bracketed comment was supposed to say “Grosjean’s qualifying results in the first 5 races…”
4th May 2015, 14:50
Maldonado’s win was so amazing that it still accounts for more than 50% of his career points over his five seasons.
4th May 2015, 15:48
4th May 2015, 14:21
I can’t help but think that Alonso lost the title in 2012 in this race. Of course that year had other races where he lost points (and not always something he could have done anyhing about), but failing to wrestle 1st place from Maldonado in Spain… I mean… come on :/
4th May 2015, 15:49
Had Grosjean not taken him out in Spa,….
But then again Vettel had his alternator problems in Valencia where he lost 25 points to Alonso right away.
Craig Woollard (@craig-o)
14th May 2016, 11:44
@xtwl Strictly speaking, it was more than 25 points because Alonso instantly gained another seven from inheriting the position. Similar thing happened at Korea in 2010. Can’t deny Alonso did a good job in both cases, but Vettel was controlling the race from the front when the car simply gave up on him.
5th May 2015, 17:11
“failing to wrestle Maldonado”….yeah, right.
Maldonado was sublime that day. A perfect race, strong pace not even a single error.
The race wasn’t a showdown between Alonso and Maldonado only, there were other drivers there too and them all were defeated by Pastor. Kimi was behind them on a different strategy and couldn’t do a thing either.
Give the guy some credit.
4th May 2015, 14:29
Nice article. I dont recall Webber driving a Ferrari in 2011 though :)
4th May 2015, 15:03
I forgot how awful that Lotus front end was last year. I’m glad they weren’t competitive otherwise they’d have had more TV time….
Droid Damudi (@droiddamudi)
4th May 2015, 20:11
how can you Forget 2006 start?
Kimi jumping 4-5 cars, that was mega start.
I love 2003 start, especially the sound, i might have the clip of the start
/start digging old DVDs…
4th May 2015, 20:32
I really love those articles! A shame video starts are difficult to find.
5th May 2015, 0:51
Alonso’s start is always impressive here even without launch control. I hope new Honda PU make significant improvement so he could challenge top teams…at least at the start.
14th May 2016, 9:34
I’m missing the race from 2004 in this list. Alonso may have had a great start in 2011 to take the lead from fourth but he wasn’t the first to do that. I’ll never forget Jarno Trulli rocketing into the lead 12 years ago.
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