On the face of it, there's a lot to like about the Circuit de Catalunya. It's relatively modern but is still one of the longest-tenured circuits currently on the calendar (built in 1991) - it's not a Hermann Tilke atrocity (important in the modern F1 calendar), there's elevation changes all round the circuit and a variety of fast and slow corners, and in its location near Barcelona, it's close to one of the most beautiful and vibrant cities not just in Spain, but in all Europe.
It's hosted the Spanish GP unbroken since 1991 (although there was supposed to be an alternating host between here and the tight, twisty street circuit in Valencia the past few seasons...the Valencians dropped out due to financial reasons), and the GP itself is one of the oldest motor races in the world, celebrating its centenary in 2013. It all started so well, too...in the very first race in 1991 Nigel Mansell and Ayrton Senna did this down the truly humungous main straight:
and the circuit layout at turn 1 (a massive straight into a slow downhill righthander) was a God-given overtaking position in the era of slipstreaming and no DRS, ERS or any other overtaking aids. In fact, there were several spots on the circuit that were perfect for slipstreaming...the layout of long straights into slow corners meant that overtaking could happen all over the circuit, and frequently did. The trouble is...as aerodynamics improved, the overtaking decreased. Cars were no longer able to stick close enough to get a tow through the medium-speed last two corners and then blast down the straight in the clean air. Ironically, as F1 cars got better, a circuit designed initially to make the most of them got worse, and so did the races around it.
Now, Catalunya remains largely unchanged, but the cars have advanced to a point where they simply don't really see the place as exciting. The technology of F1 cars and the evolution of it has passed the circuit by. Of course, the fact that many F1 teams and drivers spend a lot of their testing time pounding around the 2.8 mile ribbon of tarmac here doesn't help...every F1 driver is more than familiar with the circuit, and knows exactly where best to stick their car to minimize any chance of the car behind them gaining any sort of advantage.
Plus, Catalunya doesn't have anything recognisably "it". The new circuits have their fancy architecture. The old circuits have their history (well, that that hasn't been bulldozed in the name of the latest Tilke "improvement". They have Great Corners, or at least named ones. They have landmarks. Or questionable weather. Catalunya has none of that.
F1 there now is like holding a glitzy rave in a warehouse on an industrial estate...with no alcohol. It was something that was great once and you still have most of the ingredients that made it fun...but there's just something very fundamental missing. It's not a place F1 goes to play. It's a wet work Wednesday disguised as an F1 race.
A LAP OF THE TRACK Catalunya is 2.8 miles of up-and-down rambling through the Spanish countryside...which in this part of the world is usually parched and uninviting. Ironically, the MotoGP layout is the more exciting (and faster) version, but for F1 it looks like this:
A lap of the track starts by blasting off the line halfway down the main straight and pounding downhill to turn 1, the Curva Elf, a downhill 2nd gear right that leads immediately into an uphill left you take while accelerating up to fourth gear. It's a bit of a white-knuckle ride, since if you're overtaking the inside for 1 is outside for 2 and vice versa.
Then turn three---a long long right at Renault that spits you onto a short straight before the right handed Repsol and even slower Seat corners, one of the slowest parts of the track. A fast downhill-kink left- takes you to turn 7 at Wurth, then accelerating all the time uphill to Campsa, turn 9, the brow of the hill. Back down again on one of the longest straights in the circuit to the infield section...uphill through the painfully slow La Caixa, round the constant-radius Banc Sabadell, the 3rd-gear Europcar and the new chicane which is supposed to slow the cars down and close them up before the long accelerating right through the last bend at New Holland, and then it's flat-out through the DRS zone and on to another lap.
Do that right, and you're doing it in the mid 1:20s, which also makes Catalunya one of the fastest-lapped circuits on the calendar.
The thing with this place is...it's all very nice, and the drivers enjoy it, but for most of them it's as familiar as sitting on the balconies of their Monaco penthouses. For the spectator, it's often a case of watching a bunch of very expensive cars cruise round almost in formation in decent but not spectacular style for two hours, with things like "pit stops", "fuel-saving" and "strategy" being words used far too often when discussing how one car can overtake another rather than stuff like "racing".
Essentially, pray for rain. Otherwise, this could be a case of suffering pains in Spain. Boredom pains.
God, I miss the old days in Catalunya.