The Circuit de Catalunya was originally supposed to be opened in 1992 to coincide with Barcelona’s hosting of the Olympic Games, but it was ready a year ahead of schedule and, at the time, was considered state-of-the-art. It is still a good facility and the track itself offers plenty of variety with undulations and fast corners and a long main straight that generates overtaking opportunities. The track was hastily modified with a tyre barrier chicane in 1994, following the fatalities at the San Marino Grand Prix a month earlier and for 1995, more permanent modifications were made, which actually increased the number of overtaking opportunities. With the demise of the San Marino Grand Prix, this event has now become the traditional start of the European season, signalling the arrival of the team trucks and hospitality units to brighten up the paddock and, more importantly, less time flying to and from the races, as all the teams are European-based. King Juan Carlos of Spain is a real motor sport enthusiast and is a regular visitor to the event and he was even given a high speed lap of the track in a two-seater F1 car.
Ferrari is the most successful team at this event, with eleven victories, the first one coming courtesy of Mike Hawthorn back in 1954, while Michael Schumacher heads the drivers’ table with six wins, five of them at the wheel of a Prancing Horse car, including his first ever victory for the Scuderia here in 1996, when he drove brilliantly in a permanent heavy downpour. Over twenty years earlier, Ferrari took a memorable one-two, again in rainy conditions, when quick pit stops to change to dry tyres saw Niki Lauda and Clay Regazzoni move into the top two places, eventually finishing a whole lap ahead of their closest pursuers. In 2001, the race result proved that luck as well as skill can play its part, as Michael Schumacher was a long way behind the leader Mika Hakkinen going into the final lap, but the Ferrari man inherited the win, when the Finn suffered a mechanical failure just a few corners from the chequered flag. It was at this race that traction control (now banned again) had been reintroduced for the first time since 1994. 2006 was the year that most local fans will remember, as Fernando Alonso’s victory was the first for a Spanish driver in a home Grand Prix.
In 2008, the Scuderia scored a one-two finish with Kimi ahead of Felipe, in what had been an action packed race, including a big accident when Heikki Kovalainen buried his car into the tyre barriers at Turn 9, fortunately without injury.