This weekend marks the 25th staging of the Spanish Grand Prix at the Circuit di Catalunya in Barcelona. For this week’s Top Ten Tuesday, we’ve picked 10 memorable moments from the event from 1991 to today.
10. Alonso’s first home victory – 2006:
Fernando Alonso had risen to the top of the sport in 2006, having become the then youngest ever winner, pole sitter & World Champion over the 2003-2005 period. However, 2005 had not seen Fernando take his first ever home Grand Prix win, the Spaniard denied by Kimi Raikkonen on that occasion.
2006 was a different story. Perfectly in tune with his Renault R26, he took pole position by 0.1 seconds ahead of team-mate Giancarlo Fisichella, before going on to take an emphatic victory by 18 seconds over Michael Schumacher. This led to a jubilant crowd and a dancing Alonso, the first Spaniard to win on home soil in Formula 1.
9. Super Aguri’s first points – 2007:
Super Aguri had raced the opening half of 2006 with an updated 2002 Arrows A23 chassis, before bringing in a slightly better version of the same chassis later in the season.
Having weathered a troubled debut season in 2006, Super Aguri ran their own version of Honda’s 2006 chassis in 2007, and it proved to be a notable step up. A title sponsor even came on board in the early .Sp5rl!47rs of the season, something which quickly fell apart when the sponsor failed to pay. However, this didn’t stop the team from starting to trouble the points positions.
The 2007 Spanish Grand Prix saw quite a few retirements, including the likes of eventual Champion Kimi Raikkonen, Toyota’s Ralf Schumacher, Red Bull’s Mark Webber & BMW’s Nick Heidfeld. With the Renaults suffering fuel rig problems at their pit-stops, the window was left open for someone unusual to sneak a point, and that person was Takuma Sato.
The former BAR driver had found refuge at Super Aguri, leading the Honda-backed team, and the ‘wild’ driver of the mid-2000s didn’t put a wheel wrong en route to 8th place in Barcelona. He followed this up with a 6th place in Canada, overtaking McLaren’s Fernando Alonso in the process, to finish 2007 with 4 points. These would be the only points the team would ever score, as they withdrew from the sport after the 2008 Spanish GP, just one year after their first promising result.
8. Olivier Panis’ attacking drive – 1997:
Having taken his first win in 1996 after a sterling drive at Monaco, Olivier Panis entered 1997 with high hopes. Driving for Ligier, his team had been bought out by Alain Prost, and the new JS45 showed promise. A strong Mugen-Honda engine and a change to the new tyre supplier Bridgestone meant the Prost was one of the dark horse cars for good results in the early part of the season.
Finishing 5th in Australia, Olivier took a podium in Brazil and 4th place at Monaco, but was left disappointed after qualifying in Barcelona. Taking 12th on the grid, the Frenchman was a full 2.5 seconds off the pole time of Jacques Villeneuve.
With Circuit Di Catalunya being notoriously hard on tyres due to the rough asphalt that makes up the track surface, the Goodyear tyres struggled massively with degradation. The hot track slowed the pace of the Williams and Benettons, and Panis was able to pick off the likes of Schumacher, Coulthard and Alesi through strategy and pit-stops.
Moving up to 2nd place with twenty laps remaining, Panis began eating into Villeneuve’s lead. A 13 second gap on Lap 47 was down to 11 seconds on Lap 49. Closing the gap at more than a second a lap, Olivier looked set to put Jacques under pressure in the closing .Sp5rl!47rs. However, it all went wrong when he came up to lap Eddie Irvine’s Ferrari. No blue flags were shown to the Ferrari, and Irvine didn’t yield. Blocked in behind for a few laps, the gap between Panis & Villeneuve grew out to 16 seconds again by Lap 57, leaving Olivier’s challenge ruined.
Panis took 2nd place, which would be his final F1 podium. The next race was Montreal, Canada, and Panis crashed heavily in practice, breaking his legs. When he returned, things weren’t quite the same, and when Prost moved to Peugeot engines for 1998, the writing was on the wall. He finished his career at the end of 2004, having tested for McLaren between 2000 & 2002.
7. Williams take an emotional win – Schumacher takes 2nd despite problems – 1994:
The Spanish Grand Prix of 1994 was only the second race after the deaths of Ratzenberger & Senna at Imola, leading to an awful chicane being installed on the back straight of the circuit to slow the cars before La Caixa.
However, the weekend was still marred by a serious accident. Andrea Montermini, having been drafted in to replace Roland Ratzenberger at Simtek, went off and crashed heavily at the final corner. He suffered foot injuries and was immediately sidelined until 1995.
In the race, Michael led away, but started suffering from a gear selection problem during the race. This allowed Damon Hill to take the lead, while Michael struggled around the track in 5th gear. Astonishingly, he even managed to make a pitstop and resume the race despite his problem, and spent the closing .Sp5rl!47rs figuring out new lines and trajectories to get around the circuit in the most efficient way.
Michael’s problems allowed Damon Hill to take the win, Williams’ first of the season, and the first since their lead driver Ayrton had been killed a few weeks prior.
This led to particularly raw emotions being displayed by those on the pitwall with engineers burying their heads in their hands, overcome by the turbulent beginning to 1994. Adrian Newey blinked back the tears as his FW16 became a race winner, while Michael Schumacher coaxed his compromised Benetton home in 2nd, underlining the strength of his championship challenge.
6. Hakkinen makes it three in a row – 2000:
The 2000 Spanish Grand Prix wasn’t a particularly memorable one in terms of racing action, but was notable due to being the race that kick started Mika Hakkinen’s 2000 title campaign.
Having had a poor start to the season as reigning Champion, Mika had scored just 12 points in the opening 4 races to trail leader Schumacher by 22 points. Coming out second best to Michael in qualifying didn’t raise the mood at McLaren, supporting David Coulthard on a difficult weekend. The Scot had been involved in a plane crash prior to the race, his private jet crashing near Nice. While David and his entourage survived, the two pilots were killed.
During the opening stint of the race, Schumacher led Hakkinen before a pit-stop accident shuffled Michael back. The lollipop man gave Michael the signal to go before the refuelling had finished, resulting in Michael dragging some pit crew members with him and hurling them to the floor. Most injured was Nigel Stepney, who suffered torn ligaments in the incident. Stepney would go to become a catalyst in the 2007 SpyGate scandal, before passing away in 2014.
This incident gifted the win to Mika Hakkinen, who scampered home with a 16 second lead over team-mate David Coulthard who overcame Ralf Schumacher & Rubens Barrichello to take the place. This meant Mika had won the event three times in a row 1998-2000. Michael came home in 5th, allowing Mika to close the championship gap to 14 points and establish himself as a contender for the title.
5. Mansell & Senna send sparks flying – 1991:
The inaugural race at Circuit Di Catalunya came towards the end of the 1991 season, and saw one of Formula 1’s most iconic moments occur. Nigel Mansell, having started the race from 2nd place, fell behind Ayrton Senna after the McLaren driver made a great start.
Gerhard Berger in the other McLaren led the way, and slowly eased away from the squabbling Senna & Mansell, before Nigel was sprung upon by Michael Schumacher to fall to fourth. However, Mansell got back past the obstreperous rookie by going around the outside at Sabadell, and set off after Senna. Closing quickly, Nigel attempted to get alongside Ayrton on the main straight, succeeding two laps after passing Michael.
Dicing just inches apart, Mansell braved it out, sliding into second place under braking for Turn 1 before heading off after Gerhard Berger. On a drying track, Berger’s lead was lost in the pits while Senna managed to get back ahead of Mansell during the switchover to dry tyres. Spins for Senn & Schumacher dropped them out of contention, while Berger would eventually retire with an electrical problem. As a result, Nigel took the win and became the first victor at Catalunya.
4. Alonso sends the home crowd wild – 2013:
Having taken victory at Valencia in 2012, the Barcelona fans were eager to see Fernando Alonso repeat his 2006 victory and go one better than he had managed in 2012. This eagerness meant they were left disappointed by the events of Saturday qualifying. Fernando could only manage 5h on the grid, behind the Mercs of Rosberg & Hamilton, the Red Bull of Vettel, and Raikkonen’s Lotus.
However, never let it be said that Fernando Alonso lacks tenacity. Spurred on by his home crowd, Fernando wrong footed Raikkonen & Hamilton through the long Turn 3. While they struck to the slower inside line and followed Vettel through, Alonso took the less grippy outside line and used his greater momentum to slingshot around the outside of both of them, meaning he finished Lap 1 in 3rd place.
Using a 4 stop strategy, Fernando reeled off quick lap after quick lap and despatched Vettel through the first round of stops before catching and passing Rosberg on track. The Mercs had been struggling with tyre wear all through the early part of 2013, and Barcelona was no different. Fernando set a ferocious pace up front, and emerged from his final stop behind Kimi Raikkonen who was on a more normal 3 stop strategy.
Fernando quickly caught and passed the Lotus thanks to his considerably fresher tyres, and sent his home crowd into paroxysms of delight when he crossed the line 9 seconds in the lead. It remains his most recent victory in Formula 1.
3. Michael Schumacher’s rampages in the rain – 1996:
Coming off the back of two consecutive World Championships, Michael Schumacher’s move to lead a less than stellar Ferrari team had raised eyebrows over the winter of 1995/1996. 16 points in the opening 6 races of 1996 were measly recompense for the reigning Champion, who endured a humiliating crash in the rain in Monaco, crashing into the barriers on the opening lap.
Similarly wet conditions greeted the field at Montmelo on race day, despite the race’s early June date. Starting from 3rd place, Michael’s start dropped him down the order, but this was just the German’s way of warming up for a peerless performance.
Michael’s pace in the torrential conditions was startling, often 2-3 seconds faster than anyone else’s, and he took the lead from Jacques Villeneuve on Lap 13. Pole-sitter Damon Hill struggled with his Williams in the wet, spinning three times in the opening 12 laps, the third time the critical mistake that eliminated him from the race.
Up at the front, Michael’s relentless pace saw him open up a 45 second lead by race end, 45 seconds ahead of Jean Alesi in the Benetton seat that Schumacher had vacated at the end of 1995. Victory meant that Michael had won with a second team, and had brought Ferrari their first win since Alesi’s win the previous year. More importantly though, it signalled the start of a new era at Ferrari, an era of new personnel at the team who would go on to dominate the sport in the early 2000s.
2. Mika Hakkinen’s Last Lap Despair – 2001:
Mika Hakkinen’s career went off the boil in 2001, the Finn struggling with motivation and focus after three gruelling years of title fights between 1998 & 2000. 2001 saw McLaren’s performance take a dip, and Mika also fell away from being the best he could be. However, Barcelona was still early enough in the season to turn things around, something Hakkinen seemed to have done when he took second on the grid, just 0.085 seconds behind adversary Michael Schumacher.
Holding position at the start, Mika stalked Michael in the early .Sp5rl!47rs of the race, and managed to take the lead through the second round of pitstops in a strategic battle. Between Laps 50 & 65, Mika increased his lead to over 40 seconds as Michael struggled with his F2001, the McLaren seemingly set for his first win of 2001 to ignite his title charge.
Entering Lap 65, Mika’s V10 engine revved loudly negotiating Turn 1, and it quickly became apparent that something was wrong. The McLaren started to slow negotiating Turn 3, allowed Juan Pablo Montoya to unlap himself. With such a large margin back to Michael, could Hakkinen maintain enough momentum to coax the MP4/16 to the line?
The answer was no. Leaving Turn 5, sparks began to fly out of the back of the car as the Mercedes engine lunched itself. Hakkinen’s hydraulics and clutch had all blown, and Mika abandoned his car at the slight incline at Turn 6, allowing Michael to take the win and demolish Mika’s already slim title chances.
Mika’s lacklustre season would resume the next time out in Austria, but he did manage to coax two further victories out of himself before retirement at the end of the year. Silverstone & Indianapolis 2001 were Mika’s last wins, but Catalunya 2001 will always be one that the Finn will look back on as the greatest win that slipped through his fingers.
1. Pastor Maldonado becomes a hero – 2012:
Beleaguered 2015 Lotus driver Pastor Maldonado doesn’t have the best reputation in the world. Any driver who has a website that indicates whether or not he has crashed recently probably indicates that things haven’t been going so well for him recently.
However, despite his reputation, for one brief shining moment, Pastor was the hero of the day and in more ways than one. Driving for Williams in 2012, Pastor unlocked pace on Saturday and qualified his FW34 in 2nd place. He then inherited pole position when Lewis Hamilton was disqualified for having insufficient fuel in his McLaren. Fernando Alonso started from 2nd, but took the lead at the start. Demoted to 2nd, Pastor shadowed the Ferrari and was able to keep with the Spaniard, only falling 3.5 seconds behind at most. An earlier second stop, coupled with Alonso hitting traffic, allowed Pastor to emerge in front of Fernando but unable to pull away from the Ferrari.
After the third rounds of stops, Fernando had clawed back Pastor’s lead to loiter around 1 second behind the Williams but despite throwing everything he had at the Venezuelan to take another home win, Maldonado was able to bring it home and take his first podium and victory and William’s first win since 2004. At the time of writing, this remains Pastor’s sole win, and these points account for more than 50% of his entire career’s points.
As heroic as he had been on track, more was to come. Shortly after the race, a pit fire broke out in the Williams garage. Williams and other team’s race crews quickly fought the blaze to bring it under control, while some got stuck into ensuring the safety of others. 31 people were later taken to the medical centre, with seven removed to hospital.
Having just lifted the winner’s trophy, Pastor lifted his younger cousin onto his back and got him out of the area. The 12 year old had an injured foot and was unable to run. The blaze was eventually extinguished, the cause of which was determined to have been a fuel rig being packed away.
Since then, Pastor’s star has dwindled away to almost non-existence, unfairly or not. However, even if he never wins again, he can look back on the day where he returned Williams to the winner’s circle with pride, on a victory of unquestionable merit and a day of immense bravery with undiluted pride.