F1 2009 must contend with Montmelo shortcomings

catalunyaThe F1 circus yesterday rolled into the Montmelo circuit at Barcelona in Spain. So far this season fans have been treated to three spectacular races and one middling one in Bahrain. What can they expect from this weekend?

The Circuit de Catalunya has perhaps an unfair reputation for producing dull, processional races. It is in many ways the ultimate aerodynamic circuit, with a mixture of low, middle and high speed corners, as well as a long pit straight. It is that pit straight the provides the focal point of the circuit – the image many fans have of the circuit is the famous Nigel Mansell and Ayrton Senna wheel-to-wheel battle in 1991, when neither would give way.

But with the exception of poor Heikki Kovalainen’s shunt last year, the 2008 race was almost devoid of excitement. The aerodynamic arrangement of the 2008 cars was such that following another car closely was virtually impossible – the leading car disrupted the airflow so much that a constant distance was maintained between it and the one behind. The regulation changes for 2009 were partly intended to change this state of affairs, and to an extent they have succeeded. F1 has seen some fantastic on-track battles so far this season.

But there is a suspicion that the nature of the Montmelo track will comfortably eclipse the FIA’s best efforts to spice up the racing. What may be seen, however, is KERS coming into its own down that pit straight. Ferrari, McLaren and Renault will be running the system this weekend, as may some others. It will be interesting to see whether the putative advantage of an extra 80hp down the straight will counter-balance those cars’ other shortcomings on the rest of the circuit.

On a purely visual level, however, one can’t expect very much from this weekend. Let us hope for the day when the powers-that-be realise that the circuit is largely responsible for the spectacle. Meanwhile, the Spanish Grand Prix will merely be another chapter in what is turning out to be a remarkable year.