A familiar site awaits Formula One as, after a brief American adventure, we return to Europe and the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya for the Spanish Grand Prix.
The circuit is familiar to all in the paddock thanks to F1's many years of testing at the track, including the three-day pre-season track session in February, which gave us our first glimpses at the all-new 2022 cars.
Friday’s first Free Practice session will see Nyck de Vries join the team, taking to the track in place of Alex Albon, and fulfilling one of the two mandated young driver sessions this season.
The 27-year old Dutch racer, who is the reigning FIA Formula E World Champion and 2019 Formula 2 Champion, will aid the team’s preparation work ahead of Qualifying and the Grand Prix before Alex returns to the FW44 from the second practice session.
The Barcelona track has been an ever-present venue in F1 since its first Grand Prix in 1991, although it has undergone several minor layout changes over those years to become the 4.675km ribbon of tarmac it is today.
However, the essence of the circuit remains with its undulations and fluid mix of corner lengths and speeds, making it the ideal location for the F1 teams to test their new creations each winter.
The long, uphill Turn 3 is an excellent benchmark for drivers to find how well-balanced their car is. If they can take it flat-out, pulling around 4g as they do, that's a good indication that their vehicle will serve them well around all 16 corners – and the rest of the calendar.
The most recent change to the circuit, the 2021 deepening of Turn 10, means that the first of the track's two DRS Zones has a few extra metres of running that might prove the difference between completing an overtake or not.
What are the drivers saying?
Alex Albon is as familiar with the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya as anyone on the grid, having raced here all through his junior career, taking silverware in GP3 and Formula 2. He hopes to draw on those high-flying experiences as he returns to Spain this year:
“It will be good to head back to Barcelona,” said our No23, adding: “I’m interested to see how much the car has improved since we were last there for pre-season testing.
“It’s a good track, and one that every driver has done countless laps around, more so than any other circuit.
“That familiarity will work in my favour this weekend and help me get up to speed more quickly after sitting out FP1 whilst Nyck is in the car.
“We’re hungry for more points after Miami, so that’s what we’ll continue to push for.”
Nicholas Latifi has also had success here in Barcelona, with multiple podiums and a win in 2019, and it’s the return to a classic venue that our Canadian is looking forward to, saying: “After a few street-style tracks, it’s going to be nice to get back to the more traditional Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.
“It’s a track that should give us a good measure of where we are with the FW44 and how we’ve developed it since testing at the beginning of the season.
“I think we all feel that we’ve gained a much better understanding of the car and evolved it well, so it will be positive to have that reference point of how far we’ve come. Hopefully, we can deliver a good result in Spain.”
Nyck de Vries will be making his F1 race weekend debut when he gets behind the wheel of our FW44 in FP1, an experience he is relishing: “Firstly, I’d really like to thank Williams for the opportunity to run in FP1.
“It’s great for me to get to know the team and drive the FW44, and also to get myself out on track during a Formula One weekend.
“Preparation for the test is going well so far and the team has been incredibly supportive of me. I’m very much looking forward to the whole experience in Spain now!”
From the Pit Wall
Dave Robson is someone who knows the track extremely well and feels the team are as confident as they possibly could be at another visit to Spain with the vast array of data Williams holds for the circuit:
“The contrast between the new circuit in Miami and the familiarity of the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya couldn't be starker,” claimed our Head of Vehicle Performance, adding: “The drivers and engineers know the quirks and subtleties of this track very well and, whilst the car balance and tyre behaviour will be different to February, we have a good idea of what to expect and the areas that we will need to work on.
“The car has changed quite a lot since February and the much hotter track conditions will present very different problems.
“We showed some encouraging race pace at the last few events and our efforts are now focused on bringing the same level of performance to Qualifying.
“If we can do this successfully then we will be in a much stronger position going forwards.
“We are looking forward to having Nyck de Vries in the car for FP1 as it is always good to work with a new driver and get a fresh opinion on the car's strengths and weaknesses.
“Nyck's experience and professionalism will be crucial on Friday as he will complete some of the key engineering tests in FP1 before he hands the car back to Alex for FP2.”Sven Smeets, Sporting Director, continued: “I’m looking forward to seeing Nyck join the team for FP1 at the Spanish Grand Prix.
“As he is a very talented and experienced driver I have no doubt that he’ll maximise his time in the FW44 and deliver a strong, capable performance for the team.”
Did you know?
2012 saw Pastor Maldonado score his Formula One win and the 114th top step visit for Williams, with the Venezuelan becoming the fifth Grand Prix winner in as many races that year.
The 1992 Barcelona Olympics development programme was responsible for the circuit's construction when the Spanish city readied up for the 1992 Summer Olympic Games. The track doubled as the start/finish line for road cycling events.
Williams Racing dominated the first events at the Circuit de Catalunya, as it was initially known, with Nigel Mansell winning the inaugural event in 1991 before repeating his success the following year. Alain Prost and Damon Hill kept that record going in 1993 and 1994.
Nicky and Alex have also tasted success in Spain. Nicky took a win in his 2019 Formula 2 championship, one of four victories that season. Alex's first GP3 weekend ended with him taking a winner's trophy here in 2016.
Getting a decent qualifying performance is almost as important here as in Monaco, with only three race winners at the Catalan circuit not coming from the front row of the starting grid.
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