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After two races at the Pedralbes Street Circuit in 1951 and 1954, the championship returned to the country in the Iberian Peninsula in 1968. Until 1981, the race was alternating between Jarama in Madrid and Montjuïc in Barcelona, and then it moved to Jerez for a few years starting in 1986.
It found a permanent home in the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, which has hosted the race without interruption for the past 32 years, creating plenty of unforgettable memories, some of which we are about to revisit.
1986 Spanish Grand Prix
Formula 1 returned to Spain in the brand-new circuit of Jerez. It was Ayrton Senna in his Lotus that started from the front in the second round of the season. The Brazilian dominated qualifying, taking pole by eight tenths of a second ahead of the two Williams cars of Nelson Piquet and Nigel Mansell, as well as Alain Prost in his McLaren.
The four of them battled for the lead, until Piquet retired with engine trouble about halfway through. Despite falling to the back of the quartet at the start, Mansell bounced back and took over the lead on lap 39 of 72. A small gap was formed between Mansell and Senna, but then it closed again rapidly with ten laps to go. The Brazilian made an aggressive, but successful, move and Mansell fell back to third. With nothing to lose, the Brit pitted for fresh tyres with nine laps to the end.
Amazingly, he caught back up to the leading group. Prost had no challenge and fell back, leaving the battle at the front to Senna and Mansell. The latter had a clear advantage, but could find no way through, because of the former’s stern defence and the twisty layout of the Jerez circuit. Eventually, he made his move at the exit of the final corner. The pair finished side-by-side with Senna winning by a mere 14 thousandths of a second ahead of Mansell! Prost was nowhere to be found at the end and finished third, still a lap ahead of Keke Rosberg, who was fourth.
1996 Spanish Grand Prix
Williams was the dominant force in 1996 and it was no different in the dry qualifying session with Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve locking out the front row of the grid and Michael Schumacher almost a second away from pole. Much like the previous races, the Benettons followed, with Jean Alesi fourth and Gerhard Berger fifth.
However, the race was a different story, with torrential rain over the racetrack. Villeneuve made the best start out of the top cars, with Hill third and Schumacher almost stalling and falling to ninth. What followed from the German was a real masterclass. He was up to third by lap five, whilst Hill had already spun twice. Schumacher didn’t stop there and overtook Villeneuve to take the lead by lap twelve, at which point Hill crashed out of the race. The German was impeccable, pulled away at a rate of knots, even lapping three seconds faster than the rest of the field at points!
Schumacher took his first win in red in spectacular fashion, proving once again why he was called the “rainmaster”. The other drivers didn’t stand a chance, with Villeneuve and Alesi bringing their cars home in second and third respectively, more than 45 seconds further back. Rubens Barrichello also had a great race and was running in second, but clutch problems initially dropped him back and eventually caused him to retire. Heinz-Harald Frentzen and Jos Verstappen battled for fifth, but the Dutchman’s great race was over when he spun and retired. Mika Hakkinen was fifth, ahead of Pedro Diniz, who was the last finisher and scored his first F1 point, aided by a mistake from Gerhard Berger, who also crashed out.
2016 Spanish Grand Prix
The big story heading to Barcelona was the swap between Max Verstappen and Daniil Kvyat, following the events of the previous race in Sochi, where the Russian driver hit both his teammate, Daniel Ricciardo, and Sebastian Vettel on the opening lap.
Lewis Hamilton needed to react quickly to his teammate’s four-race winning streak to start the season and he did just that in qualifying, as he beat Nico Rosberg by just over a quarter of a second to return at the front of the grid. Daniel Ricciardo was third and, in his first event with Red Bull, Verstappen qualified fourth, ahead of Kimi Räikkönen and Sebastian Vettel.
Rosberg had a better getaway than his teammate and jumped to first around the outside of the first corner. However, he was on the wrong engine setting and his car started harvesting energy through Turn 3, which slowed him down. Hamilton sensed an opportunity and went up the inside on the approach to Turn 4, but the door was closed. The pair collided and were out of the race. This left Ricciardo in the lead, ahead of Verstappen and Carlos Sainz, who jumped from eighth to third amongst the chaos.
The safety car was required and, when racing resumed, Vettel overtook the Spaniard. Räikkönen soon did the same and the red cars set about catching the Red Bulls. Although the top four was close together, overtaking is difficult at Barcelona, so the race would be decided on strategy. The plans of the top four were uncertain until Vettel pitted for the third time. Red Bull reacted by bringing Ricciardo in, but he exited the pitlane behind the Ferrari. Their teammates continued at the front, pushing their tyres to the end, with Räikkönen on the tail of Verstappen.
Shockingly, it was Verstappen that won and became the youngest winner in F1 history, at 18 years of age. Räikkönen was unable to overtake and settled for second, ahead of Vettel. The German had a fierce battle for the last podium spot with Ricciardo, who attacked and nearly hit his opponent. The race did not get better for the man who was in command for the first two-thirds of the race, as a puncture on the penultimate lap left him in fourth, ahead of Valtteri Bottas. Carlos Sainz had a great race on home soil and finished sixth. Daniil Kvyat took a point and the fastest lap in his return to Toro Rosso.
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