F1 made a change to the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, reinstating its original final sector which sees two fast right-handers leading onto the main straight, in the hopes of improving the race. This decision was met with praise from drivers, including Mercedes‘ George Russell who called it one of the best corners in F1. Although the race was not the most exciting, with Max Verstappen taking an easy victory over Lewis Hamilton, there were plenty of overtakes for position, up from 75 last year to 107 this year. Opinions are divided on whether following through Turn 14 was actually easier for drivers to pass others.
Returning to the original layout caused a severe headache for tire management. Pirelli‘s rubber is known to be devoured at Barcelona, with the front left tire suffering through the long radius Turn 3 and the more instantaneous, high-speed Turn 9. Add the reinstated Turns 13 and 14 and now you get four right-handed corners that punish the front-left corner, forcing teams to rethink their tire strategies. For the 2022 edition, despite numerous pit stops, teams all converged on similar three-stop strategies starting on softs and moving to the mediums, with only Haas‘ Kevin Magnussen unsuccessfully using the unpopular 2022-spec C1 hard tire. For 2023, Pirelli made the C1 softer and much closer to the C2, rendering all of Pirelli‘s Barcelona compounds – the C1, C2, and C3 – viable for the race.
The variance in tire strategy allowed drivers to pass and re-pass each other depending on how fresh their tires were. Midfield teams, who are otherwise stuck in a DRS train, were relishing the opportunities provided by the added variance in tire strategy. Ensuring that all three selected compounds are in the right window for that particular weekend could help to avoid more boring one-stop races with a clear, optimal strategy; however, this is not always easy, especially when more street tracks are added to the calendar where lateral load is much lower.
Overall, Barcelona offered a glimpse of how exciting the battle in F1‘s tightest-ever midfield could be. While it remains to be seen if Montreal can replicate the tire conundrum that Barcelona provided, traditional circuits Spielberg, Silverstone, and Spa-Francorchamps could inject more life into this 2023 season.