F1 returns to Europe after four races and four Mercedes wins, but after the early dominance the gap at the front could be about to close… The Spanish Grand Prix at Barcelona is traditionally a race where teams bring their first major upgrades of the season, with the grand prix taking place much closer to the factories and coming after a three-week break in the calendar. Not only Red Bull, but Renault will have been hard at work looking to reduce the deficit, and Ferrari showed signs of recovery in China too. In 2013 it took four stops for Fernando Alonso to win, while the two Mercedes' on the front row dropped to 6th and 12th respectively in the race due to tyre troubles, so the track doesn't hold happy memories for the Silver Arrows. Will the dominant form continue or is the season about to take a twist?
Ferrari heads to Spain in more confident mood after Alonso's podium in China, and Barcelona was the scene of the team's last F1 victory 12 months ago. A typically strong start saw Alonso jump form fifth place to third on the opening lap (passing Lewis Hamilton and Kimi Raikkonen around the outside of Turn 3) and a four-stop strategy was clearly the quickest as Alonso eased to the front of the field and won comfortably from the three-stopping Raikkonen. With Felipe Massa finishing third, it was a strong weekend for Ferrari, while Sebastian Vettel was restricted to fourth by tyre issues and the two Mercedes of pole-sitter Nico Rosberg (6th) and Hamilton (lapped in 12th) fared even worse.
Most successful drivers at Barcelona:
Michael Schumacher (6 wins)
Most successful team at Barcelona:
Ferrari (8 wins)
2014 session times (All times local)
FP1: 1000 – 1130
FP2: 1400 – 1530
FP3: 1100 – 1200
The lap begins with quite a long straight that also has a DRS zone. It's really important to find the right braking point for the first corner and to carry a lot of speed through the apex without running too deep into Turn Two. Then you're straight into Turn Three which is just mega: so much g-force and taken almost flat out during qualifying. Maintaining momentum through the first three corners is crucial.
Depending on wind direction and how strong the front end is on your car, you can quite easily end up with understeer through Turn Four which may make you run quite deep into the corner. Turn Five is then quite a long corner with a bit of a dip through the apex. Good exit speed is essential here for the run down through Turn Six and into Seven. This is where the track starts to climb and continues to do so through Turn Eight, before levelling out through the high-speed Turn Nine and down the back straight.
After another DRS zone it's heavy braking into the tight left-hander at Turn 10, which is tough on the rear tyres. A quick flick left again through Turn 11 and you're straight into the right hander at Turn 12. You have to make a 'v' out of this double apex corner before heading into the complex at the end of the lap.
The final few corners are pretty tricky, as by this stage the rear tyres are quite hot. It's tough to get the car turned in through the Turn 14 and 15 chicane without having too much oversteer and the exit is absolutely crucial. You're flat out through the final turn and back into that long DRS straight to start another lap, so this is the place to overtake.
The return to Europe looks set to be greeted with a warm weekend after the cold and wet of China. Teams will be pleased to see a 0% chance of rain throughout all three days following wet qualifying sessions in three of the first four races, and temperatures are set to be relatively stable around 23-25C. However, while not scorching, those temperatures are comfortably higher than those forecast a year ago and the nature of the track meant four stops were needed then…
Our run of correct predictions came to an end in China as we plumped for the wrong Mercedes, but three out of four isn't bad so far. Despite all of the teams looking to update their cars, picking a winner here still looks like a choice between Hamilton and Rosberg, such is the size of Mercedes' advantage. Although Hamilton has three consecutive wins for the first time in his career and is driving better than ever, a poor start in China hurt his team-mate's chances so we're going to back Rosberg to put an end to Hamilton's run with victory in Barcelona.