1. Will Mercedes’ Spanish dominance continue?

Mercedes hasn’t been beaten in qualifying at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya since 2012, so Red Bull has its work cut out for this weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix.

Lewis Hamilton has won every Spanish GP since 2017, while Max Verstappen’s best result in Barcelona came in 2016, winning the race after Hamilton and then-teammate Nico Rosberg collided on the opening lap.

All the historical data points towards a Mercedes victory, but why could this year be different?

At present, it appears Red Bull has the fastest car over one lap - despite Mercedes claiming pole in the last two races, while the reigning world champions have the edge in race trim, especially on the harder compounds.

All but four of the last 20 Spanish Grands Prix have been won from pole position so Verstappen will have to tidy up his Q3 displays.

Looking at last year’s qualifying session, Verstappen qualified third, 0.6s shy of Hamilton’s benchmark.

Red Bull lost out mostly in the first two-thirds of the lap, 0.3s in the middle sector alone in qualifying, which consists of the high-speed Turn 9 section. 

The RB16B has consistently outperformed the Mercedes W12 in high-speed corners and with Honda making gains in the power unit area, relative to 2020, the battle for pole will come down to the tight and twisty final chicane.

Sector three has been Mercedes territory in recent years - Hamilton in particular is a master of the mickey-mouse final chicane. 

The mixture of high and low-speed corners throughout the lap should mean the advantage between the two top teams ebbs and flows.

Mercedes are likely favourites but Red Bull will be right there with them.

2. Can Norris continue his top five streak?

Lando Norris has been one of the stars of the season and has finished in the top five at every race so far. 

The 21-year-old sits third in the drivers’ championship, remarkably ahead of Bottas and Sergio Perez

After his fifth-place finish in Portimao, Norris admitted he’s never been as confident as he is currently - and his performances back it up.

Norris has been consistently fast in qualifying, decisive when making overtakes and good at managing his tyres. 

The arrival of Daniel Ricciardo at the team for 2021 appears to have pushed Norris onto another level but the question is, can he keep it up?

Norris started 2020 strongly but fell away as the season progressed.

The Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya is the perfect litmus test for any driver and car. Its combination of high-speed and low-speed corners tend to give a clear picture that if your package is good in Barcelona, it can be good everywhere. 

3. Alonso magic on home soil?

Fernando Alonso may have disappointed in qualifying, but the two-time F1 champion made up for it on race day with his spectacular overtakes and outstanding race pace to recover to eighth from 13th on the grid.

Alpine appeared to be back on form after a slow start to 2021, but there’s still a question mark over its performance - whether it was track dependent or has Alpine taken a step forward.

The Enstone-based outfit struggled for pace in Barcelona last year so it’ll be interesting to see how the team fares this year.

The Spanish Grand Prix is of course Alonso’s home event and he will be keen to deliver a strong race. 

Looking ahead to the race, Alonso knows qualifying is the area he needs to work on most.

“It was very difficult last year for the team so we will try to get better, try to learn from whatever problems they faced last year,” Alonso said after Portimao. “As I said the next two tracks the qualifying is quite important as the race is a little bit harder to overtake than here, so we will focus a lot on this and preparing the weekend, the next 3 days, there is some homework to do for everybody. 

“For me some extra to get better on Saturday. It’s not extracting the maximum form the one lap tyre as FP2, F3P, you put the soft and do one lap, it’s not you do more than that, the performance was there, more about he changeable conditions if there is more grip, less grip, if it is windier, whatever it changes on track I need to be ready and understand it quickly on the out-lap already. 

“I don’t have more time to do more laps in Q1 or Q2 so there are things I need to speed up, it’s important for Monaco and Barcelona.”

4. Will Barcelona’s track modifications improve the show? 

Turn 10 at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya has been reprofiled for this year.

The new Turn 10 corner is a modified version of the old track layout used in 1991. 

While it doesn’t look too impressive on paper, the acute Turn 10 corner has been modified slightly to predominately improve driver (and riders in MotoGP) safety.

The reprofiling of the corner means braking isn’t as heavy, meaning one less corner for potential overtakes.

Barcelona would be better off ditching the final chicane, but that doesn't seem likely based on safety grounds. 

5. First wet race since 1996?

Remarkably there hasn’t been a wet race in Barcelona since 1996, where Michael Schumacher famously took his first victory for Ferrari in treacherous conditions. 

There’s currently a chance of rain on race day and given Barcelona doesn’t usually throw up a classic, we’d certainly welcome changeable conditions on Sunday.

Verstappen dominated last time out at Imola as track conditions played havoc, while Hamilton has an impeccable record in the wet in the hybrid era.

Bottas and Perez will surely be hoping for dry weather...

 

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