Can Spain continue where Baku left off?

Well done Baku. Once again Azerbaijan provided a breathtaking spectacle in a race that had it all. There was drama from the word go, with collisions aplenty, two Safety Car periods, and late tyre blowouts, as Lewis Hamilton somehow emerged unscathed to record a surprise first win of the year for Mercedes. 

Spain has some way to go to match epic back-to-back races in China and Azerbaijan, but the traditional first leg of F1’s European tour has conjured up some brilliant races of its own over the years. 17 different drivers have scored wins in the 27 races staged since the Circuit de Catalunya became the home of the Spanish Grand Prix in 1991.

There has been plenty of drama in recent times, with Pastor Maldonado securing a remarkable win for Williams ahead of home-favourite Fernando Alonso in 2012, while 2016’s race witnessed Max Verstappen becoming F1’s youngest-ever winner in his first race for Red Bull, following a controversial first-lap collision that wiped out Mercedes duo Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg

Will Hamilton and Vettel go head-to-head again in Spain?

Last year’s Spanish Grand Prix served up a thrilling race-long battle for the lead as 2017 chief title protagonists engaged in wheel-to-wheel combat for the first time. Hamilton prevailed to claim victory last season, but is Sebastian Vettel in a better position this time around to claim his first win in Barcelona since 2011?

The German has won half of the opening four rounds this season after Ferrari made another step forward during the winter break, though setbacks in China and Baku have seen Vettel fall behind Hamilton in the drivers’ standings. With just four points separating the duo, the title race is delicately poised heading into what could be a season-defining race come the end of 2018. 

Barcelona GP Sizzling Moments

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Upgrades everywhere you look 

Traditionally, Spain provides teams with a first opportunity to introduce major revisions to their F1 cars during the campaign, as the in-season development battle ramps up with no team wanting to be left behind. Keep your eyes peeled for updates up and down the pitlane as teams reveal their latest innovations in a bid to find additional performance. 

McLaren is set to be boosted by the introduction of a major aero upgrade in Barcelona, with racing director Eric Boullier previously stating the team would introduce its “real” 2018 car in Spain after struggling to meet initial development aims. However, Fernando Alonso has since moved to lower expectations, adding he hopes McLaren’s rivals’ updates “do not deliver” as expected as F1’s tight midfield battle rages on. 

Improved lap times? Sainz thinks so

The combination of newly-laid asphalt and Pirelli’s softer F1 tyres should result in a drop in lap times at the Circuit de Catalunya. That is the prediction of both Italian tyre manufacturer Pirelli and Renault’s Carlos Sainz, who said during pre-season testing that he reckons a two second lap-time gain could be possible.

Pirelli has introduced two new slick tyre compounds this year in a bid to mix-up strategies and spice up racing, while it is bringing softer compounds (Medium, Soft and Supersoft) than it did to last year’s event. 

Hamilton showed a glimpse of the potential speeds possible around Barcelona by getting within just 0.2s of his pole position effort from 2017 during pre-season testing, when track temperatures were much cooler than expected for race weekend. 

Red Bull relations 

Baku was a nightmare for Red Bull. Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen broke the golden rule of racing: do not crash into your teammate. You could see the Azerbaijan intra-team collision coming following a number of close shaves earlier in the race but the incident left Red Bull’s F1 chiefs red-faced with anger and its drivers apologetic. 

Thankfully for them, the F1 circus moves on quickly and Spain will provide Ricciardo, and in particular Verstappen, with the perfect opportunity to get their season back on track around a circuit that is less dependent on power and which therefore should bring Red Bull into contention with Ferrari and Mercedes. Red Bull - a team determined not to enforce team orders - must avoid another disastrous scenario in Barcelona. 

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