Round five of the 2015 season from Barcelona marks the start of the European stretch of the season but it seems like just yesterday that we were waiting for the cars to hit the circuit in Australia, that now a distant memory.
Lewis Hamilton leads the way in the championship and is looking for his fourth victory of the season, and having stood on the top step of the podium at the last race in Bahrain, he really is the man to beat. Whilst it is Hamilton who won this event last time out, it is clear that despite his lead, the chasing pack are closing in.
Kimi Raikkonen should have won in Bahrain. Both Hamilton and Nico Rosberg suffered with brake problems in the closing stages of the race three weeks ago, Raikkonen looking for his first Ferrari win since 2009 closing on them at a rapid rate. With just one more lap then the likelihood is that Raikkonen would have caught and passed Hamilton, the Finn ultimately came home to finish second place.
It is safe to say that Hamilton is on quite the roll at the minute. Three wins out of four and a second place is quite the record, and to add insult to injury, Hamilton has been on pole for every round so far. Despite impressing many last season and taking the fight to the double point season finale, Rosberg is yet to beat Hamilton this season and the clock is ticking.
Rosberg is fast around the 16 turn 2.8 mile circuit and took pole position here in 2013. Barcelona is a circuit that is notoriously difficult for overtaking and a track that pole position is vital around. If Rosberg can break Hamilton’s pole position streak it could be a big mental blow to Hamilton who so far this season has been faultless.
The German finds himself 33 points adrift of his team-mate Hamilton and if he can get close and beat Hamilton this weekend it could really turn his season around. A strong weekend here will put him in a good position heading forward. Yes, if he wins here and Hamilton doesn’t finish the race he will still be behind in the standings but at the next race he will find himself to be stronger. After Spain we head to Monaco where Rosberg has won around the streets of Monte-Carlo twice for Mercedes, taking pole position last year in controversial fashion which ultimately lead to the demise of the Rosberg and Hamilton friendship.
The teams have driven thousands of laps around this circuit over the years and it is frequently used in the winter for testing. This as well as there being no real overtaking spots over the years has lead to a dull race but last season saw a titanic battle between the Mercedes pair that went to the wire; we could be treated to a repeat if Rosberg can get close to his team-mate.
The start of the European stretch usually means one thing for the teams, upgrades. Many teams at the start of the year target the Spanish round as the track in which they will bring their first big upgrade of the season. It is a circuit that has everything, a long straight, high speed corners and a slow speed tight and twisty section to end the lap. If there is a flaw in your car, this is the one circuit that will magnify the issue.
Last season Mercedes blitzed the field and were the stars of the show, the defending champions should be in for a smooth weekend unless reliability gets in their way. The combination of the long straight and high speed corners is something that will suit the Silver Arrow’s. Unlike Malaysia where the team struggled, the cooler temperatures should play into their hands this weekend.
Ferrari seem to be the only team that can challenge Mercedes dominance, having been the only team bar Mercedes to be on the podium every weekend so far this season. Both Sebastian Vettel and Raikkonen have had what it takes to win around this circuit three times over the years. If Mercedes run into problems then expect the prancing horse to be there to pick up the pieces.
All eyes will be on McLaren this weekend for two reasons. Home crowd favorite Fernando Alonso will be relying on his home support to try and score his first points of the season in what has been somewhat of a difficult life back in Woking. He will be driving the newly liveried McLaren who after years of being chrome and then silver have had a face lift with a striking new livery. Unfortunately a good looking car isn’t always a fast one. With Honda lagging behind in development in their power unit, McLaren could be in for another torrid weekend.
For Red Bull it seems to be a case of just getting through the weekend without reliability problems. From his allocation of four engines, Daniel Ricciardo is on his final engine, with a penalty seeming to be a case of not if but when, the chances of seeing a strong Red Bull performance at a track that would once play to their strengths seems unlikely.
It is a circuit that will play to the strengths of Mercedes. Could we be in for a surprise this weekend? Will the weather throw a curve ball? Leave your predictions below.