Formula One heads into its European season at the Circuit De Catalunya, a track well known by the team’s thanks to pre-season testing.

What does the weekend have in store? Rob Watts and Craig Norman preview the Spanish Grand Prix!

A crucial race already for Lewis Hamilton

This weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix is already a crucial race for Lewis Hamilton. This was supposed to be his title this year, but so far he’s seen Sebastian Vettel win twice for a resurgent Ferrari while new teammate Valtteri Bottas silenced his doubters with a maiden win last time out in Russia.

Gro├čer Preis von Russland 2017, Freitag – Steve Etherington

It may only be the fifth race of a long 20 round calendar, but Hamilton needs some momentum to swing back his way, especially with Ferrari posing such a threat. What makes the situation more complicated for Hamilton, is that he’s not in a position just yet where he can reliably expect Mercedes to impose team orders to help his cause. Had he been twenty or thirty points clear of Bottas right now, the Finn – in his first year with the team – would have almost certainly been asked to become Hamilton’s wingman. As it stands, that gap is only ten points and Bottas has been given a huge confidence boost from his win in the previous race.

Vettel has the luxury of knowing his no.1 status is unlikely to be at threat, with Raikkonen 37 points behind him already. Hamilton needs to keep Bottas at bay, but at the same time fend off Vettel in what has so far been the better race car to have. This one should be one to watch!

Red Bull pinning hopes on major upgrade

Barcelona marks the first race of the European leg of the season which lasts now until the Italian Grand Prix in September. Being close to many of the team’s factory bases, it’s no surprise the teams see this as their first real opportunity to bring major development parts to their cars.

Photo: Red Bull Racing Media

In that respect, Barcelona could be a reset of sorts for many of the teams looking to fend off their rivals behind or gain ground on those in front. And it’s the front of the grid where most of the intrigue will be this weekend.

After a very poor start to the season (by its own usually high standards) Red Bull is pinning a lot on the success of a major update planned for this weekend. In fact, some have rumoured that it’s less of an update, and more a new car altogether. Red Bull has denied this, but it’s already way behind the front two and facing a fight to salvage something from this season.

Will we see another new winner?

A bizarre statistic, but unbelievably we’ve had ten different winners over the past ten years. Considering the period of dominance that Red Bull and Mercedes has enjoyed, that statistic is even more remarkable.

Verstappen provided the shock win in 2016 – Photo: Red Bull Racing Media

The most memorable of the past ten surely has to be Pastor Maldonado’s surprise win for Williams back in 2012, but a shock of that magnitude is unlikely this year.

On the current grid, Valtteri Bottas has the best chance of extending that streak but Daniel Ricciardo could also be an outside bet if Red Bull’s upgrades pay off.

Qualifying is crucial and will be epic

While Russia’s race day was devoid of any real action, the Saturday qualifying session was the exact opposite. It’s been a long time since F1 fans genuinely didn’t know the outcome of who would be on pole position for a race, apart from the usual coin toss between Mercedes drivers. Now, with Ferrari proving to be a true contender in 2017, it can now be one of four cars.

Ferrari took the front row in Russia, but can they do the same in Spain? – Photo: Scuderia Ferrari Media

Spain is a track where pole position is vital – 19 of the last 25 winners have gone on to win from taking the top spot on Saturday. The duel for the honours will be even more intense because of it.

Drivers under pressure

The main focus will be on the Ferrari vs. Mercedes fight at the front of the grid, but there are some names further down the field that will be facing intense pressure this early in the season.

Romain Grosjean and Jolson Palmer’s first lap incident in Russia is still being disputed by both drivers two weeks later, but there’s no denying it was borne from frustration on both parts. Grosjean has had high peaks in 2017 – 6th on the grid in Australia a highlight – but isn’t showing the consistency Haas need in their difficult second season. He’s now on the back foot heading within the team after losing a coin toss with teammate Kevin Magnussen for who got the upgraded car first – a scenario you couldn’t see happening between the Frenchman and Esteban Gutierrez in 2016.

For Palmer, if it wasn’t for bad luck he’d have no luck at all, with spins, crashes, and yellow flag affected sessions dragging him down the back of the field. With teammate Nico Hulkenberg flourishing at Renault, the clock is ticking for the Brit in regards to whether the French marque can back him any further than they have.

Big races for both in Barcelona, but can they turn the tide in their favour?

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