The Formula One season heads to Europe for the Spanish Grand Prix this weekend. A race often filled with drama is the perfect way to follow on from a fascinating race in Baku a couple of weeks ago.
Lewis Hamilton stood atop the podium in Azerbaijan to notch his first win of the season and comes into this race four points ahead of Sebastian Vettel in the Drivers’ Championship.
Drama was rife in Catalunya in 2017, with Hamilton pipping Vettel to a race win and a three-car crash between Valtteri Bottas, Kimi Raikkonen and Max Verstappen. It is one of the hardest circuits to overtake on during the Formula One calendar, but the Spanish Grand Prix has a knack of producing chaos.
The 16-corner circuit is demanding on tyres. The blend of sweeping turns and tight chicanes makes tyre management a real challenge. Pirelli have picked the medium, soft and supersoft tyre for this weekend, which may see some teams take the chance on one-stop strategies.
Williams are the only team to go for an imbalanced tyre selection. An extra couple of sets of supersofts might see the Williams drivers try to push for a two-stop strategy. Unfortunately, the majority of teams look set for one-stops, which could see this race descend into a tyre management competition.
An interesting note ahead of the Grand Prix is the new surface. The track is expected to be a couple of seconds quicker than normal, and it will be interesting to see how this impacts tyre wear.
Some have suggested that this race will be the ultimate test of race pace for cars this season. In part, that is because the majority of teams will be using significant upgrades for this race, which could change the course of the 2018 season.
McLaren are one such team. Fernando Alonso has been optimistic about his team’s upgrades that will be introduced for this weekend. The Spaniard sits out at 250/1 for his home Grand Prix, but that could prove to be good value if there is the customary carnage and the McLaren’s pace notably increases.
Verstappen is the man to watch this weekend. The Dutchman became the youngest ever race winner at this track in 2016, but has had a torrid season to date, picking up a mere 18 points thus far.
His crash with Daniel Ricciardo in Baku could see Red Bull enforce team orders as they look to avoid a rift between their drivers. Avoiding a collision at this narrow track is the main challenge for Verstappen. He does have the pace to compete, a bounceback win at 9/1 is good value.
Ferrari are the most successful team in Barcelona since the first race here in 1991, winning seven times. Vettel appears to have the most rounded car at the moment and is the marginal favourite for the race at 7/5.
The four-time champion was unfortunate in Baku. I think that price is a little on the short side given the uncertainties that all the upgrades bring, however.
Hamilton at 7/4 to take pole is a pretty solid price. The Mercedes’ upgrades in Barcelona made a huge difference last year, and if they can do similar this weekend, Hamilton will be expected to notch yet another pole.
Any impact this race has on the standings is limited in significance. Its relevance for the reminder of the season, though, is massive. Any leaps forward this weekend could give an early indication of our 2018 champions.
*Odds subject to change - correct at time of writing*