With the majority of teams wielding upgrade packages, an interesting couple of days could be in store at weekend’s Formula One Spanish Grand Prix (Race Time: 1pm Sunday live on Sky Sports F1).
Valtteri Bottas secured the first victory of his Formula One career just four races into his spell at Mercedes by beating Ferrari drivers Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen to victory in Russia two weeks ago. He skipped past them off the start and controlled the race from there on out in a strong and impressive performance.
Lewis Hamilton had a difficult weekend in the other Mercedes, qualifying and finishing fourth as he was beaten by his new teammate for the first time. He seems to be a struggling a bit with the new tyres and the overall balance of the car. They are two issues that Mercedes hope to sort out with upgrades designed to lower the headline weight of the chassis.
For the third time this season, Red Bull secured a fifth-place finish with one car while the other failed to finish. Max Verstappen took the points haul, while Daniel Ricciardo was forced to retire early on. They have struggled a bit for pace and reliability in the early races and have moved to try and dampen expectations a little after earlier reports that this weekend’s upgrades would allow them to compete toe-to-toe with Ferrari and Mercedes.
Verstappen secured his maiden victory on his Red Bull debut at last year’s F1 Spanish Grand Prix, further underlining the relative unpredictability of an event that has seen 10 different winners over the course of the last 10 years. While one would expect a Ferrari or Mercedes driver to triumph this weekend, with the development race gearing up the truth is that at this stage it is hard to make a clear-sighted prediction as to the likely winner.
In the circumstances, it makes more sense to bet on a podium finish. Raikkonen has two victories and three further podium finishes to his name at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, including a second-place finish last year. The Finn has a very solid chance of adding to that haul on Sunday.
Force India again scored good points in Russia, with Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon coming home sixth and seventh to continue the team’s run of double points finishes. They have generally tended to come on stronger over the second half of the season in recent years but have made a very good start this time around despite pre-season concerns over the weight of the car.
Perez continues to be a beacon of consistency, while his new teammate Ocon has so far kept his nose clean and brought the car home.
The team will bring an updated aero package to this weekend’s race and are confident that it will allow them to pull away from the midfield and move a step closer to the top three teams. They currently sit fourth in the constructors’ championship and are hopeful that this upgrade will at least allow them to consolidate that position – one gained to date through good driving and clever strategy more than outright pace.
Perez finished seventh in Barcelona last year and had also finished in the points in three of his five previous appearances at the circuit. Ocon has never raced there before but did complete a practice session with the Renault team last year and has already showed that he is capable of performing well at circuits at which he has limited or zero previous experience.
Force India therefore look well placed to continue their run of double points finishes this weekend.
Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg, the Williams of Felipe Massa and Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz rounded out the points-paying positions in Russia and all three of them have a solid chance of again scoring this weekend.
Sainz has performed well in both of his previous appearances at his home Grand Prix, including a sixth-place finish last year, but the odds on him to secure a points finish this weekend are not particularly attractive. The same goes for Massa and it is Hulkenberg who therefore provides the best value. Renault seem to be making progress in replicating their good qualifying performances on race day and Hulkenberg is capable of scoring for the third consecutive Grand Prix this Sunday.