Mercedes are expected to continue their dominant start to the 2014 Formula One season at this weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix (Race: Sunday, 13:00 BST, live on BBC / Sky Sports F1).
Lewis Hamilton comfortably led home teammate Nico Rosberg to a Mercedes one-two in China three weeks ago. The team have taken a clean sweep of pole positions, fastest laps and race wins so far this year and enjoy a sizeable lead in the Constructors’ Championship.
Fernando Alonso secured his and Ferrari’s first podium of the season in third, followed by the Red Bulls of Daniel Ricciardo and Sebastian Vettel. The latter, the reigning four-time world champion, was unhappy about being asked to let his teammate through and it will be interesting to see how the pair interact this weekend.
Nico Hulkenberg (pictured) continued his impressive season by securing his fourth consecutive top six finish, while his Force India teammate Sergio Perez also finished in the points. It was a disappointing race for McLaren, with both of their drivers finishing outside the top 10.
The Spanish Grand Prix is the first European race of the season and a number of teams will bring significantly updated cars to this weekend’s event. Ferrari, Red Bull and Williams will all be hoping to narrow the gap to Mercedes.
The Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya has played host to the Spanish Grand Prix since 1991. It is a high-downforce track, with the first two sectors featuring a number of fast, sweeping corners, while the final sector is tight and twisty. The long main straight provides the best overtaking opportunity on a track on which it is otherwise difficult to pass.
Pirelli will bring their hard and medium compound tyres to this weekend’s event and the field is likely to be split between two and three-stop strategies. Current weather forecasts suggest it will be a relatively mild, sunny weekend, although rain is a possibility on Sunday.
Mercedes remain the team to beat and it would be a major surprise if one of their two drivers fails to take pole position on Saturday. Rosberg pipped Hamilton to pole position at last year’s race and although Hamilton has out-qualified him in three of the four races to date this season, Rosberg has a good chance of again qualifying at the head of the field this weekend.
The German has qualified ahead of his teammate of the time in four of his last five races at the circuit and took pole position in Bahrain, the only fully dry qualifying session so far this year. With no rain expected on Saturday, we fancy Rosberg to beat Hamilton to pole for a second year in succession.
Lotus have been playing catch up since missing the first pre-season test, but have gradually improved over the course of the four races to date, culminating in their first top 10 grid slot in China. They will bring numerous upgrades to this weekend’s race and will also benefit from a software update that is expected to improve the performance of their Renault power unit.
Romain Grosjean was the man who led them to the final session of qualifying in China, but it is his teammate, Pastor Maldonado, who looks well placed to replicate that performance this weekend. Maldonado qualified in a poor 18th position in last year’s Spanish Grand Prix, but took pole position in 2012 and qualified seventh on his debut at the circuit in 2011.
Reliability problems make it difficult to back Lotus in race trim, but if their new parts work as expected Maldonado has a solid chance of qualifying in the top 10.
Hamilton is on a roll, having won each of the last three Grand Prix and has shown that he has the necessary pace and race craft to get the better of his teammate Rosberg in a one-on-one battle.
He has never won in Spain, but has finished on the podium on three occasions. He has never had a car as dominant as this year’s Mercedes at his disposal and with this in mind is worthy of his status as favourite to take victory on Sunday.
Ferrari’s Alonso has an excellent record at his home Grand Prix, but this is reflected in the betting markets. His teammate Kimi Raikonnen, who has a comparably strong record in Spain, provides better value for a top six finish.
Raikonnen is one of only two two-time winners at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya among the current drivers (the other being Alonso) and has finished on the podium in each of his last two visits to the track. The Finn has struggled a little since re-joining Ferrari over the winter, but the team remain confident in his abilities and he can be fancied to finish well on Sunday.