THE SPANISH GRAND PRIX: A CRUCIAL WEEKEND FOR THE DEVELOPMENT RACE

They say the Spanish Grand Prix is where a Formula 1 season really starts, and with Ferrari in the lead but Red Bull Racing closing fast, both teams will hope to leave Barcelona with the campaign reset in their favour.

CIRCUIT DE BARCELONA-CATALUNYACIRCUIT DE BARCELONA-CATALUNYA

Laps: 66
Distance: 4.675 kilometres
Corners: 16

The Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya’s technical layout and generally warm climes has made it a well-used race and test venue, and as such, everyone in Formula 1 — indeed anyone who’s ascended the European racing ladder — knows it intimately.

The layout features a bit of everything you need to test the limits of a Formula 1 car: fast sweepers, medium-speed bends and some clumsier high-kerb slow corners, with the last chicane regarded as a decent indicator of a car’s performance for the upcoming Monaco Grand Prix.

LAST YEAR’S RACE

Winner: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)

Lewis Hamilton lost pole position 100 off the line to a fast-starting Max Verstappen but thrillingly chased down the Dutchman late in the race thanks to an unexpected but masterful two-stop strategy that blindsided Red Bull Racing and secured him victory.

FORM GUIDE

Unsurprisingly for a track that puts a car through its paces, Mercedes has a formidable record here, claiming every pole since 2014 and all but one of those victories — its only defeat came when Hamilton and Nico Rosberg took each other out on the first lap in 2016. Hamilton has otherwise had the run of the place, with six poles and wins in eight years.

There’s little prospect of a repeat given Mercedes’s form, but Formula 1 arrives back in Spain after a fascinating start to the season regardless.

Ferrari opened the year with the quickest car, but it’s fundamentally unchanged from the machine it launched at this track for pre-season testing in February. Resultantly Red Bull Racing, thanks to a stream of updates, has caught up and arguably hit the front.

WHAT TO EXPECT

The reason Spain is sometimes considered the season’s true start point is that it tends to be the venue teams bring their first major updates to, with the well-known track being a good opportunity to evaluate them thoroughly. The results tend to then set the tone for the long European season.

Most interesting will be Ferrari, which is bringing a significant upgrade. The Italian team has held fire for strategy and cost-cap management reasons but has slipped behind in pure pace to Red Bull Racing; it hopes its new package will see it get back on terms at least.

The track should suit the SF-75 anyway given its advantage over the RB18 is all through the corners and, albeit decreasingly, under acceleration. It should be well dialled into this track from the start and will be disappointed to walk away without a strong result.

The RB18 won’t find long enough straights to really hammer home its top-speed advantage, but it too is bringing updates, and though largely targeted at weight reduction, a higher downforce configuration would make this a particularly intriguing contest.

This will also be one of the sternest tests for the new regulations when it comes to overtaking. Because this track is so sensitive to aerodynamic performance, following and passing has been historically very difficult, which has also meant most teams have stuck to making one stop in the race. If following proves easier, it’ll mean not only more action but possibly more strategic variation too.