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Formula 1: Lights Out - What to look for at the Spanish GP

19 May 2022 04:58:42 EST
The F1 roadshow returns to Europe this weekend

Formula 1 returns to Europe for the Spanish Grand Prix with Max Verstappen having set his sights on top spot in the drivers' championship after victory in Miami.

The reigning world champion heads to Barcelona this weekend 19 points adrift of Ferrari's Charles Leclerc at the summit of the standings after backing up his dominant win at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix by clinching the inaugural Miami race.

Verstappen is 1.80 to complete the first hat-trick of wins this season but is the momentum about to swing back the way of Leclerc and Ferrari in what is developing into a fascinating title tussle?

Ferrari prepare to strike back

The Spanish Grand Prix had traditionally been the curtain-raiser to the European leg of the Formula 1 season, and usually heralds teams introducing the first major upgrades to their cars.

However, with F1 squeezing the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix into the calendar in April, teams now have an earlier window to make improvements if they choose.

Red Bull didn't waste time adjusting their car ahead of the race in Imola and the results speak for themselves. Verstappen was untouchable in Imola before keeping his title rival Leclerc at a safe distance in Miami.

Red Bull believe they've shaved off two-tenths of a second per lap with their upgrades, and now appear markedly quicker than the rest of the grid in a straight line.

Ferrari have taken a more traditional approach to improving the F1-75, waiting until Spain, where they first gave an indication as to the potential of their car in testing.

The Italians are bringing a lighter floor, which they hope will save 3kg, and new diffuser, to the Circuit de Catalunya, in an effort to nose back ahead of Red Bull.

Who does Catalunya favour?

Ferrari haven't won in Spain since 2013 when home favourite Fernando Alonso took the chequered flag and Leclerc is 2.62 to end their drought, while Sainz is 13.00 to follow in his compatriot Alonso's footsteps.

The Scuderia believe they have done enough to close the gap, or even over take Red Bull, but after the power-hungry, low downforce circuits of the first five rounds, it's still unclear which car will be superior on these types of tracks in the new era of F1.

The Circuit de Catalunya is the first high downforce circuit of the season and marks the start of a run of twisty circuits with Monaco next up on the calendar. The lack of long straights may negate Red Bull's straight line speed advantage but they have traditionally been a team that's thrived at these types of tracks.

However, they've slightly lost their downforce edge in recent seasons and it will be fascinating to see whether that's decreased even further in F1's new era.

One of the big reasons for the major overhaul to Formula 1's technical guidelines was to make following another car, and therefore overtaking it, easier. But Barcelona is a track where it's notoriously difficult to overtake, making qualifying even more vital than usual.

In that regard, Ferrari have the edge with Charles Leclerc claiming three pole positions to Verstappen's one.

The Italians, who failed to build on a front row lockout in Miami, will be pushing hard to claim first place on the grid once more with Leclerc a 1.66 chance and Sainz 10.00 having gone close to pole on a couple of occasions.

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Will the real Mercedes please stand up

Mercedes duo Lewis Hamilton and George Russell are both a massive 15.00 to start from the front of the grid but could outperform those odds if they can build on the good parts of their Miami weekend.

The Silver Arrows were quick in practice but followed that up with a dreadful qualifying session before ending the weekend coming home a respectable fifth and sixth with Russell leading the way.

Like Ferrari, they will introduce some major upgrades to their car this weekend in the hope of making the title fight a three-way battle.

Having been a second slower per lap than Ferrari and Red Bull at times this season, the gap they need to bridge is significant in size but they could be another team who benefit from the move away from the power circuits.

It's certainly a track Hamilton will be happy to see having won the last five editions of the Spanish Grand Prix and the Brit is 23.00 to make it a super six.

McLaren going up, Haas going down

McLaren will also be pleased to be back at the familiar Circuit de Catalunya having produced some impressive times during testing. While it's dangerous to read too much into those winter performances, they appear to have a car that should be better suited to this circuit.

Both McLarens finished in the top 10 in Spain last year and lead driver Lando Norris will be desperate to make amends following his error which lead to a race-ending collision with Pierre Gasly in Miami.

Norris is currently best of the race in the drivers' standings behind the big three teams and with McLaren amongst those outfits introducing major upgrades, a top six finish at 4.33 isn't out of the question.

McLaren climbing up the grid is only a matter of time as they work out the kinks, while Haas are living on borrowed time following their positive start to the season.

Kevin Magnussen has scored points in three of the first five races, while Mick Schumacher has come agonisingly close to breaking his points duck but they face a tough weekend in Spain.

With Haas team principal Guenther Steiner admitting they are a few races away from introducing any upgrades, the American team risk being overtaken by the majority of the grid and slipping towards the back of the pack as they wait to make modifications.

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