May 8, 2014, 9:30 AM EST
After a three week break, Formula 1 returns to Europe for the Spanish Grand Prix following four flyaway rounds, and there is an air of optimism lingering around the paddock at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.
As the first grand prix on European shores in 2014, it marks the first opportunity for the teams to introduce a significant upgrade package for their cars, having got to grips with the new regulations in the previous four races. Therefore, we could yet see another shake-up of the pack, and perhaps even a more serious threat to Mercedes’ dominance in 2014. Or, alternatively, the gap could widen yet further between the Silver Arrows and the chasing pack.
This race is one of the true challenges for teams on the F1 calendar. Although overtaking is limited, the track requires a setup that is balanced between the fast, sweeping corners and the more technical sections of the circuit. It is also one of the toughest circuits on tires, with last year’s race being won by Fernando Alonso on a four stop strategy.
2014 Spanish Grand Prix – Talking Points
Surely Mercedes can’t go even faster?
Well, yes, the team can. And it most probably will. The upgrade package that each team introduces always marks a big step forwards, and given that we’re just four races into a new set of regulations, this ‘step’ could be bigger than normal. Mercedes’ lightening start to the 2014 season doesn’t look like stopping any time soon, and if the development rate is as good now as it was in the lead-up to this year, the gap at the front could get bigger.
Red Bull and Ferrari seek resistance
It’s odd to think that the neutral might be actually cheering on Red Bull and Ferrari – the two dominant forces in F1 since 2000 – this weekend in Spain. If the championship is to realistically stay alive until the end of the season, then both of these teams need to show their true colors this weekend. Red Bull’s phenomenal rate of development could put it in good stead, whilst Ferrari has the backing of the crowd as Fernando Alonso goes in search of a third Spanish GP victory on home soil.
That sinking feeling for McLaren?
After a disastrous 2013 campaign, 2014 had the makings of something a little more promising for McLaren when Kevin Magnussen and Jenson Button reached the podium in Australia. Since then, though, neither has been particularly impressive, and Spain will be an important race to mark a revival. After being the bottom Mercedes-powered team in China, bouncing back in Barcelona is crucial for McLaren.
Some points for Sauber and Lotus, perhaps?
It’s crazy to think that two teams which have regularly finished on the podium over the last two years are now on a par – mathematically – with Caterham and Marussia. Lotus came close in China, only for a gearbox problem to rob Romain Grosjean of some points, but Sauber has never looked capable of finishing in the top ten. Both teams need a change this weekend.
The rain in Spain stays mainly on the plain – or not
That old rhyme doesn’t have much relevance this weekend. We look set to have just our second all-dry race weekend of the season, which should allow the teams to show their true pace. Wet qualifying in Australia, Malaysia and China masked much of their potential, whilst the colder conditions at night in Bahrain also posed a headache. If we are to trust the forecast, we may finally get an idea of the pecking order in Spain.
Track: Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya (4.655km)
Lap Record: Kimi Raikkonen 1:21.670 (2008)
Tire Compounds: Medium (Option); Hard (Prime)
2013 Winner: Fernando Alonso (Ferrari)
2013 Pole Position: Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) 1:20.718
2013 Fastest Lap: Esteban Gutierrez (Sauber) 1:26.217
DRS Zones: Main straight (T16 to T1); T9 to T10
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