After four rounds of domination, Mercedes head to the Spanish Grand Prix with a 74 point lead in the Constructors’ standings, while Valtteri Bottas leads Lewis Hamilton by a single point in the Drivers’ Championship. Will Mercedes dominate again this weekend? Can Ferrari fight back? And can Carlos Sainz impress at home? Here are the talking points ahead of the weekend!
More Mercedes domination?
Mercedes head to Spain very much in control of things at the top of the championship standings. It has been a dream start to the year for the team, with four consecutive 1-2 finishes – two wins for Lewis Hamilton and two for Valtteri Bottas.
If history is anything to go by, the domination doesn’t appear likely to end this weekend. The team have won four of the last five Spanish Grands Prix, the only exception being in 2016, where Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton eliminated each other from the race on the opening lap. From those four victories, they finished 1-2 in 2014, 2015 and 2018. Hamilton has won each of the last two races here, and has taken pole at Catalunya in all of the last three seasons. If you were to bet on the weekend’s result, a strong finish for Mercedes and Hamilton regaining the championship lead would be two safe options.
Can Ferrari catch up?
Mercedes have been somewhat lucky in their apparent domination of the opening four races. Charles Leclerc’s unfortunate engine failure when leading in Bahrain and his qualifying crash in Baku, which ultimately prevented him from being a major threat to victory, has arguably made Mercedes’ start to the season look stronger than it actually was. Ferrari will be hoping to claim their first victory of the season in Spain, though it may be a difficult task, with the team claiming just one victory at the track in the last ten years (Fernando Alonso, in 2013).
A series of updates may help them in their quest. A new version of the Ferrari power unit will be used this weekend. The new specification was scheduled to be used for the first time at next month’s Canadian Grand Prix, but its introduction has been brought forward by four weeks. Early introductions of power units can be a gamble, but Ferrari need a solution to start winning back points against their title rivals. The Scuderia will be hoping their cars shows similar pace around the track as they did in Winter Testing – after which many expected them to be the team to beat in the 2019 season.
Interestingly, Catalunya is one of only three circuits on the calendar where Sebastian Vettel is yet to take a pole position. Should he do so this weekend, the Spanish Grand Prix will be the 24th different event where he has started from pole, equalling Lewis Hamilton’s record.
Upgrades & updates
Ferrari won’t be the only team with a raft of upgrades this weekend. The start of the European season traditionally means that the teams bring their first major developments of the year.
One team seemingly in need of upgrades is Renault, who’ve endured a disappointing start to the year, currently ranking only seventh in the Constructors’ Championship and having completed the least racing laps of any team so far in 2019. Technical Director Nick Chester says the team will bring a “reasonable” amount of upgrades to Catalunya. Keep an eye on Nico Hulkenberg on Saturday – surprisingly, he’s never reached Q3 at this track.
After their Azerbaijan woes, Williams will be bringing a raft of much needed updates to their car this weekend in hopes to catch up to the back of the midfield, while Red Bull will bring “fairly subtle” changes to their car.
Will any team’s rate of development be enough to see them move up the competitive order?
Home race for Carlos Sainz
For the first time since 2002, the Spanish crowd are without Fernando Alonso on the grid at his home event. Instead, Carlos Sainz will be picking up the baton as the home favourite.
Sainz’s start to his career at McLaren has been a little underwhelming, with two retirements in the opening two races, followed by a fourteenth place finish in China and his first points of the season with seventh in Azerbaijan.
Sainz’s record at the Spanish Grand Prix is impressive. He’s never failed to score points at the track, has finished higher than where he started in all of the last three seasons, and has never been beaten by a team-mate in qualifying. Ahead of the event, Sainz shared his thoughts on the title race and how upgrades could be key to a good result at his home event:
“Barcelona can change the trend of the first four races, and hopefully it will go well for McLaren and Ferrari will come a little closer to Mercedes. All the points we lost have started to be recovered and I hope this trend continues. It’s where we start to see which are the teams to beat, so we have to be smart and bring the right pieces.”
The last Spanish Grand Prix?
This could be the last visit to the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, with its slot on the calendar expected to be taken by Zandvoort and the Dutch Grand Prix for 2020. The track has been a mainstay on the calendar since the Spanish Grand Prix moved here in 1991, and the event has seen plenty of memorable moments since then – from Michael Schumacher’s supremacy in the wet in 1996, to Pastor Maldonado’s unexpected 2012 win and Max Verstappen’s debut victory in 2016. With Barcelona nearby, it’s a popular race for many fans attending across Europe and will surely be missed if it does vacate the calendar. Perhaps we will hear news on the event’s future this weekend.