Johannesburg - Formula 1 returns to the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, the most lapped track on the calendar, for Sunday's Spanish Grand Prix and the start of the war – the development war, that is.
With new regulations in play this season, focusing more on aerodynamics, there is still lots of scope for teams to gain more time, meaning this year’s development race is likely to be hotter than in previous seasons.
Get off the mark
One team hoping to get the jump on their rivals, or at least draw level, is Red Bull. The Milton Keynes squad will introduce a B-spec car as they remain the only team in the top three yet to reach the top step of the podium.
However, championship leaders Ferrari and Mercedes will not be standing still. Although the Scuderia already ran new wings and a floor to the Bahrain GP, a race won by Sebastian Vettel, they are expected to bring further updates to Spain – while Mercedes’ W08 could have a complete aero overhaul.
Although Ferrari’s updates are expected to be fewer than those of their main rivals, Vettel and Kimi Räikkönen will be hoping that a return to the Barcelona circuit – where they came to the fore in pre-season testing – will see them once again hit the front.
Vettel, who is leading the drivers’ standings by 13 points over Lewis Hamilton, already has two wins to his tally – Australia and Bahrain – while Räikkönen has yet to get off the mark.
The Ice Man has lost his cool at times this season, but he heads to a circuit where he knows how to win, having done so in 2005 and 2008. Räikkönen is one of only two current drivers, the other being Fernando Alonso, with more than one Spanish GP win to his name.
Vettel, Hamilton, Felipe Massa and Max Verstappen are all on the winners’ list, with the Dutchman’s victory last year a surprise as it came just days after his promotion to Red Bull.
That, though, was not the only unexpected win that Spain delivered in recent years, the most notable of which was Pastor Maldonado’s tyre triumph in 2012.
This year, tyres are unlikely to play as big a role, with Pirelli bringing its hardest range to the race and not expecting too much degradation. While the hardest range is often Ferrari’s worst, the warmer conditions will suit the Scuderia, offering what should be a level playing field – at least with the tyres.
However, Valtteri Bottas, winner of the race in Russia, reckons tyres could yet play a pivotal role as the teams are still trying to understand Pirelli’s new rubber and why, in some races, they can find the sweet spot, but in others cannot get them to work at all.
The midfield battle may be separated by 25 points – Force India in fourth to Haas in eighth – but it is closer than it looks in the standings. The Barcelona track has suited Force India in recent years and, with its raft of updates, Sergio Pérez and Esteban Ocon will be determined to continue their run of top 10 finishes.
As for local heroes, Spain has two on the grid in Alonso and Carlos Sainz. One will be hoping for solid points, the other just to start the race. And it’s not Alonso who is chasing the points.