Barcelona - Championship leader Lewis Hamilton is hoping he
can rely on pure performance and not good fortune as Formula One returns to
Europe this weekend.
But his Mercedes boss Toto Wolff is warning the champions
they face an intensified scrap for glory in the Spanish Grand Prix, a race that
has seen plenty of drama and excitement in recent seasons.
Hamilton, the 33-year-old four-time world champion, secured
an unlikely and unexpected four-point lead in the drivers' title race when he
won at last month's Azerbaijan Grand Prix after a series of accidents and
incidents removed his rivals from the fray.
It was his first win this season - extending his run of
successful points-scoring finishes to a record 29 races - and he was quick to
admit it was one of the luckiest of his career after Ferrari had been dominant.
"There's been two weird races which have kept us in the
mix," he said.
"But we know that we can't rely on that for the next 17
races, or however many there are left. We need ultimate performance and
confidence in the car."
Hamilton has won twice at the Circuit de Catalunya in the
last four years, having secured pole three times in that time on a track where
the prime starting position often decides the outcome.
But this time around, he arrives on the back foot despite
his championship lead and with chief rival and fellow four-time champion
Sebastian Vettel hunting his fourth consecutive pole position, but first in
The contest this weekend is also likely to be seen as a
solid indicator for the season ahead as it is regarded as a 'bellwether'
circuit which, by Sunday night, will have seen how all of the top teams have
progressed with their extensive packages of upgrades following the opening four
"It will be interesting to see how much performance the
teams can find with their upgrades and what impact those upgrades will have on
the team ranking," said Wolff.
"It's the first step in the development race and it
could run to the end of the season."
Hamilton knows how much his bid for a fifth title depends on
his team in finding answers to the performance problems that have seen him
struggling in recent outings.
"I've got the pace within me and the car has got the
pace, but we're not unlocking it and we have got to improve in a lot of
areas," he said in Baku, where he was surprised by his own win.
In recent years, the track at Montmelo, in the industrial
hinterland to the north-west of Barcelona, has borne witness to the sensational
arrival of Dutch teenager Max Verstappen, who won in 2016 on debut with Red
Bull, after the two Mercedes had collided on the opening lap.
A collision between the two Red Bulls in Baku contributed to
gift Hamilton his victory two weekends ago and this will have ensured much more
stringent discipline and focus is exercised as Daniel Ricciardo and Verstappen
mount their challenge.
"This could be a really important and defining weekend,
a defining moment for the season," said Verstappen.
"I'm interested to see how everyone performs. We all
have updates and we hope they are positive, of course."
The Circuit de Catalunya has undergone a complete
resurfacing since last year and this, together with possible higher than usual
temperatures, may make tyre-wear an important factor in the outcome.
The race will be the 48th Spanish Grand Prix overall and the
28th at the Barcelona track with Ferrari enjoying the record of being the most
successful team, a feat Vettel will want to extend as he bids to atone for his
mistake in the closing stages at Baku where he out-braked himself while leading
and finished fourth.
Five former winners will be on the grid - Verstappen (2016),
Hamilton (2014 and 2017), Vettel (2011), home hero two-time champion Fernando
Alonso (2006 and 2013) and 2007 champion Kimi Raikkonen (2005 and 2008).