After four opening ‘flyaway’ races, the 2017 FIA Formula One World Championship sees teams return to the sports traditional heartland for a predominantly European leg of the season, beginning with the Spanish Grand Prix at the Circuit de Catalunya.
A favoured test venue for Formula One, Barcelona’s circuit is perhaps the one the sport’s teams know best, with a wealth of data on this season’s new cars having already been accumulated during the two pre-season tests in February and March.
However, as the first ‘close to home’ race of the season, the Spanish Grand Prix is also the event to which many teams bring their first major update of the season and that, allied to the development that has already taken place, means cars that will race on Sunday are likely to be quite different to those that made their track debut here 10 weeks ago.
Conditions too are also likely to be very different to those experienced in the winter, with track temperatures set to be higher than in testing. Thus, finding the perfect set-up is not as straightforward as the teams’ familiarity with the circuit would suggest. The process is made trickier by the often treacherous winds that can whip up across the circuit.
Barcelona also presents teams with an abrasive track surface, with long, fast corners such as Turn 3 – putting significant energy through the tyre and resulting in high degradation. As such tyre supplier Pirelli move to the harder end of its spectrum here, with the hard compound making its first appearance of the season, alongside the soft and medium tyres.
Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel takes a 13-point championship lead over Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton into this crucial part of the season but a maiden career win in Russia has vaulted Hamilton’s team-mate Valtteri Bottas into close contention.
Meanwhile, in the teams battle, Mercedes have just a single point in hand over the Italian squad.