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Spanish F1 GP: Who will succeed in the ultimate gauge of all-round car performance?

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Spanish F1 GP: Who will succeed in the ultimate gauge of all-round car performance?
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May 10, 2018, 1:27 PM

Some top F1 teams will tell you that they are in a process of constant development during snF1 season, so Barcelona is just another race in that se...

Some top F1 teams will tell you that they are in a process of constant development during snF1 season, so Barcelona is just another race in that sense.

But it is still an important marker post. Teams are pushing to extract all the performance out of their cars as possible, attention will inevitably turn to which teams can make the biggest leap in pace in the quest for better results.

On outright pace, Ferrari have had the upper hand in the opening four races of the season, taking three out of four pole positions, including two front-row lock-outs.

However, the difference in race pace appears to be a closer affair, with Ferrari, Mercedes and Red Bull frequently competing closer in race trim. Opportunities exist for any of the front teams to capitalise on even the smallest of development gains.

The Formula One grid heads to another circuit which will prove to be a stern test for Ferrari and Red Bull, as it's a venue which has provided fine demonstrations of Mercedes' pace in the last few years.

The Silver Arrows have taken the previous five pole positions at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, starting with a pre-hybrid era pole position for Nico Rosberg in 2013. They would've taken all four hybrid era wins, except for the famous collision between Rosberg and Hamilton in 2016.

Since 2014, few teams have been able to hold a candle to Mercedes at the Spanish Grand Prix, until last year, when Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel came close to claiming an unlikely pole position before being locked in a race-long duel with Lewis Hamilton.

Mercedes will be looking to prove that they still have the raw pace to validate Hamilton's championship lead, whilst simultaneously setting their sights on leaving Spain with the constructors' championship lead. They currently trail Ferrari by four points.

Can Vettel and Ferrari bounce back?

In a fine demonstration of how the fortunes can fluctuate over the course of a season, Sebastian Vettel now finds himself four points away from the championship lead despite leading large portions of the previous two races.

A slice of fortune - and a Mercedes miscalculation - was required for his Australian Grand Prix win, whilst the narrow victory in Bahrain was made possible by strong tyre conservation.

However, despite Ferrari having the edge in pace at Sakhir, Shanghai and Baku - where they've taken pole position - the last two races have gone away from the Scuderia.

Vettel and Ferrari were caught out by the tyre strategy handed to Mercedes' Valtteri Bottas in China, but they can still consider themselves unlucky not to make the podium, following his tangle with Red Bull's Max Verstappen.

Whilst a safety car deployment is always unlucky for the race leader, Bottas was able to take advantage of an adverse strategy to demote Vettel to second at the restart. Despite this, Vettel's demotion to fourth place was self-inflicted after a bodged attempt at trying to reclaim the race lead.

Hamilton took advantage by claiming his first win and the championship lead, despite generally being out-performed by team-mate Bottas in at least two of the four races so far.

Conversely, Hamilton might believe he was due a piece of good fortune after the team error in Australia and the gearbox penalty in Bahrain. There are cases for both drivers, and naturally there will be many more examples to come over the course of a championship fight.

Will Renault and McLaren strong-arm their way to the forefront of the midfield?

This will be the 28th running of the Spanish Grand Prix at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya and the track has always been considered one of the best tests of a car's all-round performance.

Many teams have already been boasting about the number of major updates that they will be bringing to Barcelona, which is often the first point in the season where the bigger car upgrades make it to the track. This may be where the bigger budgets come into play.

McLaren have said early on that the car they turned up with in Australia was not the one they wanted. Instead, they believe their season will start properly with the developments brought to Barcelona, which reports suggest will include a unique nose design.

Renault, meanwhile, brought wing and barge board updates to the previous race in Baku - the effects of which might be better demonstrated in Barcelona where there is less dependence on power units - and are bringing updates to the power unit for this weekend.

Haas, Toro Rosso and Sauber appear to be bringing only small updates to this weekend's event, whilst Williams believe theirs to be a "reasonably significant" update.

Force India's recent history suggests that they are more than capable of fighting back from a poor start to a season and run at the forefront of the midfield. The issues they've had this season relate to the sidepods and floor design, so updates to these areas could also be introduced in Barcelona.

All images: Motorsport Images

Who do you think will win in Barcelona? Which teams do you think will make the biggest steps in performance? Leave your comments below.
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About this article

Series Formula 1
Author Luke Murphy