Spanish Grand Prix: Will Red Bull challenge Ferrari and Mercedes?

Spanish Grand Prix

Valtteri Bottas can add his name to one of Formula One’s longest sequences by following up his breakthrough win in Russia with another triumph when the European season starts in Spain this weekend.

The Finn, fresh from his first grand prix victory with champions Mercedes in Russia, is the man most likely to become the 11th different winner in a row at Barcelona’s Circuit de Catalunya.

No other track on the calendar has had such a variety of winners over the past decade, an ironic fact given that it is the most familiar to drivers from winter testing and was once famed for its predictability.

Last year it was Dutch 18-year-old Max Verstappen who became the sport’s youngest winner when he triumphed for Red Bull, on his team debut, after both Mercedes drivers collided at the start.

In 2012, it was now-departed Venezuelan Pastor Maldonado — a one-hit wonder — who handed Williams a surprise victory that remains their most recent.

Ferrari’s championship leader Sebastian Vettel and Mercedes rival Lewis Hamilton, 13 points behind the German, will start as favourites and success for either could be an omen given that both went on to take the title last time they won in Spain.

But Bottas, who joined Mercedes from Williams in January as replacement for retired 2016 world champion Nico Rosberg, is the best bet to continue the streak of different winners in Spain even if he has yet to finish higher than fourth there.

“Getting that first win definitely gives me a lot of confidence that I can do it, even though I always knew I had the ability,” he said after Sochi. “And now it’s done, I just want to do it again and again.”

The only other driver from the leading trio of teams yet to triumph in Barcelona is Verstappen’s Australian team mate Daniel Ricciardo, but the Red Bull has lagged Mercedes and Ferrari on pace so far this year.

That will surely change, with the flow of upgrades set to speed up now that teams are closer to their factories, and Red Bull have some big chassis modifications in the pipeline with engine improvements still to come.

“I hope the upgrade will give us a chance to really fight with Mercedes and Ferrari or at least get us closer,” said Ricciardo.

The driver of car number 11, Force India’s Mexican Sergio Perez, has racked up 14 successive points finishes and he too will have aerodynamic updates on his car.

Of the current crop, only Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen and McLaren’s Fernando Alonso have won twice at the Barcelona circuit with their first victories in 2005 and 2006 respectively.

Alonso will consider it a bonus to get as far as the starting grid on home soil, having failed to make it even that far in Sochi before his car broke down, in his last race before heading to the United States and the Indianapolis 500.

“I’m not sure what we can expect from this weekend,” said the Spaniard. “We’re expecting some various new parts…but we can’t really focus too much on performance until we have solved our reliability issues.”

The lap times will be closely scrutinised, with Barcelona a benchmark for the 2017 regulations that aimed to make the cars five seconds quicker, thanks to wider tyres and revised aerodynamics.

There will also be more of a buzz in the paddock, with teams rolling out their ‘motorhomes’ — palatial multi-storeyed hospitality units — for the first time this season.

Reuters Spanish Grand Prix Facts & Statistics

  • Lap distance: 4.655km. Total distance: 307.104km (66 laps)
  • Race lap record: One minute 21.670 seconds, Kimi Raikkonen (Finland) Ferrari, 2008.
  • 2016 pole: Lewis Hamilton (Britain) Mercedes
  • 2016 winner: Max Verstappen (Netherlands) Red Bull
  • Start time: 1200 GMT

Victories

  • Valtteri Bottas took his first Formula One victory in Russia, making the Mercedes driver the sport’s 107th different winner since the championship started in 1950.
  • Bottas, the fifth Finn to win a grand prix, was also the first new winner since Verstappen in Spain last year.
  • Champions Mercedes have now won 53 of 63 races since the introduction of the 1.6 litre V6 turbo hybrid power units in 2014.
  • Mercedes’ triple world champion Hamilton has 54 career victories, putting him second in the all-time list behind Michael Schumacher (91). Vettel has 44, McLaren’s Fernando Alonso is on 32 and Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen 20.
  • Ferrari have won 226 races, McLaren 182, Williams 114, Mercedes 66 and Red Bull 52. McLaren and Williams have not won a race since 2012.

Pole Position

  • Sebastian Vettel started on pole in Russia, Ferrari’s first since 2015 and their first front row lockout in qualifying since 2008.
  • The Ferrari pole ended a run of 18 in a row for Mercedes, who have been on pole in 59 of the last 63 races.
  • Hamilton has 63 so far, leaving the Briton two short of the late Ayrton Senna’s career total and five behind Schumacher’s record 68.

Podium

  • Hamilton’s fourth place in Russia ended his run of eight successive podium finishes. The Briton has not been off the podium for two successive races since 2013.
  • Hamilton has 107 podiums to date and is second on the all-time list behind Schumacher (155). Vettel has 90, Raikkonen 85.

Fastest Laps

  • Raikkonen set the fastest lap in Sochi, the 45th of his career. Only Schumacher (77) has more.

Championship Points

  • Force India’s Mexican Sergio Perez has finished the last 14 races in the points, the longest current run among those on the grid.
  • Only Ferrari, Mercedes and Force India have scored with both cars in every race this season.
  • Sauber and McLaren have yet to score in 2017.

Spanish Grand Prix

  • The last 10 Spanish Grands Prix have been won by different drivers: Verstappen, Nico Rosberg, Hamilton, Alonso, Pastor Maldonado, Vettel, Mark Webber, Jenson Button, Raikkonen, Felipe Massa.
  • Alonso (2006, 2013) and Raikkonen (2005, 2008) are the only current drivers to have won twice in Spain.
  • All but three of the last 16 Spanish Grands Prix have been won from pole position.
  • The only drivers to win in Barcelona without starting on the front row are Michael Schumacher (third on the grid in 1996), Alonso (from fifth in 2013) and Verstappen (fourth in 2016).
  • Alonso is the only Spaniard to have won a grand prix.
  • Ferrari are the most successful team at the Circuit de Catalunya with eight wins in 26 years. Since the first Spanish Grand Prix in 1951, the Italian team have won it 12 times.