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Lewis Hamilton arrives for the start of the European season in Spain 13 points adrift of championship rival Sebastian Vettel after he finished only fourth at the recent Russian Grand Prix, where he was also forced to watch his teammate Valtteri Bottas celebrate on the top step of the podium.
These are the key talking points ahead of the fifth round of the season at Barcelona’s Circuit de Catalunya on Sunday.
Will Hamilton to bounce back?
Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes team have been working round the clock to ascertain why the British driver was so off the pace in Russia. Having been slow all weekend, the triple world champion then finished 36 seconds behind winner and Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas in a weekend to forget at the Sochi Autodrom.
There have been occasions during Hamilton’s career, for whatever reason, when he has not been able to get up to speed. But recent history dictates that the 32-year-old will bounce back on Sunday. At Hamilton’s off-colour showings last year in Azerbaijan, Singapore and Japan, he returned to form at the proceeding rounds.
He won in Austria and the United States – the races which followed Azerbaijan and Japan – and was on course to triumph in Malaysia (the grand prix after Singapore) only for his engine to expire with 13 laps remaining. While Hamilton may have been out of sorts in Sochi, do not expect lightning to strike twice.
Was Russia a flash in the pan victory for Bottas?
Valtteri Bottas did his shares the world of good when he powered to a resounding victory at the Russian Grand Prix. After three races with the almighty Mercedes team some were claiming he was number two in the Silver Arrows outfit, but the quiet Finn silenced his critics with a grand performance in Sochi.
Niki Lauda lauded the effort and told Bottas that the first viotory was the hardest, and the rest would come easy. The big question heading to Spain is: can Bottas repeat the feat?
Whatever the case he signaled his intent and has certainly made good on the faith that Toto Wolff showed in him to replace retired World Champion Nico Rosberg. Another win or two would cement his future with the team.
Have Ferrari sorted out their starts?
Ferrari drivers Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen claimed the front row of the grid at the recent Russian Grand prix for the first time since 2008. From there they were expected to control the race, but off the line they were sluggish while Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas out-dragged the pair into Turn 2 and then proceeded to dominate the race on his way to scoring a famous first win in Formula 1.
Since then Ferrari have dedicated a ‘filming day’ at Mugello top practice their start procedures in an effort not to be out-powered (out-foxed) in the drag race from the start line to the finish line. Barcelona will reveal if their efforts were in vain or not.
Red Bull to up their game?
After three years of unprecedented dominance, Vettel and Ferrari are at last on level terms with Mercedes. And we could yet see a third team enter the fight this weekend. Red Bull, tipped to be Mercedes’ biggest challengers in 2017, are expected to bring a radically updated car to Barcelona.
Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen qualified a worrying two seconds slower than pole-sitter Vettel in Sochi, but design chief Adrian Newey has been upping the ante behind the scenes, and anticipate them to be much closer to the action in Barcelona.
It is a circuit which resonates well with those at Red Bull, too, after Verstappen won on his debut for the former world champions here last year following Hamilton’s crash with Nico Rosberg on the opening lap.
A new look for Formula 1 liveries
The aesthetics of the cars will look noticeably different in Spain, with greater projection given to the drivers’ name and numbers. The idea, agreed on by Formula One’s Strategy Group last month, is to make both driver and car more visible to the fans.
Mercedes were the first team to unveil their interpretation on Wednesday, with Hamilton and Bottas’s numbers (44 and 77 respectively) clearly displayed on the front wing, while their names, accompanied with their nation’s flags, were embossed on the side of the car.
Will McLaren-Honda continue to embarrass their fans?
McLaren’s woes with their engine supplier Honda is well documented. The team has a huge fan base which has suffered through the past three years of well below par performances. In Russia matters only got worse as Fernando Alonso suffered a failure on the formation lap, while young Stoffel Vandoorne trundled around way out of contention and only capable of beating the two Saubers with their year old Ferrari customer engines.
Spain is Alonso’s homeland where he has a legion of fans who will be dismayed how their hero has been struggling and will be hoping against hope that he will enjoy a fruitful weekend before his Indy 500 foray. But the facts are that the team simply does not have a power unit to compete anywhere beyond the back of the pack. Question is: can they at least get their two cars to start the race in Barcelona?