Max Verstappen’s first Grand Prix win came at the Circuit de Catalunya on his Red Bull Racing debut in 2016, it was simply sensational however another success on Sunday, in his 100the Formula 1 start for the team, would surprise nobody.
The 23-year-old Dutch driver returns to the Spanish Grand Prix track outside Barcelona as a title contender battling wheel-to-wheel with Mercedes’ seven times F1 world champion Lewis Hamilton.
Eight points behind his British rival after three races, Verstappen will find round four much more to his liking than Portugal last weekend.
After the Algarve circuit’s slippery surface, grip levels should be more normal as Barcelona is always a good benchmark for a car’s strengths and weaknesses.
“Barcelona will always hold special memories for me. Your first F1 win is pretty emotional, especially when it is a bit of a shock to everyone as it was my debut for the team,” said Verstappen.
“I think it can be a good track for us, but I do expect Mercedes to be very quick too so it´s going to be very close again and it´s just going to depend on who finds the best set-up,” he added.
Verstappen started 23 races for Red Bull-owned Toro Rosso, now AlphaTauri, before his promotion to Red Bull Racing at the age of 18 made him the youngest ever grand prix winner.
He and Hamilton have been in a league of their own this season, the Dutch driver winning once with two second places to Hamilton’s two victories and one runner-up.
Hamilton has won in Spain five times, and for the past four years, and another victory would equal Michael Schumacher’s six with Benetton and Ferrari.
Pole position would also make him the first Formula 1 driver to reach 100 but Mercedes’ director of trackside engineering Andrew Shovlin said the weekend was looking too close to call.
“To be honest, I think it will be a bit more of the same. You won’t be able to split them, you won’t be able to read the race and I think it will just be a bit tight and we are settling into that,” he said.
Hamilton’s teammate, Valtteri Bottas, who finished third after starting from pole position in Portugal, is already 37 points behind the Briton and fourth overall.
With his position at the team uncertain for next year, and Mercedes-backed Williams driver George Russell favourite to replace him, the Finn needs a strong showing.
Behind the podium regulars, expect McLaren’s Lando Norris to continue the fine run of form that has sent him third overall.
Only 1,000 spectators — circuit members drawn by ballot — will be allowed into the grandstands as a result of restrictions on mass gatherings due to the COVID-19 pandemic but they will have two Spanish drivers to cheer on.
Carlos Sainz will be making his first home appearance as a Ferrari driver while double world champion and two times Spanish Grand Prix winner Fernando Alonso returns with Renault-owned Alpine after two years out.
Formula 1 did not test at the circuit pre-season, for the first time since 2014, and the La Caixa turn 10 has been radically re-profiled with the lap distance extended by 20 metres. (Reporting by Alan Baldwin)
INFORMATION & STATISTICS
Reuters statistics for Sunday’s Spanish Formula One Grand Prix at Barcelona’s Circuit de Catalunya, the fourth race of the season:
- Lap distance: 4.675 km. Total distance: 308.424 km (66 laps)
- 2020 pole position: Lewis Hamilton (Britain) Mercedes
- 2020 race winner: Hamilton
- Start time: 1300 GMT (1500 local)
Spanish Grand Prix
- The Circuit de Catalunya is celebrating its 31st year as host of what will be the 51st Spanish GP.
- Sunday’s race will have only 1,000 spectators due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Hamilton has won five times in Spain (2014, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020) and is chasing a fifth in a row there.
- Other winners are Kimi Raikkonen (2005, 2008), Sebastian Vettel (2011), Fernando Alonso (2006, 2013) and Max Verstappen (2016).
- The winner at the Circuit de Catalunya has started on pole 22 times in 30 races. Hamilton has started on pole five times.
- The only drivers to win in Barcelona and not start on the front row were Michael Schumacher (third on the grid in 1996), Alonso (from fifth in 2013) and Verstappen (fourth in 2016).
- Alonso and Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz are Spain’s current drivers.
- Ferrari are the most successful team at the Circuit de Catalunya with eight wins. Since the first Spanish Grand Prix in 1951, the Italian team have won the race 12 times.
- Hamilton has a record 97 career victories, of which 76 have been with Mercedes, from 269 starts. He has been on the podium 168 times.
- Hamilton has won two of the three races so far. The Briton has also won his last four races from second on the grid.
- Ferrari have won 238 races since 1950, McLaren 182, Mercedes 117, Williams 114 and Red Bull 65. Former champions McLaren and Williams have not won since 2012.
- Hamilton has a record 99 career poles.
- Nobody has won from pole so far in a season with three different pole sitters.
- World Championship
- Hamilton is eight points ahead of Red Bull’s Max Verstappen in the standings.
- The Portuguese Grand Prix set a record for the most recurring podium with Hamilton, Verstappen and Bottas the top trio for the 15th time. The previous record was Hamilton, Nico Rosberg and Sebastian Vettel.
- Hamilton scored points for the 150th time as a Mercedes driver.
- Sunday will be Verstappen’s 100th race with Red Bull Racing.