Formula 1’s 2016 development war hits high gear in Spain as pressure is mounting on Lewis Hamilton and Ferrari to deliver while Red Bull have already wielded the axe.
Hamilton heads into Sunday’s grand prix chasing his first victory of this season – and a track where victories have been few and far between. The three-time World Champion has just one Spanish victory to his name having triumphed in 2014.
History, though, is not the only obstacle facing him this weekend. Hamilton is currently on a seven-race losing streak as his last F1 win was back at October’s United States Grand Prix.
The Brit has had the bulk of Mercedes’ reliability gremlins, which have put him out of back-to-back qualifying sessions in China and Russia, making his Sunday afternoons a whole lot more difficult.
In sharp contrast, his team-mate Nico Rosberg is riding a wave of confidence. The German has seven wins on the trot dating back to last year’s Mexican GP and his perfect record for this season has given him a perfect score of 100.
Added to that, history is very much in Rosberg’s favour as only three other drivers – Michael Schumacher, Ayrton Senna and Nigel Mansell – have ever started the season with four successive wins – all three won that year’s World title.
Undoubtedly Rosberg is the favourite to win this weekend’s grand prix but with Hamilton’s pressing need for a victory, he trails his team-mate by 43 points in the standings, Formula 1 could yet see its first different winner of the season.
Ferrari, though, are hoping that it will come from them. In a season where reliability and first lap incidents have hindered Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen, team president Sergio Marchionne says he “expects” Ferrari to win shortly, starting with the Spanish Grand Prix.
But while Mercedes and Ferrari are expected to lead the charge, behind them F1 is anticipating a congested midfield battle.
New Red Bull signing Max Verstappen, who was promoted in the wake of Daniil Kvyat’s demotion to Toro Rosso – which the team blamed on his inability to cope with the pressure and not his Russian GP first lap antics, has a lot to prove while Daniel Ricciardo will be determined not to let the teenager get the better of him. It promises to an intense intra-team battle over at Red Bull.
By that same token, Kvyat will set his sights on beating Verstappen, or at least new team-mate Carlos Sainz, as he wants to show Red Bull the error of their ways. Williams and Force India are also expected to be in the mix with the latter just short of debuting a B-spec car.
The Barcelona track is well known to all the drivers as they spend the pre-season lapping the 4.6km track and as such it is the perfect venue for the teams to unveil major developments in what is billed as the sport’s development war.
Mercedes have brought a bigger package while McLaren and Haas both count a new front wing amongst their upgrades. Other teams will also be running bits and bobs but it Force India who probably have the longest list: front wing, rear wing, brake ducts, tighter rear bodywork and reshaped sidepods.
The team reckons it is worth as much as half a second per lap but given the rest of the field’s updates, Formula 1 is not expecting any major surprises in Spain.