So far, the 2014 season has been all about Mercedes. The German manufacturer has won the opening four races in dominant fashion. The big question as Formula One moves on to Barcelona is who, if anyone, can stop them making it five in a row.
Red Bull is perhaps in the best shape to challenge the Silver Arrows. On three occasions this year the Red Bull drivers of Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo have prevented a Mercedes front row lock out. Furthermore, Ricciardo should have started third on the grid in Bahrain, just behind the Mercedes cars, had it not been for a grid penalty.
However, the defending champions have been hampered by issues with their Renault power unit. The RB10 has been particularly lacking in straight line speed, as seen at the most recent race in China. But there are suggestions that Red Bull could be much closer to the pace this weekend.
Firstly, Renault has promised a performance boost for the Spanish Grand Prix. That, couple with the fact that the Barcelona circuit is not as power depended as Shanghai, could mean that the gap between Mercedes and Red Bull is substantially reduced. In fact, the next two races could be crucial to Red Bull’s title aspirations this year, with the sport moving on to Monte Carlo after this weekend.
The start of the European season is always when the majority of teams bring big updates to improve performance. While it is unlikely that Mercedes have stood still since Lewis Hamilton’s victory last time out, the RB10 is regarded by many as the better chassis.
Should Red Bull be more competitive, it will be interesting to see how the relationship between Vettel and Ricciardo continues to develop. Vettel has appeared increasingly frustrated by his difficult start to his championship campaign. He has twice been asked to move over for his team mate, and will be determined to be the faster car this time. Meanwhile, Ricciardo has had an excellent start to his time at Red Bull, and has exceeded many people’s pre-season expectations already.
So is the victory likely to be contested just between Mercedes and Red Bull then?
Well, no, not quite.
Ferrari has had a difficult start to 2014 as well. A ninth and tenth place finish for Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen respectively at the Bahrain Grand Prix was the low point. But last year’s winner of the Spanish Grand Prix, Fernando Alonso, finally returned to the podium at the previous race. On home turf, will he be able to repeat his heroics of the last few years? Or was his third place at China a rare one off?
Kimi Raikkonen too, has something to prove, after a subdued start to the season. His problems with the F14T have been well documented, but Ferrari is confident that they have now been solved.
Look out for Williams and McLaren too. The former was widely tipped as one of the dark horses for this season, but despite already scoring more points this year than it did in the entire of 2013, has so far flattered to deceive.
McLaren started off strongly, and led the constructors’ championship after the first race. But since then, both Jenson Button and Kevin Magnussen have struggled for pace. After both cars retired in Bahrain, neither made it into the top ten in China.
On paper then, it is all set up to be a fascinating weekend ahead. The Spanish Grand Prix will tell us if Mercedes is still the team to beat, or if Red Bull, or anyone else, can start to mount a serious title challenge.