Focus on...Red Bull
Red Bull was supposed to be the team to beat in 2017, given how the new rules shifted emphasis on to aerodynamics. But that hasn't been the case -- Red Bull has been clearly third best since the season began, better than the midfield pack but lagging behind Ferrari and Mercedes. Though Renault's power unit is still part of the problem, the blame cannot be on their shoulders -- Daniel Ricciardo himself admitted this year is proof Red Bull can no longer be considered the "king team" of aerodynamics as it was at the start of this decade.
But there are reasons to think things could change soon. Barcelona is traditionally the first chance for a big upgrade in F1: the race is the first in Europe, close to every team's base and therefore cheaper to transport car parts to. Red Bull has a big upgrade due for Barcelona and, though it has downplayed expectations around how big a step it can give them, expectations are high. Last year Red Bull started third in the pecking order but, after a morale-boosting shock win in Spain, it caught and overhauled Ferrari by the summer break. With development likely to be ferocious throughout this campaign Red Bull has a real chance of clawing back some of the current deficit with a successful package.
A three-way fight was what was advertised coming into 2017 and, though Ferrari vs Mercedes has been thrilling in the four races we've had so far, another team in the mix would be a fantastic addition to F1's new era. Now it's time for Red Bull to deliver.
In need of a win
Kimi Raikkonen is in a race-winning car this year but has scored just one podium in four races this year. In Sochi fellow Finn Valtteri Bottas won his first grand prix, propelling himself into the title fight and cooling talk of Mercedes making him No.2 driver behind Lewis Hamilton. Raikkonen very nearly snatched pole in Sochi, showing there's still fight in the 2007 world champion, but he needs to stamp his mark on the season soon before he starts playing second-fiddle to Sebastian Vettel on a regular basis.
In need of a podium
At the very least, Red Bull needs to be in podium contention this weekend. It was a long way off Mercedes and Ferrari in the last four races but challenging for a top-three finish would show genuine progress from its new car.
Spain is something of an outlier when looking at historical records. There have been different winners every year since 2007, with only Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen having more than one Barcelona trophy to their name of the current grid. This is another tough race to call. Mercedes fought its way out of a corner in Sochi and arrives in Barcelona looking to capitalise on that momentum. While Bottas won, Lewis Hamilton had one of his worst weekend's in recent memory in Russia, but, as he showed after Baku last year, he tends to come back stronger from those setbacks. So we are backing Hamilton for this weekend's event -- though the Mercedes and Ferrari fight at the front looks set to be closer than ever.
Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel are joint favourites for this one at 6/4. Those optimistic Max Verstappen can repeat his maiden victory this weekend can get odds of 18/1, putting him just ahead of teammate Daniel Ricciardo at 22/1. Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne are joint-favourites to be the first retirement for Honda at 15/2.
There are no forecasted showers for the race, just a smattering of clouds on Friday, Saturday and Sunday means the threat of showers will linger over the weekend. Temperatures should remain firmly in the 23-25 degrees Celsius margin in the early afternoon, but a sudden rain shower is never unwelcome in a Formula One race where overtaking opportunities come at a premium.
Available compounds: Hard, medium, soft
The circuit from a tyre point of view, courtesy of Pirelli:
• Teams bring latest evolutions, which might alter tyre behaviour compared to testing.
• There was gap of more than 1.5 seconds between medium and soft in testing: this is expected to possibly come down.
• Front-left works hardest: front-limited track.
• More than one pit stop is likely due to traditionally high wear and degradation.
• Teams run high downforce, adding vertical as well as lateral loads to the tyres.
• After the race, Pirelli's 2018 test programme continues, with Renault and Toro Rosso
Mario Isola, head of car racing, said: "This is the last race where allocations are fixed for every team: as of Monaco, drivers are making their own choices about the quantities of each compound they would like to nominate.
While Barcelona is a well-known venue, aerodynamic evolution of the cars, enhanced by the latest upgrade packages brought to Spain, mean that performance is increased but degradation levels could also be higher compared to testing. We can additionally expect weather conditions considerably warmer than February."