It’s the Spanish Grand Prix weekend, and the Formula One circus returns to Europe after a thrilling few races in Bahrain, China and Azerbaijan.
The season is warming up nicely with Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull all mixing it at the front.
But how will things go in Barcelona? The Spanish venue is often a good indicator of outright speed, thanks to its fast corners and flowing nature.
We’ve asked our man in the know, F1 trader Denis Yusuf, for his thoughts on Sunday’s race…
Ladbrokes News: It’s been an exciting season so far, but where is the money going for victory in Spain?
Den Yusuf: With the early flyaways now complete we are back in Europe, and the teams will all be bringing a host of updates to the cars with the hope of changing the early-season pecking order.
But with an advantage around 0.6 seconds over the rest of the field, it would be difficult to look past Red Bull, Ferrari and Mercedes this weekend.
There is some rain in the air this weekend, however, and that points us towards Lewis Hamilton. He’s won the last eight rain-affected races. Max Verstappen is one to watch too should we see the rain in Spain.
LN: Is this going to be a Mercedes circuit or another one which suits Ferrari?
DY: While the early season form suggests Ferrari should be favourites, a lot of their advantage has been due to track conditions and the Mercedes having a narrower operating window.
If we think back to pre-season testing, Mercedes had an advantage of half a second or more over the field. They’ve gone really well here in the past so don’t be surprised to see a return to form for the German outfit.
LN: What about Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo? Things didn’t go well for them in Azerbaijan…
DY: I don’t think we’ve ever seen Christian Horner as angry as he was in Baku, and both drivers were ordered to head back to Milton Keynes and apologise for the crash.
Ricciardo is out of contract soon. How much longer will he wait for a title-winning car while having to deal with Verstappen? There’s some paddock chatter claiming he will be signing for Ferrari in the near future.
Either the Red Bull boys will overdrive in a bid to make amends this weekend, or they’ll be circumspect and off the pace. Watch this space.
LN: The Spanish GP isn’t usually too memorable, what can we expect this weekend?
DY: The teams always use this as a testing venue, so they have lots of data for this track and that often means races largely run to form.
With overtaking difficult, another processional race like we saw in the first race in Australia is likely.
The track should suit the Mercedes, but Ferrari and Kimi Raikkonen have shown the pace in qualifying so far this season. Kimi hasn’t hooked it all up yet, but the pace is there. It could be his time to shine on Saturday.
It’ll be close between Ferrari and Mercedes, but if it rains on Sunday it will be hard to back anyone other than Hamilton.
LN: This is often a race where teams bring major updates. Will we see a few surprises, and if so, who from?
DY: With the Honda power unit being a lot more reliable this season and with the extra money coming from Japan, Toro Rosso should have some potent updates in Spain.
We could see both cars in the points, and perhaps one fighting it out for a top 6 finish, with Gasly the man to watch after his impressive fourth place back in Bahrain.
LN: The odds suggest this year’s title fight is already a two-horse race. Does anyone other than Hamilton or Vettel have a chance?
DY: With Red Bull dropping a lot of early points this season it will be difficult to see Mercedes and Ferrari dropping enough points to allow them to get into contention.
And with Ferrari already favouring Vettel over Raikkonen, I can’t see Kimi being allowed to sustain a championship challenge.
That leaves Bottas who has quietly outshone Lewis in this early part of the season. Victory was stolen from him at that last race in Baku, and he arguably could have won Bahrain and China.
It looks like he is more consistent this season and he’s now settled in his second year with Mercedes, and Bottas looks ready to make a sustained championship challenge.
All Odds and Markets correct as of date of publication