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FORM GUIDE: Can anyone disrupt Leclerc and Verstappen in Spain?

Staff Writer

Samarth Kanal
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The battle continues in Spain as Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen face off for round six of the 2022 Formula 1 World Championship at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya. But can anyone spoil the pair’s party? Let’s check out the favourites for this weekend, as well as seeing how you’re voting on F1 Play – our awesome F1 predictor game.

Vying for pole

Spain is Mercedes country, every pole position since 2013 going to the Silver Arrows. Lewis Hamilton has more Spanish GP pole positions than any other current driver on the grid – but this year things are different. The seven-time champion is driving a car that isn’t in the championship fight thus far.

Upgrades could change that, of course, with Mercedes looking to close in on Ferrari and Red Bull in Spain, Team Principal Toto Wolff saying: “We're hopeful that we'll make another step forward.”

PALMER: Why the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya is the perfect track for the teams to introduce upgrades

Ferrari and Red Bull may well dash any outside hopes of a Mercedes pole though. The Scuderia are also expected to update their car here, and took their first front-row lockout since Mexico 2019 in the inaugural Miami Grand Prix, with Leclerc leading Carlos Sainz.

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Charles Leclerc has taken pole at three out of the first five races this season, including last time out in Miami

Sainz managed a career-best P2 on the grid for the second time in F1 last time out in Miami, and this time around he’s hoping for a maiden pole position in front of his home fans. Leclerc is still the frontrunner in this regard; he’s taken three of five poles this season, while Red Bull’s Sergio Perez and Verstappen have one apiece.

Can Red Bull buck the trend and take pole again? They’ll need to squeeze everything out of their RB18 if either Perez or Verstappen are to beat Ferrari to the very front of the grid on Saturday, given the team are not expected to implement a major upgrade package in Spain.

READ MORE: Red Bull to run junior driver Vips in FP1 in Barcelona

Pole positions in the last five years:

  • 2021 – Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
  • 2020 – Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
  • 2019 – Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes)
  • 2018 – Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
  • 2017 – Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)

FAN VIEW: Reigning World Champion Max Verstappen is right back on song after those wins in Imola and Miami, and F1 Play gamers are right with him as he heads to Barcelona, the scene of his first ever GP success. Max holds a clear edge over big title rival Charles Leclerc when it comes to voting for one-lap pace.

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Max Verstappen heads to Spain as favourite fresh from back to back race wins in Imola and Miami

In the mix for victory

As mentioned, Mercedes have enjoyed the run of this place in recent years, having won seven of the last eight Spanish Grands Prix – Hamilton winning the last five on the bounce. Only one non-Mercedes driver has managed to interrupt their run in that time: Verstappen, when the Silver Arrows collided in 2016.

Verstappen is on something of a roll heading to Spain, too. The reigning champion has won the last two Grands Prix, shrugging off any potential reliability hiccups to triumph over the Ferraris in both Imola and Miami. He is most definitely the driver to beat this weekend.

WATCH: 5 of the most dramatic moments from the Spanish Grand Prix archives

Leclerc still leads the championship, however, and those aforementioned Ferrari upgrades could help him stop Verstappen in his tracks and consolidate his position at the top of the standings. The Monegasque driver has never finished on the podium in Spain (he was a solid P4 here in 2021) but this is his best chance to take a maiden win at this circuit.

As for Sainz, he hasn’t yet won a Grand Prix and now would be a very fine time to open his account. Will Sainz find an extra turn of pace with hundreds of thousands of fans backing him? Or will Perez turn up and blow away the competition? The Mexican has won two races in his career – from fifth and sixth on the grid.

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Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes have won the last five races in Barcelona, but they are outsiders for a podium finish this weekend

Only in 2013 has someone won from outside the top four at Catalunya. That someone was Fernando Alonso for Ferrari.

Wins in the last five years:

  • 2021 – Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
  • 2020 – Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
  • 2019 – Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
  • 2018 – Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
  • 2017 – Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)

FAN VIEW: F1 Play voting is very tight here between the two title race protagonists, with Verstappen again just having the edge by a few percentage points. The big two account for the lion’s share of votes, with Carlos Sainz the only other selection of note in his home race. He has significantly more support than Sergio Perez.

Podium outsiders

Despite their prowess in Barcelona, Mercedes are very much outsiders this weekend. New parts could thrust the Silver Arrows into the fold, but they are far from favourites to finish in the top three.

READ MORE: Betting odds for the Spanish Grand Prix – Who is favourite for the win in Barcelona?

Spain is historically very much suited to front-row starters. Only Verstappen, Fernando Alonso (in 2013) and Michael Schumacher (in 1996) have won from outside the top-two at this track.

Podiums from outside the top three are also rare. Verstappen has managed to do it three times (in 2016, 2018, and 2019), with then-Red Bull team mate Daniel Ricciardo taking third from fifth here in 2017.

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Daniel Ricciardo and McLaren will be hoping for a better outcome this weekend after the team failed to score points in Miami

And only once since the beginning of the hybrid era in 2014 have three different teams finished on the podium in Spain. That was in 2017, when Hamilton led Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull’s Ricciardo – Valtteri Bottas having retired with a power unit problem.

So the podium outsiders are very much outsiders this weekend. Of them, Mercedes and McLaren should be considered long shots to finish in the top three, while Alpine’s Alonso will be hoping to crash the party at home.

Podiums in the last five years:

  • Mercedes – 9
  • Red Bull – 5
  • Ferrari – 1

FAN VIEW: The Mercedes pair of George Russell and Lewis Hamilton are the only drivers picking up any meaningful F1 Play votes in the race to crash the Red Bull/Ferrari podium party. Russell, who has made a fine start with the Silver Arrows in 2022, has almost double the number of votes so far picked up by team mate Hamilton.

READ MORE: From Pedralbes to Catalunya – A short history of the 5 venues to have hosted the Spanish Grand Prix

Points potential

Ferrari, Red Bull and Mercedes will be expecting to land in the points this weekend with both cars, barring reliability issues – Red Bull having suffered three DNFs so far in 2022 and a hiccup in Miami – and bad luck, Mercedes driver Hamilton having had his fair share of that this season despite finishing in the points four out of five times.

McLaren have also scored healthily in 2022, Lando Norris taking a podium at Imola, plus points in Saudi Arabia and Australia – while Ricciardo will be hoping to add to his sole points score that was achieved at home. Miami was a rough weekend for the squad and they’ll be itching to bounce back in Spain.

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Valtteri Bottas has taken points in four out of the first five races this season and will be looking to continue his fine form in Spain

Alonso and Esteban Ocon started the season with a double-points score in Bahrain but haven’t achieved that since. Ocon took points for Alpine in Saudi Arabia, Australia and Miami but Alonso has been unfortunate in finishing outside of the points (with two DNFs) for the last four races.

Bottas has been right in the mix for Alfa Romeo, the Finnish driver having taken points in Bahrain, Australia, Imola (with a season-best P5) and Miami. Zhou Guanyu will be hoping to join him, having scored a point on his Bahrain debut – but not since.

READ MORE: Hunter or hunted? Verstappen and Leclerc weigh up their title fight positions ahead of Spain

Will upgrades shuffle the order? Perhaps Aston Martin, AlphaTauri or Williams will join the fray this weekend. As for Haas, they will not bring significant updates to Spain according to Team Principal Guenther Steiner, but Kevin Magnussen has scored on three occasions in 2022 and is usually in the fight somewhere.

Points in the last five years:

  • Mercedes – 193
  • Red Bull – 114
  • Ferrari – 76
  • Aston Martin/Racing Point/Force India – 46
  • McLaren – 29
  • Haas – 16
  • Alpine/Renault – 16
  • AlphaTauri/Toro Rosso – 13
  • Alfa Romeo/Sauber – 5
  • Williams – 0

FAN VIEW: McLaren young gun Lando Norris is expected to go very well again, while F1 Play gamers also like the chances of Valtteri Bottas continuing his promising start at Alfa Romeo. Other drivers fancied to fare well in Catalunya include AlphaTauri man Yuki Tsunoda and Sebastian Vettel of Aston Martin.

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