The Spanish Grand Prix is traditionally the second phase of the season as everyone gets a second bite at getting it right when their upgrades come on stream, and team principal Maurizio Arrivabene has already said that he believes they will bring “the whole package” to the fight for the first time here. And yesterday Sebastian Vettel admitted that it will be the acid test to see where they are against Mercedes.
“We will wait and see what happens on Sunday,” the former champion said. "Barcelona, historically, has always been a place where teams have brought updates to cars, sometimes bigger or smaller. We've probably done the same as everyone else, but hopefully we'll have a bigger update and a better lap time to catch up to the guys in front, Mercedes. If we can show we've made a step forward here I guess that would be the case for the races coming. Gradually you have to improve because that is the speed of Formula One, but it is a good reference if you are faster here."
Ferrari’s head of strategy, Inaki Rueda, explained the most significant challenges posed by the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.
“Montmelo is traditionally very hard in terms of tyre wear and degradation, which actually explains why, over the past few years, we have seen quite an increase in the number of pit stops.
“However, one has to take into consideration that the need to make more stops also provides a good opportunity for gaining places: at a track where it’s difficult to overtake, one has to know how to play with the number of pit stops to get ahead of one’s competitors. It’s a well-known fact that all the teams turn up for the first European race with cars that feature many updates, practically new cars compared to what we saw in Bahrain. As for ourselves, we hope the updates we are bringing will let us get even closer to Mercedes.”
Vettel made no bones about the need for improvement in every area, such is the benchmark set by the Silver Arrows.
"What we need to do is be faster in every condition, and especially in the race when it matters for the points. That is what we are targeting. It's true we know the circuit very well as we have been here for winter testing, and the way the car behaved we are very happy with, which is a positive.
"But the conditions this weekend will be very different, between 15 and 20 degrees hotter than they were for testing, which can change a lot of things. We have the experience of the first four races and we were able to learn a lot and improve the car, which we can carry into this weekend.
“Hopefully we can be more than a bit more than close. Not so long ago - three months - we were here for winter testing and the gap between everyone and Mercedes was huge. What has happened since then for us has been very positive. If we can keep the trend up then it is very good news, but there is still the gap there and it is still big."
Mercedes expect Ferrari to be closer here, especially with their superior tyre degradation, but points leader Lewis Hamilton remains upbeat after recently admitting that he is his own worst enemy in terms of being self-critical.
As he and Nico Rosberg, too, will have serious updates on their F1 W06 Hybrids, he said: “Bahrain was a tough race so to come away with the win was a great feeling and it's amazing the start we've had this year.
“Barcelona is a great place to start the European phase of the season. The weather is always good and the circuit is a real test of every aspect of the car, which is why we go testing there. It's a great city, too. The architecture is stunning and it's a young, vibrant place so I always enjoy the weekend.
“Racing here is tough - it's usually hot and the circuit is incredibly physical. But the support I have in Spain is growing every time we go and, having tasted success there for the first time last year, I want to do it in even better style this time.”
The reigning champion also opened up about the derivation of his “knocking it out of the park” comment as he stood atop his winning car in Bahrain mimicking the swing of a baseball bat.
It was an homage to famed baseball star Hank ‘The Hammer’ Aaron who hit 24 or more home runs every year between 1955 and 1973 and played under the number 44, and who was instrumental in fighting racism through sport.