Bottas looks the best bet for a flying start in Spanish Grand Prix
Mercedes should be favoured by harder tyres
Sky Sports F1, 9am Friday
The Ferrari v Mercedes battle has been the story of the early part of the Formula One season but a new chapter begins at this weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix.
The first race of the European season traditionally sees the first major upgrades introduced to the cars, and this year is no different with Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull all set to feature significant updates.
That could shake up the pecking order at the front, but more likely is that the big-budget teams will pull further clear of the midfield.
Red Bull’s hopes have been hit by news that Renault’s planned engine upgrade is behind schedule, but they will still be hopeful of getting closer to the big two.
The Milton Keynes-based team won in Barcelona last year with Max Verstappen on his first start for Red Bull, albeit only after Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg took each other out on the first lap. However they have not been in the hunt for victories this term.
Sebastian Vettel headed a 1-2 for Ferrari in qualifying in Russia last time, and the Scuderia were the stars of pre-season testing at this circuit.
However, the hardest compounds of Pirelli tyre will be in use this weekend, which should suit Mercedes better.
Valtteri Bottas has settled into the team really well, outqualifying Hamilton at the last two races and picking up his debut victory in Russia.
The Finn could be a bit of value to top the times in first practice.
Rain greeted the drivers as they arrived for their publicity duties on Thursday, and with showers a possibility for the rest of the weekend it makes sense to leave it late before placing any bets.
Standings after four races: 1 S Vettel 86, 2 L Hamilton 73, 3 V Bottas 63, 4 K Raikkonen 49, 5 M Verstappen 35, 6 D Ricciardo 22, 7 S Perez 22.
V Bottas fastest in P1
1pt 4-1 Sky Bet
Number of laps 66
Lap length 4.655km
Lap record 1.21.670 K Raikkonen (Ferrari) 2008
Schedule – practice one 9am Friday; practice two 1pm; practice three 10am Saturday; qualifying 1pm; race 1pm Sunday.
TV All live on Sky Sports F1
Circuit characteristics The track features a long straight, a wide variety of corners and an abrasive surface. All the pre-season testing took place at the circuit.
Tyre allocation Hard (orange), medium (white) & soft (yellow)
DRS zone Before turn one and before turn 10
Course winners taking part M Verstappen, L Hamilton, F Alonso (2), S Vettel, K Raikkonen (2), F Massa
Last year Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton collided on lap one, leaving Daniel Ricciardo leading from Sebastian Vettel. Their pit strategy put them behind Max Verstappen and Kimi Raikkonen, though, with Verstappen holding on to claim his first win in his first race for Red Bull
2016 pole L Hamilton 1.22.000
2016 fastest lap D Kvyat, 1.26.948, lap 53
2016 classified finishers 17/22
Reason for retirement Mechanical (3), collision (2)
Weather Mostly sunny and warm but there is a constant threat of showers all weekend