Formula 1 arrives in Spain this weekend for the start of the 2016 season’s European leg with one man firmly in control of the drivers’ championship: Nico Rosberg.
Rosberg has claimed four wins from four races so far this season to sit pretty on 100 points at the top of the standings, leaving Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton as his nearest rival – 43 points behind.
Rosberg and Hamilton’s rivalry has been one of F1’s most intriguing stories over the past three seasons, and their fight for the 2016 crown is poised to be the toughest yet.
Hamilton has been unlucky so far this season, leaving him to arrive in Spain hopeful of a change in fortune that may give him the chance to fight Rosberg wheel-to-wheel for the race win.
As ever, the MST team has made its picks for this weekend’s race. Let us know your thoughts in the comments section at the bottom of the page.
Luke Smith (@LukeSmithF1)
Race Winner: Lewis Hamilton – Rosberg’s run has to end at some point, right? Hamilton has tasted success in Barcelona before, and showed in both China and Russia that his early-season start-line woes are now a thing of the past. I’m backing him to end the streak and score his first win of the season with a classy and dominant display.
Surprise Finish: Max Verstappen – I didn’t think we’d be talking about Verstappen racing in a Red Bull until next season at the earliest, yet here we are. Verstappen has already proven his enormous talent at Toro Rosso, but now he has the chance to achieve bigger and better things in a top-line car. I’m backing Verstappen to outperform Daniel Ricciardo this weekend and immediately justify Red Bull’s harsh call.
Most to Prove: Daniil Kvyat – After his disaster in Russia and demotion to Toro Rosso, Kvyat needs to prove that he’s still worth a place in F1. For the remaining 17 races of the season, he’s got to prove to the rest of the grid that he’s worth hiring for next season. Let’s see if he can get off to a good start in Spain.
Additional Storyline: Updates and upgrades – The beginning of the European season marks the first raft of updates for the teams to their 2016 cars, so it will be interesting to see how this affects the pecking order. Lots to be gained and lost this weekend.
Predict the Podium
1. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
2. Nico Rosberg Mercedes
3. Sebastian Vettel Ferrari
Tony DiZinno (@tonydizinno)
Race Winner: Nico Rosberg – This is it. I’m picking Rosberg for the first time this year. Which could well mean this is the first time Rosberg loses this year. I have no idea if there’s a correlation and it’s me seriously over-valuing the Team MST picks. I’ll say this though. Spain’s as good a time as any for Rosberg to win one in a straight fight against Hamilton and the Ferraris provided none of those three have issues. He’s done it here before and I think he can do it once more. A five-for-five start to 2016 wouldn’t be unprecedented, but it would give him the momentum needed to make his tally eight in a row overall with a chance to equal the record of nine on his unofficial home soil at Monaco later this month.
Surprise Finish: Fernando Alonso – I’m gonna throw a stunner out there and say Alonso/McLaren follow up their impressive Russian GP with a top-five finish for Alonso on home soil in P5. It’s probably an emotional pick more than a realistic one but this is a place to see whether McLaren’s improved form is genuine, especially as a number of teams bring on updates this race.
Most to Prove: Daniil Kvyat – There’s no question after his debacle in Sochi which served as a reason – if not the only reason for his demotion to Toro Rosso that Kvyat has a huge microscope under him this weekend. So does Max Verstappen in his place at Red Bull, obviously, but Kvyat is under pressure from more players to perform. He must respond in a way that helps his stock and not hurts it further.
Additional Storyline: Upgrades – With Spain the kickoff to the traditional European season it’s also the first chance to see a major round of upgrades for most of the field. Are Renault and Force India’s upgrades going to propel them higher in the midfield? Has Mercedes figured out its MGU-H woes? Is Ferrari going to go through a trouble-free weekend? Does Haas keep up after its flying start as the teams bring on their next round of packages? The VES/KVY switch is storyline number one outside the win battle but deeper in the field, whose upgrades do what will tell a greater tale for the races to come.
Predict the Podium
1. Nico Rosberg Mercedes
2. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
3. Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull