After World Champion Lewis Hamilton moved to the top of the standings for the first time this year following his first win of 2018 on the crazy streets of Baku, Round 5 of the Formula 1 season sees the sport return to Continental Europe for the Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona this weekend.
The Mercedes driver has been some way off his best for the majority of the year to date, but luck has been on his side with the misfortune of others enabling him to score consistent results.
As a result, he heads to Spain four points clear of Sebastian Vettel despite the German’s Ferrari more often than not the fastest car on the grid.
About the Race
That could all change at the Spanish Grand Prix because the race in Barcelona is renowned as somewhat of a reset for the pecking order, as teams bring their first major upgrades to their cars.
Historically, teams like Red Bull, Force India and McLaren are often the ones to watch at this race, making good performance gains on those around them and moving up the competitive order.
The Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya also is a much more technical challenge than Baku with the need for a good chassis as well as a good engine, but the higher cornering speeds have actually made F1’s designated testing venue one of the more power sensitive layouts on the calendar.
For this year, a new track surface has allowed Pirelli to be much more aggressive with their tyre allocation, with the SuperSoft, Soft and Medium available. In a move that could help Mercedes though, the tread will be thinner to reduce overheating and blistering, something the German manufacturer has struggled with in the first four races.
Last year, this Grand Prix saw one of the closest battles between Mercedes and Ferrari, with Vettel and Hamilton duelling it out. With Red Bull much improved as well, picking a winner this year is incredibly tough.
Top Driver Picks:
Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes ($24.4m)
The Finn could well have won each of the last three races had he been a little bolder in Bahrain, the safety car not been deployed in China and not had the heart-wrenching puncture late in Azerbaijan.
He has arguably been the better of the two Mercedes drivers this season and will be desperate to finally earn that first win of 2018 this weekend.
At almost $6m cheaper than his teammate Hamilton, he is also excellent value for those who want a top driver but also want to have a good amount of funds left over for the remaining four driver picks.
Max Verstappen, Red Bull ($18.9m)
Despite a string of incidents with Vettel, Hamilton and Daniel Ricciardo in the last three races, eventually things have to come good for the under-fire Dutchman.
Verstappen is simply too talented to keep making mistake after mistake and with Red Bull perhaps the favourites heading to Barcelona, the dressing down by his team after colliding with Ricciardo in Baku can be what turns his season around.
The 20-year-old also has history in Spain, famously winning his first race there in 2016. For all the attention his teammate has gotten, Max is the faster driver when he gets everything right.
He’s the cheapest of the top six drivers. Despite the possible risk, he is an absolute bargain.
Carlos Sainz, Renault ($10.3m)
Normally for a top midfield pick Nico Hulkenberg is your man. He’s consistently fast and has mostly had the upper hand on his Renault teammate all year.
However, the spur of a home crowd could be just what Sainz needs to produce another strong result following his fifth-place finish last time out.
The second generation driver has also shined in Barcelona before finishing in the top 10 in each of his three appearances with a best of sixth in 2016.
At over $1m cheaper than Hulkenberg, he’s a very handy driver to have on your team when funds start to run low.
Worst driver picks:
Kimi Raikkonen ($20.4m)
For all the pace the 2007 World Champion has shown in practice sessions this season, when it matters most, the ‘Iceman’ simply hasn’t delivered.
Pole was all but his in Baku before he threw it away at the final corner. In the race, the late chaos salvaged what was a rather silly crash to get involved in with Esteban Ocon.
With Ferrari also more than willing to sacrifice Kimi to help Vettel in the races, having him on your team is pretty much a lose/lose situation.
Fernando Alonso ($11.8m)
While he may be a hero for those who flock to Catalonia, the McLaren driver is simply not worth the risk for all the hype.
His team may promise the biggest and best upgrades on the grid, but everyone will make a step forward in performance and qualifying performances so far this season have been terrible with no top 10 starts to his name.
On a circuit where overtaking is notoriously difficult, the double World Champion could well send his legion of supporters home disappointed on Sunday.
Top team pick: Red Bull ($19m)
With their stronger aerodynamic performance, a raft of upgrades expected and two drivers VERY eager to put Baku behind them, Red Bull could very well rewrite the pecking order this weekend.
So potentially being the team to beat and costing on average $10m less than their fellow top three rivals, you’d be pretty dumb to look elsewhere.