It’s been a wild start to the Formula 1 season, and there’s nothing that the sport’s defending champion would like to see more at this weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix than a nice, boring race.

Spanish Grand Prix
Lewis Hamilton leads the F1 Drivers Championship Through Four Races. (Source: skysports.com)

Lewis Hamilton and his Mercedes team believe they have the fastest car in the field. However, the first four races of the F1 calendar have been crapshoots decided in part by safety car mistakes, pit incidents, and uncleared debris on the track.

It’s been an exciting start to the season for spectators, but it hasn’t done much to show us who’s really the fastest. Hamilton leads the Driver’s Championship race by four points, but his team trails Ferrari in the Constructors’ Championship by the same margin.

Now back at a track very familiar to all teams, this week’s Spanish Grand Prix should establish a clearer picture of contenders and pretenders to the F1 title.

Looking for Lost Pace

Spain marks a return to Europe after the first four fly-away races, and that tends to transfer some normalcy to the pecking order. The Circuit de Catalunya is also one of the tracks most heavily used for offseason testing, so there are fewer curveballs thrown at the teams.

Hamilton and Mercedes dominated testing at this track over the winter, but they haven’t been able to find the same pace in the early season. Like bettors, team officials are also curious to see where their pace has gone, according to Sky Sports.

“Barcelona will be interesting because in testing we were the quickest there so we have to see where our pace has gone and whether it is just circuit-specific,” – Mercedes F1 CEO Toto Wolfe

Hamilton is the defending champion in Spain and the betting favorite. The Briton is paying 11/8 to take the chequered flag in Sunday’s race, with Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel a distant second at 5/2 odds.

The rest of the top contenders:

Valtteri Bottas – 9/2

Max Verstappen – 9/1

Daniel Ricciardo – 9/1

Kimi Raikkonen – 9/1

If you’re looking at season-long odds, Hamilton and Vettel lap the field. Hamilton is less than an even money favorite to defend his driver’s title at 10/11. Vettel is close behind at 6/5, but the next closest contender is Bottas at 16/1.

Qualifying to be Crucial

More than almost any other circuit, the Spanish track is an extremely challenging one for drivers to pass on, making a quick qualifying run here essential.

“Overtaking is difficult in Barcelona and even more so in Monte Carlo, making track position key for a good race result. So every team will work hard to get every last bit of performance out of the car in qualifying.” – Wolff

If Friday’s first practice round is any indication, Mercedes should be in a great position when the green flag drops on Sunday. Bottas was 0.849 seconds faster than team mate Hamilton in the practice session. The Finn could well be leading the championship right now if it weren’t for an unlucky tire puncture from track debris in the late stages of the Baku Grand Prix.

The two Ferrari cars, piloted by Raikkonen and Vettel, were third and fourth in the practice session.

They’ll need to pick up the pace if they expect to content in Spain; 24 of the last 27 winners at the track have started from the front row.

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