Lewis Hamilton arrives for the start of the European season in Spain 13 points adrift of championship rival Sebastian Vettel after he finished only fourth at the recent Russian Grand Prix.
Here, Press Association Sport takes a look at the key talking points ahead of the fifth round of the season at Barcelona’s Circuit de Catalunya on Sunday.
1) Expect Hamilton to bounce back
Hamilton’s Mercedes team have been working round the clock to ascertain why the British driver was so off the pace in Russia. Having been slow all weekend, the triple world champion then finished 36 seconds behind winner and Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas in a weekend to forget at the Sochi Autodrom. There have been occasions during Hamilton’s career, for whatever reason, when he has not been able to get up to speed. But recent history dictates that the 32-year-old will bounce back on Sunday. At Hamilton’s off-colour showings last year in Azerbaijan, Singapore and Japan, he returned to form at the proceeding rounds. He won in Austria and the United States – the races which followed Azerbaijan and Japan – and was on course to triumph in Malaysia (the grand prix after Singapore) only for his engine to expire with 13 laps remaining. While Hamilton may have been out of sorts in Sochi, do not expect lightning to strike twice.
2) Red Bull to up their game
After three years of unprecedented dominance, Vettel and Ferrari are at last on level terms with Mercedes. And we could yet see a third team enter the fight this weekend. Red Bull, tipped to be Mercedes’ biggest challengers in 2017, are expected to bring a radically updated car to Barcelona. Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen qualified a worrying two seconds slower than pole-sitter Vettel in Sochi, but design chief Adrian Newey has been upping the ante behind the scenes, and anticipate them to be much closer to the action in Barcelona. It is a circuit which resonates well with those at Red Bull, too, after Verstappen won on his debut for the former world champions here last year following Hamilton’s crash with Nico Rosberg on the opening lap.
3) A new look
The aesthetics of the cars will look noticeably different in Spain, with greater projection given to the drivers’ name and numbers. The idea, agreed on by Formula One’s Strategy Group last month, is to make both driver and car more visible to the fans. Mercedes were the first team to unveil their interpretation on Wednesday, with Hamilton and Bottas’s numbers (44 and 77 respectively) clearly displayed on the front wing, while their names, accompanied with their nation’s flags, were embossed on the side of the car.
4) Button’s impending return a fuss over nothing?
Jenson Button will return to the McLaren cockpit in just three weeks when he replaces Fernando Alonso for the Monaco Grand Prix. The 2009 world champion, who now spends most of his time living in America with model girlfriend Brittny Ward, was at McLaren’s headquarters in Woking last week as he was put through his paces in the team’s simulator. But Mark Webber, the former Red Bull driver and contemporary of Button’s, believes the Englishman’s one-off race in Monte Carlo is a “non-story”. Webber said: “He goes out, has fuel pressure problems in FP1, qualifies 17th, retires on lap 12 of the race. Whatever, who cares? Jenson didn’t do any testing in Bahrain. He doesn’t take it so seriously. I don’t think he’s very interested.”
5) Palmer to miss first practice
Jolyon Palmer is in need of a good weekend in Barcelona after a torrid start to the new season. But the Briton, desperate for track time following a number of technical glitches this season, will miss the first practice session when he is replaced by the team’s reserve driver Sergey Sirotkin. The Russian deputised for Palmer’s team-mate Nico Hulkenberg in FP1 at Sochi, but he will be handed another chance in Barcelona after his time in the car in Sochi was restricted to just a few laps following a gearbox issue.