The first Formula One double-header of the 2021 season concludes this weekend with the Spanish Grand Prix just a week on from the Portuguese Grand Prix in Portimao.

The Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya will host what is set to be another fascinating race following Lewis Hamilton’s second victory of the season last time out. The seven-time world champion now leads rival Max Verstappen by eight points in the Drivers’ Standings after the first three rounds.

The midfield battle is also heating up as Ferrari, McLaren, Alpine and Alpha Tauri jostle for points positions. We preview all the action ahead of Sunday’s race below.

Hamilton v Verstappen: Act Four

For the third time in the opening three races, it was Formula One’s two central protagonists that came home first and second in Portugal. Already this season looks set to be Hamilton v Verstappen right the way to the wire.

Whilst Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas had threatened a plot twist by grabbing pole last week, he simply did not have the pace to upstage Lewis or Max on Sunday. The Finn will know that he needs to take advantage of such opportunities when they arise, failing to build a lead after the early safety car, if he is to avoid becoming a footnote in the narrative this season. Especially with Red Bull’s Sergio Perez starting to show his speed in the second Red Bull, the pressure on Bottas has arguably never been higher since his arrival at the Silver Arrows in 2017.

While many have suggested that Mercedes’ improvement since pre-season testing means we’re in for another season of dominance, it is easy to forget that Red Bull have been right up with their rivals in the development race over the last few seasons and have normally ended the year with a smaller gap to the front than at the start. Given that the cooler European conditions are more suited to the Mercedes, it is also likely that Verstappen’s best run will come later in the season on warmer tracks, where his Red Bull is reportedly much easier on its tyres than their rivals.

With this in mind, Mercedes would expect to be quicker again in Barcelona this week, but it may not be all plain sailing. The resurfaced track will take some working out during the practice sessions. Although the teams did get some testing time in Barcelona earlier in the year, the new Asphalt could be a factor in some of the more demanding braking sections on the track – such as at turn 10, where the cars will reduce their speed by around 130 mph in the space of just 60 metres.

Hamilton is slightly ahead in the current market, 11/10 to win on Sunday, with Verstappen currently 6/4 to win. Team-mates Bottas and Perez are 8/1 and 11/1 respectively.

Alpine join the fight

After a disappointing opening outing in Bahrain, Alpine have shown steady improvement in the following two races. Esteban Ocon and Fernando Alonso followed up their ninth and 10th place finishes at Imola, with seventh and eighth at Portimao.

Whilst Ocon had impressed by getting into Q3 and then qualifying on the third row, his returning veteran team-mate impressed on Sunday, working his way through the field on the hard tyre late in the race.

It appears that with some stronger qualifying results, the Alpine’s race pace has the potential to really bring them into the fight with Ferrari and McLaren. Alonso in particular will be keen to improve on his Saturday performance this time out in order to give himself a chance of scoring more good points at his home race. Both Ocon and Alonso are an unlikely 250/1 to win the race, but a top-six finish is not out of the question for either.

Aston Martin vanquished?

A weekend that had started positively for Aston Martin, with Sebastian Vettel breaking his Q3 duck to qualify 10th, ended in disappointment. Whilst Vettel went backwards on Sunday, eventually finishing in 13th place and a lap down, his team-mate Lance Stroll had a difficult weekend overall, qualifying 17th and finishing 14th.

Team principal Otmar Szafnauer has been one of the more public critics of this year’s regulations, which have affected low rake cars such as Aston Martin and Mercedes more than teams who run with a higher rake, such as Red Bull. Whether these changes, combined with the majority of teams choosing to focus on developing next year’s drastically different cars rather than upgrading their existing models, will mean the Astons will be off the pace for the rest of the season remains to be seen.

With just five points in the Constructors’ Standings thus far, the Astons will be desperate to score some good points this weekend and begin closing the early gap to the likes of Alpha Tauri and Alpine. Both Aston Martin drivers are currently 500/1 for the race win on Sunday.

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