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Formula One goes from Monaco, where track position is a nearly insurmountable obstacle, to Spain, where 20 of the last 26 pole winners have gone on to win the race. However, this weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix is still likely to have more on-track passing than what we saw last weekend.

The Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, which used to host preseason testing before it got moved to Bahrain in 2021, has been favorable to pole winners and Lewis Hamilton, who has six wins on this track. Max Verstappen, the obvious favorite, has two wins in Spain, last year and in 2016.

The betting odds gave the field a decent chance to beat Verstappen in Monaco and that didn’t happen. We’re back to Verstappen being a massive favorite. The Dutch reigning champion was -250 (-2-to-5) to win the race before the weekend, but after taking the top spot in both practice sessions, he’s an even more dominant -350 (2-to-7).

Spain also serves as the home grand prix for two drivers who are both racing near the top of the grid this season, Fernando Alonso and Carlos Sainz Jr. Luke Smith spoke to both drivers as they reflected on what this race means to them, their country and the future of the race in Barcelona.

There is a decent chance of rain on Sunday, which always has a chance of jumbling the field. However, even rain toward the end of the race in Monaco didn’t do much to change the top of the field.

The big thing to watch the rest of this weekend is the new track layout. The chicane at Turns 14 and 15 has been replaced with two high-speed corners. Will that affect how the race plays out?

For more on what to expect from Spain, The Athletic’s F1 staff previewed the race and made predictions for the podium finish.

The odds say the drivers’ championship is virtually over (Verstappen is -1600 or 1-to-16). After Sergio Pérez failed to score in Monaco, Verstappen is 39 points ahead of his teammate. So, is it over?

Luke Smith: The optimist in me wants to say not just yet. The realist in me says it’s done. Pérez could feasibly win the next five races and still not regain the championship lead. We’re moving into a stretch of more ‘traditional’ tracks that should suit Verstappen better. He’s got a good chance to now go on a run and squeeze any final life out of this title fight.

Jordan Bianchi: Done. Over with. Go ahead and carve Verstappen’s name on the trophy. Because the only way he doesn’t win is either through a monumental, epic collapse on his part, or he misses a significant number of races for some reason.

Jeff Gluck: It’s probably been over for awhile, even though people would prefer the championship not be settled with like six months to go. What can you say? When the best driver gets into the best car, this sort of thing can happen. That sort of dominance is not good timing at all for F1 though, just as its popularity has skyrocketed and fans are expecting some sort of 2021 battle again.

Mercedes (120 points) is currently -110 (10-to-11) to finish second in the constructors’ championship with Aston Martin (119 points) at +160 (16-to-10) and Ferrari (90 points) +350 (7-to-2). Which team do you like to win the other-than-Red-Bull title?

Smith: Aston Martin has the quickest car right now, but both Mercedes and Ferrari are working hard to get ahead with updates. For Mercedes to only be a point off Aston Martin despite having a slower car is encouraging for the German manufacturer. Lance Stroll needs to up his game and get closer to the kind of results that Fernando Alonso is producing across the garage. I’m saying Mercedes to get P2.

Bianchi: It’s hard not to pick Aston Martin because of the way Alonso has carried the team combined with the speed they’ve shown this season. But for Aston Martin to finish second they will need better and more consistent results from Lance Stroll, and that’s a lot to ask from a driver who’s scored points in only three races.  So the edge goes to Mercedes, which has the best overall driver lineup among these three teams and seems to be getting the most out of a car that still has significant issues.

Gluck: Every time this question pops into my head, I just keep thinking: “I don’t trust Lance Stroll.” It’s not about whether Stroll can get the occasional top-five result or even some podiums on a great day; he has to consistently score loads of points if Aston Martin is to out-run the Mercedes and Ferrari teammates over the course of a season. Alonso’s excellence by himself just isn’t enough to get P2.

Red Bull got a 1-2 finish in Spain last year. Do you expect the same this year?

Smith: Yes. It’s a track that will suit the RB19 nicely, and without the potential hiccups induced by a street circuit like in Monaco or Baku, I’m expecting things to be pretty straightforward here for Red Bull.

Bianchi: Until proven otherwise, the safe pick is for Red Bull to finish first and second. The superiority they hold over the field has created such a wide gulf that regardless of what upgrades any team makes, it’s not going to be enough to compete on an even level. The only doubt Sunday is which Red Bull driver will be first and which one is second.

Gluck: It’s tough to come up with a reason to expect otherwise at this point, unless you believe some of the upgrades being brought by various teams will make that much of a difference. Otherwise, it feels like we’ve tried to talk ourselves into seeing more competitive racing at various tracks this season only for Red Bull to remind everyone how much better their cars are than the rest of the field.

Twenty of the last 26 winners in Barcelona have come from pole position. Why do pole winners have such a high success rate here?

Smith: It is notoriously difficult to overtake in Barcelona. The high-speed corners are tricky to follow through, meaning once cars get to the braking points – the prime spots to overtake – they’re typically too far back to make a move. A tweak has been made to the layout for this year, removing the final chicane and returning to the two fast right-handers to end the lap, the hope being it’ll allow the cars to follow better and get a slingshot to then make a pass into Turn 1. I’m doubtful it’ll have the desired effect.

Bianchi: A redesign of the circuit made it where overtaking has become difficult, especially entering Turn 1, giving the polesitter a considerable advantage into the first corner and from there the polesitter was often able to assert themselves. Well, to improve overtaking, the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya has again undergone a bit of makeover with the hope of juicing the action. If the changes work as they hope, the polesitter may not hold the advantage to the degree that they once did. We’ll see.

Gluck: My guess is it’s due to the amount of testing and track time F1 teams have there. The more predictability you introduce into any form of motorsport, the more the top teams are able to perfect their setups. That means the polesitter is less likely to be an unusual name and even more likely the winner will be driving one of the elite cars.

Prediction time: What do you think will be the podium in Spain?

Smith: 1. Verstappen 2. Pérez 3. Alonso

Bianchi: 1. Pérez 2. Verstappen 3. Hamilton

Gluck: 1. Verstappen, 2. Pérez, 3. Alonso

(Photo of Max Verstappen: Mark Thompson / Getty Images)



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