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Spanish GP: Why Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya track layout will tell us if Red Bull have been caught by F1 rivals

Lando Norris, Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen have all won races since the start of May and Mercedes scored their first podium last weekend in Canada; watch every session of Spanish GP live on Sky Sports F1, with qualifying on Saturday at 3pm and race on Sunday at 2pm

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Rachel Brookes shares her most memorable moments from the Spanish Grand Prix ahead of this weekend's race in Barcelona

A dramatic Grand Prix last time out in Montreal saw a genuine three-way fight for the win, with McLaren and Ferrari also taking a victory each in May.

Max Verstappen's early season dominance appears to be gone and the championship leader has been under serious pressure at recent events.

The last two races in Monaco and Canada have been held at unusual tracks though, so the big question is will the close competition we have had continue this weekend at the Spanish Grand Prix, which marks the start of a triple-header.

Sky Sports F1 takes a look at why we will learn a lot about the true pecking order in Spain and which team is most likely to challenge Red Bull.

A circuit with everything

The Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya has long been used as a testing venue for F1 because it has a range of corners.

A mix of high, medium and low speed turns, plus a long main straight, means the teams can see how their car is strong and what type of corners they are lacking performance.

You sometimes see a Noah's Ark grid, where team-mates line up alongside each other because a clear pecking order is dictated in qualifying.

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Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff admits George Russell made 'one or two' mistakes at the Canadian Grand Prix but highlighted the car has made a 'real step forward'

The dry conditions and the teams' previous knowledge of the track makes it easier to optimise car set-up and to extract the most from the tyres too, so there is no hiding place at the Spanish Grand Prix.

"It's a very different track to the ones we have had recently," said former F1 strategist Sky Sports F1's Bernie Collins.

"We will get a better read on the upgrades McLaren and Ferrari have got. Have Red Bull genuinely slipped down the order?"

"We will answer some questions coming out of this race that. Some people will say this track will favour Red Bull but we don't know how those upgrades from McLaren and Ferrari have worked, or if Mercedes have genuinely got on top of the gremlins that have been troubling them in the last few years."

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Max Verstappen talks through his near miss with a groundhog at the Canadian Grand Prix

Fast in Spain, fast all season

Since 2017, the winning car of the Spanish Grand Prix has gone on to win that year's constructors' championship.

Although Ferrari are 49 points behind Red Bull in the constructor standings, with McLaren a further 49 points adrift, that gap can quickly close down, particularly if Sergio Perez continues to struggle.

For Ferrari and McLaren to give themselves a serious chance at winning a title this year, they must show quick pace this weekend.

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Speaking on the Sky Sports F1 podcast, Damon Hill believes Mercedes should back George Russell more

Both teams are expected to bring upgrades to Barcelona, with Red Bull keeping quiet about their development plans.

"It's all about iterations and of course you have to look very carefully where you bring your upgrades through the year," said team principal Christian Horner.

"We are closer to the top of the curve, so you get into a law of diminishing returns but there will be subtle upgrades over the summer months."

Pushed by Sky Sports F1 on whether we will see new parts on the RB20 in Spain, Horner added: "It's possible".

Spanish GP winners since 2017

Year Driver Team
2017 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
2018 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
2019 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
2020 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
2021 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
2022 Max Verstappen Red Bull
2023 Max Verstappen Red Bull

High tyre degradation and multiple pit stops

The long and high speed corners cause the tyres to wear out quickly, so Pirelli have brought their three hardest tyre compounds to the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.

However, it's normally still a two or three-stop race, which leaves plenty of strategic options. This has led to teams splitting strategy in the past and there is always intrigue throughout the Grand Prix as plans change, depending on the race situation.

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"Last year saw the removal of the last chicane, which led to more overtaking in the race," explained Collins.

"We last saw the three hardest tyre compounds, the C1, C2 and C3 in Japan and Bahrain, so the teams have less data on the C1 compared to all other compounds this season.

"In 2023, all three compounds where used throughout the Spanish Grand Prix but in 2022 the hard tyre was too slow.

"High tyre degradation leads to a powerful undercut, however it is not a track position race so many have made the mistake of gaining track position by stopping too early or not converting to an additional stop lap early enough. This race is more like Bahrain in that optimum stop laps will lead to a better finishing position."

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Ahead of this weekend's Grand Prix, check out some of the best previous races from Spain

Sky Sports F1's live Spanish GP schedule

Thursday June 20
1.30pm: Drivers' Press Conference

Friday June 21
7.45am: F1 Academy Practice
8:50am: F3 Practice
10am: F2 Practice
12pm: Spanish GP Practice One (session starts at 12.30pm)
1.55pm: F3 Qualifying
2.50pm: F2 Qualifying
3.35pm: Spanish GP Practice Two (session starts at 4pm)
5.25pm: F1 Academy Qualifying
6.15pm: The F1 Show

Saturday June 22
9.35am: F3 Sprint
11.15am: Spanish Romagna GP Practice Three (session starts at 11.30am)
1.10pm: F2 Sprint
2.10pm: Spanish GP Qualifying build-up
3pm: Spanish GP Qualifying
5pm: F1 Academy Race 1

Sunday June 23
7.45am: F1 Academy Race 2
9am: F3 Feature Race
10.30am: F2 Feature Race
12:30pm: Grand Prix Sunday: Spanish GP build-up
4pm: Chequered Flag: Spanish GP reaction

Formula 1 heads back to Europe as the championship moves on to Barcelona for the Spanish Grand Prix and the start of a triple-header. Watch every session at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya this weekend, live on Sky Sports F1. Stream every F1 race and more with a NOW Sports Month Membership - No contract, cancel anytime

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