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Swift turnaround in Barcelona
As Round 4 of the Formula 1 season rolls into Catalonia this weekend for the Spanish Grand Prix, anticipation for another chapter in the 2021 edition remains high, after Lewis Hamilton took victory in Portugal just days ago.
Moving back ahead of Max Verstappen in the World Drivers’ Championship by seven points, an iconic title duel continues firmly on track, as Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya moves into view once more.
The second leg of the campaign’s first back-to-back dose this term, a return to the north west of Spain this year sees it back in its more customary late-spring slot on the F1 calendar.
Moreover, with little time to prepare following a relatively short jaunt from the Algarve, Barcelona represents the first test for the paddock in terms of consistency and performance.
As the warmer months approach, that will of course play into the hands of certain teams more than others, and as a result, when we look for potentially pivotal points in the season, the Spanish GP falls neatly into that category.
‘Respect’ key in F1 title duel
His second win in three races only days ago, a second win in Portugal and a now 97th career victory tally for Hamilton, would perhaps in any other season, provide ominous reading for pretenders to his F1 throne. Verstappen of course, has other ideas this term.
On the back of three fiercely competitive opening weekends for both Mercedes and Red Bull drivers, the margins remain slim approaching this weekend, but both protagonists agree that the level of respect and fair racing toward one another, is playing a contributing factor to this season’s fireworks.
For Verstappen in particular, a man whose raw nature is to stretch the car – and indeed the nerves of boss Christian Horner also – to its limits, the Dutchman has paid tribute to the trust both drivers seemingly share at the head of the pack.
“Yeah, it’s been really cool, especially when you race a driver, when you know that you can go to the absolute limit, I guess you can trust each other to just race super-hard.
“I think that’s always really nice because you can see the in the three races…it’s been really close to each other but predictable. I always have full trust in Lewis that we all give each other enough space.”
The feeling it appears, is mutual, with Hamilton equally complimentary of his Red Bull counterpart.
“Yeah, I just second that,” he said. “I think it is naturally down to respect and I think both very, very hard but fair and I think that’s what makes great racing and great racing drivers and I think we will continue to keep it clean and keep it on the edge but I don’t think either of us has a plan to get any closer than we have been.”
It should not be forgotten however, that in the heat of battle, pride comes before a fall.
As Sebastian Vettel found to his cost during the 2017 season, respect can be lost in a mere instant in F1. His infamous incident with Hamilton in Baku that year, proved decisive as the Briton was spurred on toward his fourth title win.
Those same feelings could be set to be stretched again in Spain this weekend.
Home return for Alonso
Usually the home for pre-season testing, this year, Bahrain saw teams put the final touches to preparations in early March, meaning just a single trip to Spanish shores will be made in 2021 due to COVID-19 restrictions – the first time since the turn of the millennium.
From an emotional perspective as the returning hero, the weekend’s arrival in Spain will be a particularly special one for Fernando Alonso, as the Oviedo native makes his first appearance in Barcelona since 2018.
Just three races in to his F1 return this year, the 39-year-old has been a boost to an impressive Alpine team thus far, with both he and team mate Esteban Ocon recording P7 and P8 in Portugal respectively.
A winner here in 2006 and 2013, during his last visit to Catalonia – then a McLaren driver – Alonso came home eighth, picking up one of his nine top-eight finishes that season.
The latter of his results then, will surely be the most realistic ambition in his 19th home GP, but after successive races in the points, Alonso’s return to familiar surroundings could yet be a rewarding one.
The 2021 Aramco Spanish Grand Prix takes place at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya this weekend.
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