Fernando Alonso returns to race on home soil this weekend hoping for an unlikely resurrection of the form and pace that delivered his and Ferrari’s last victory.
That came a year ago in the 2013 Spanish Grand Prix at the Circuit de Catalunya where the two-time world champion won ahead of Kimi Raikkonen, then of Lotus, and Felipe Massa in the second Ferrari.
A repeat of that result would delight not only local Spanish fans, but also deliver a Ferrari one-two as Raikkonen joined the Italian “scuderia” this season for a second time.
It would also please Williams fans, too, as the much-improved British team is now home for the likeable Massa.
A year ago, the race may have been won by Alonso, but qualifying was dominated by the fast Mercedes pairing of Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton, who took the front row.
Rosberg led for 10 laps, before he fell away and finished sixth behind the two Red Bulls -– a scenario that is less likely this season since Mercedes have won all four of the opening ‘flyaway’ races ahead of this opening round of the European part of the season.
This year has seen not only Mercedes domination with Hamilton reeling off three straight wins following Rosberg’s opening triumph in Australia, but also a solid consistency from Alonso in the chasing Ferrari.
It has also witnessed Red Bull sliding out of contention for victories, a scenario that may change this weekend as the Milton Keynes outfit, along with the rest, will introduce a raft of car and engine updates for what is often a dull and predictable spectacle.
Aware of this threat to their supremacy –- they lead the title race with 154 points to Red Bull’s 57 while their drivers also head the drivers’ standings with Rosberg on 79 and Hamilton on 75 –- Mercedes have also focused on improving performance.
The Spanish race comes three weeks after the Chinese Grand Prix and that gap has allowed everyone to work on developing their machines.
Mercedes have struggled to compete in the ‘development race’ since returning to F1 in 2010, but both Hamilton and Rosberg believe they have what is needed to stay on top.
“We’re not sitting comfortably — we know we’ve got more work to do,” said Hamilton.
“We are quicker on the straights, but the Red Bull is very, very quick though the high-speed (corners), which tells me they maybe have a little bit more down-force than us.
“Last year there was a massive gap. We’ve definitely closed that up, but I think we can do a better job, so we’re going to keep pushing.”
Rosberg said: “It’s taken four and a half years, but we really have a strong team now. Starting with Toto (Wolff) and Paddy (Lowe) at the top, I think we have a good structure all the way.
“This year’s development race will be much more extreme than we’ve seen in recent years, because the regulations are so new.”
Talking about their in-team duel, Hamilton added: “Nico is driving really well, he’s pushing me very hard and keeping me on my toes.
“We’re going to see from race to race, there are going to be times when he’s going to be quicker and I’m going to be quicker, as we saw last year.
“What I’m really trying to focus on is those circuits where I am maybe weaker, or not as close to him. I want to close that gap. (It’s) damage limitation (for me) on those races and I think Bahrain was one of those races.”