3 Formula 1 Teams with Most to Prove Ahead of Spanish Grand Prix
The Spanish Grand Prix is among the most important events of the year for Formula One teams.
Not only does the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya race represent a return to action after a three-week break, it offers the teams a chance to build upon what they learned from the opening phase of the season.
Having spent the best part of a month reflecting and analysing their performances at the flyaway races in Australia, Malaysia, China and Bahrain, the teams traditionally arrive at the Spanish GP with significant updates to their cars that could make or break their season.
For the teams at the front, there is pressure to maintain their position, while those behind face the challenge of getting their campaign back on track.
With just seven days until the European leg of the season begins, here are the three teams with most to prove ahead of the Spanish GP.
Ferrari have exceeded all expectations so far this season.
The Prancing Horse have reached the podium in all four races, qualified on the front row of the grid on two occasions and, of course, won a grand prix for the first time in almost two years.
New team principal Maurizio Arrivabene has been a breath of fresh air, Sebastian Vettel, after claiming his first victory since 2013 in Malaysia, has rediscovered his mojo, Kimi Raikkonen has been revived and the SF15-T is as strong a car as you would expect a technical director of James Allison's calibre to produce.
After years of underachievement—the Italian team haven't won a title since 2008—Ferrari finally seem like an outfit on the rise once again.
But how the Prancing Horse fare from the Spanish Grand Prix will decide whether their upturn in form is short-lived, or if Ferrari really will be a force to be reckoned with in 2015 and beyond.
Following Vettel's surprise triumph in Malaysia, Mercedes boss Toto Wolff was quoted by Motorsport.com's Adam Cooper as stressing the "need to take some developments forward, put them on the car quicker." It's an ominous sign that the reigning world champions will do everything to re-establish the performance advantage they enjoyed throughout 2014.
If Mercedes do take a significant step forward in Spain, the emphasis will be on Ferrari—who, according to La Gazzetta dello Sport (h/t GrandPrix247.com), have increased their 2015 budget by €100 million—to counteract the Silver Arrows' every move and prove they can produce a serious, sustained challenge.
Are we witnessing the end of Red Bull's days as a leading Formula One constructor?
It would be dangerous to write them off, especially after their recovery from a horrendous pre-season in 2014, but it certainly seems that way following the team's lacklustre start to the season.
That lacklustre start saw new signing Daniil Kvyat fail to start in Australia before retiring after just 15 laps in China, with both the Russian and team-mate Daniel Ricciardo finishing a lap behind Red Bull's favourite son, Sebastian Vettel, in Malaysia.
At the root of the Milton Keynes-based outfit's plunge down the pecking order—as has always been the case since the beginning of last season—is the troublesome Renault power unit, which remains underpowered and unreliable.
Unlike last year, however, engine manufacturers have the benefit of being able to develop their powertrains during the campaign, which could be a possible saving grace for Red Bull and Renault.
According to Autosport's Edd Straw, the FIA confirmed that Renault had used only 20 of their allotted 32 power unit tokens on the eve of this season, the fewest of any engine manufacturer bar Honda, which in theory should mean the French company have more scope for improvement than the likes of Mercedes and Ferrari.
The sight of Ricciardo's engine blowing up as the Australian crossed the finish line for sixth-place in Bahrain, permeating the air with smoke, was symbolic of the outfit's opening four races.
If Red Bull are to wade through the smog, come through the other side and salvage anything noteworthy from 2015, both team and engine manufacturer must work together and come back fighting in Spain.
It may only be the fifth race, but the Spanish Grand Prix could be a season-defining event for McLaren-Honda.
The team's problematic new power unit is, of course, the reason why Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button are among the five drivers yet to score a point in 2015, but even they couldn't have envisaged McLaren enduring such a difficult start to the campaign.
A McLaren car has failed to even make it to the starting grid in two of the four races thus far, with the team regularly eliminated from Q3 as they prioritise reliability over performance.
Despite Button and Alonso, who have three world titles between them, both recording a best-finish of 11th so far this season, both have been relatively content with McLaren's start to 2015.
And that's because the team's fortunes, apparently, are about to change for the better.
As long ago as pre-season testing, McLaren had targeted the Spanish GP as the race where they would begin making significant performance gains on their rivals, surging up the pecking order.
With three weeks to take a step back and look at what went wrong since the MP4-30 took to the track for the very first time in February and, most importantly, make improvements to the engine and chassis, much will be expected of McLaren in Spain.
If the Woking-based outfit do make a welcome return to form, reach Q3 and secure a decent haul of points, the opening leg of the season will be forgotten as a short-term-pain-for-long-term-gain exercise.
If, however, McLaren continue to flounder toward the rear of the field and Alonso, their marquee signing and a two-time winner in Spain, is humiliated in front of his home crowd, there will be plenty of question marks over the direction of the team.
Make no mistake, McLaren's season could hinge on the Spanish GP.