Max Verstappen appears in ominous form at the Spanish Grand Prix and Red Bull's season-long rampage looks unlikely to come to an end in Barcelona.
Racing Post’s Chris Rivers gives his best bets for this weekend’s action at the Spanish Grand Prix.
For all the talk of upgrades and closing the gap to Red Bull going into round seven, there were precious few signs on Friday of anyone challenging Verstappen's claims to the chequered flag.
Even Verstappen's own team-mate, Sergio Perez, struggled to keep up with the world championship leader, finishing first practice over seven tenths of a second behind the Dutchman.
Verstappen was quickest again in second practice with Fernando Alonso appearing to be the only driver capable of challenging the all-conquering world champion.
The Aston Martin driver was second quickest, while his race simulation times might spark wild notions of a home winner.
|2023 Spanish Grand Prix
|Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, Spain
|14:00, Sunday, June 4th
|How to watch
|Sky Sports F1
|Max Verstappen 2/7, Sergio Perez 4/1, Fernando Alonso 7/1, Charles Leclerc 50/1, Carlos Sainz 66/1
The changes made to the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya have played into the hands of Red Bull, albeit only Verstappen was able to maximise those gains from the now speedier layout.
Perez was way off the times being set by his team-mate and, while practice has never been the Mexican’s strong suit, he’ll need to up his game if he doesn’t want to come home behind Alonso.
The Spaniard was annoyed he couldn’t end his decade-long wait for a win in Monaco last time out when second; his fifth podium in six races this season.
The two-time world champion has been ultra-consistent this year, while Perez has had some up and down moments. If the Red Bull driver does leave a door open to Alonso, expect the Aston Martin to speed through it.
Verstappen spoke this week about the potential of a Red Bull winning every race this season and based on his recent form, that isn’t out of the question.
The only man seemingly capable of denying Red Bull a clean sweep is Alonso and his Aston Martin, which is sporting a new and improved front wing this week.
If Alonso can outqualify Perez, which he’s managed twice already this season, then there’s a chance he’ll hold him off and claim a top-two finish at 13/8.
After a difficult start to the season, we are starting to see the real potential of Alpine with Esteban Ocon achieving the team’s best finish of the year so far when third in Monaco last time out.
The Frenchman produced a stunning qualifying lap around Monte Carlo and was also quick when the rain fell later on in the race. That could prove important with a chance of showers in Spain this weekend.
The Alpine was quick on both the hard and soft compound tyre in practice with Ocon in the top five on the timesheets in both sessions.
Ocon also has previously at this track, climbing up from 12th to seventh in last year’s race at a circuit where overtaking is notoriously tricky.
Alpine don’t appear to have a great deal to fear from the likes of Ferrari, Mercedes, or Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll.
The Scuderia are notoriously bad at managing their tyres, one of the keys to success at this abrasive circuit and have struggled for race pace all year.
Mercedes may have been playing their cards close to their chest and do have a good record in Spain, but practice suggests they face a battle with Alpine.
The under-pressure Lance Stroll couldn’t get to grips with the track all day on Friday and looks likely to struggle to deliver on the potential of his Aston Martin.
Since introducing a major package of upgrades in April, Alpine have been far more competitive and continue to make gains with Ocon 6/4 for back-to-back top-six finishes for the first time this season.
There have been only two retirements across the last three rounds in Formula 1, both of which were caused by driver error rather than a mechanical failure.
This year’s cars have proved extremely reliable and with the exception of a chaotic Australian Grand Prix where just 12 cars finished, we’ve had at least 17 drivers see the chequered flag.
The lack of overtaking opportunities in Spain should limit the chances of a collision, helping to push up the number of finishers.
The drivers know this circuit so well thanks to the large amount of testing that take place in Barcelona that mistakes tend to be kept to a minimum come race weekend.
The last four years have seen at least 18 cars complete the race, while looking further back, there’s only been fewer than 17 finishers twice in the last ten years.
Therefore, backing over 17 finishers at 11/10 appears to offer a bit of value.