Max Verstappen will need another famous performance at the venue of his first Formula One win as he looks to strike back against Lewis Hamilton at the Spanish Grand Prix. The Dutchman took the first of his 11 career victories in Barcelona as an 18-year-old back in 2016, becoming the youngest race winner in F1 history.
But Hamilton, who leads the drivers' championship by eight points, loves this circuit too and has won the four editions to be held since. World champion Hamilton will be thrilled to arrive in Catalunya with an advantage, having won the season opener in Bahrain and battled back to a heroic P2 after crashing at Imola before winning in Portugal.
Those three results have come despite Mercedes starting the 2021 season at pace disadvantage to Red Bull, who are looking to hit back before the calendar moves to Monaco, where Mercedes often thrive.
Last time out
An excellent start to the 2021 season continued for Hamilton as he produced a masterful display to win the Portuguese Grand Prix. Hamilton started from second, behind team-mate Valtteri Bottas in pole, but produced another inspired performance.
The Briton initially trailed Bottas, who caught his colleague cold and pushed further clear coming out of a safety car while Verstappen got ahead of the seven-time champion too. But Hamilton passed Verstappen and then Bottas to claim the lead and remained in the driving seat during a tactical battle. The Red Bull driver ultimately took second ahead of the Finn, who did at least claim the extra point for fastest lap.
Sergio Perez was fourth, his best finish for Red Bull, while Lando Norris and Charles Leclerc rounded out the top six.
What to look out for in Catalunya?
After they battled in Portugal, Hamilton and Verstappen both said they trust each other to race wheel-to-wheel in "super-hard but fair" fights for position, with the drivers emphasising the respect they have for one another. It is a thrilling title scrap between the established frontrunner and the leader of the next generation that should take some time to settle given how close the two cars are for pace.
Indeed, Hamilton said the two would soon become "sick of the sight of each other" over a long season where 23 races are scheduled.
The second drivers on each team, Bottas and Perez, will need to mix it with the top two quickly or they risk becoming an afterthought in the drivers' standings even before the season has truly got going. There were signs of fight in Portugal as Bottas took pole while Perez led the race for a period after the leaders had pitted, becoming the first man for over a decade to have led a grand prix for four different teams.
Fernando Alonso and Carlos Sainz will battle for Spanish superiority on Sunday in cars with similar pace levels, with both having scored points in two out of three races so far.
Top five OPTA stats
The joy of six? - Hamilton is one win away from equalling Michael Schumacher as the driver to have recorded most wins in Catalunya (six). If he does it, the Mercedes star will lead the win rankings in 16 of the 32 tracks he has raced on during his illustrious career.
Super streak - Hamilton has won five out of his last seven races in Barcelona (four from pole), including the last four from 2017 to 2020. If he wins here, the Briton will surpass Schumacher (2001–2004) as the driver to have recorded the most consecutive wins at the circuit.
Famous 50 - Bottas equalled David Coulthard with his 49th podium in Portugal and could reach 50 at the Spanish GP. Only one other driver in F1 history has had more podiums without winning the world title - Rubens Barrichello (57).
Sainz leads Spanish charge - The Ferrari driver has earned 34 points at this race, more than at any other grand prix. However, sixth place is his best finish here. A Spanish driver has earned points in each of the last 12 Spanish GPs since 2009, although one has not reached the podium since Fernando Alonso in 2013 (his last F1 win).
Norris on the button – The Briton has scored points in eight straight grands prix, the best run in his F1 career. That run has included four straight top-five finishes - he is the first McLaren driver to do that since Jenson Button in 2012
1. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) – 69
2. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) – 61
3. Lando Norris (McLaren) – 37
4. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) – 32
5. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) – 28
1. Mercedes – 101
2. Red Bull – 83
3. McLaren – 53
4. Ferrari – 42
5. Alpine – 13