Moment of truth: why Spanish GP is crucial for F1 title race and driver market


Will Red Bull return to form? Does Ferrari have an upgrade? Will we see a 17-year-old on track? And will are we about to see a flurry of 2025 F1 driver deals? Here's what to watch out for at the 2024 Spanish Grand Prix

Red Bull Ferrari Spanish GP

Can Ferrari challenge Red Bull for victory in Spain?

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By Sunday evening, the outlook for the rest of the Formula 1 season should be clearer. If Max Verstappen cruises to another win in the 2024 Spanish Grand Prix, then the outlook will be bleak for a competitive second half of the year.

But if one or more of McLaren, Ferrari and Mercedes can maintain the challenge that they have posed in recent races, then the fight really will be on — for the championship as well as race wins.

It’s expected that the competitive order in Barcelona, which heralds the start of F1’s summer European season, will be continued on the purpose-built circuits to follow, including Silverstone, Monza and Zandvoort. Red Bull expects to put its recent struggles behind it. Will anyone else be able to keep up?


A return to Red Bull dominance? 

Red Bull 2023 Spanish Grand Prix

Can anyone catch Red Bull?

Red Bull

A run of three grands prix won by three different drivers, followed by a close-run win for Max Verstappen in Montreal has reinvigorated F1 after a spell of mainly predictable Red Bull dominance.

Barcelona will be a bellweather for the rest of the season. Having struggled to extract maximum performance from its car in recent races, where it struggled particularly with high kerbs and tall ride heights, Red Bull expects a return to its early-season pace in the Spanish Grand Prix. It expects the sweeping corners and technical sections of smooth asphalt to suit the RB20.

It’s where we’ll see if the recent upgrades of McLaren and Mercedes — plus a new upgrade from Ferrari — will enable their drivers to keep the pressure on Verstappen.

If they can, then a championship challenge, particularly for the constuctors’ title, could be on. If not, then Verstappen may have a downhill ride to a fourth championship.


Ferrari’s ‘massive’ aero upgrade 

Ferrari Montreal

Can Ferrari recover from its Montreal woes?


In its own words Ferrari endured a “weekend to forget” in Montreal, where neither driver made the final Q3 qualifying session and both cars failed to see the finish line. But its struggle to generate tyre temperatures is thought to have been a one-off issue on the Canadian circuit.

The team would have been expecting to return to the front in Spain, even without a new aerodynamic package that’s rumoured to make its debut this weekend.

Although Ferrari’s pace has not been as consistent as either McLaren or Red Bull, it has proven to be an unbeatable force when it gets it right — as was evident in the Monaco and Melbourne victories. Nevertheless, when asked about the possible running order in Barcelona, Leclerc remained sceptical. “I feel like the strength of Red Bull will be more visible on a track like Barcelona,” he said. “But let’s wait and see. Behind [Red Bull] I think we’ll all be pretty close.”

Was is it a genuine answer? Or is he just keeping his cards close to his chest?


When will Kimi Antonelli make his race weekend debut? 

Kimi Antonelli Mercedes F1

Antonelli could be a shoo-in for a 2025 F1 race seat

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Earlier this week, the FIA revised its International Sporting Code which previously prevented any driver below the age of 18 from obtaining an F1 superlicence.

The new ruling now allows 17 year olds to compete in F1 sessions, provided they have “demonstrated outstanding ability and maturity in single-seater formula car competitions” and follows a request by Williams to grant special dispensation for a superlicence to F2 driver Kimi Antonelli, who turns 18 in late August, and already has enough points to qualify.

That’s all we know with any certainty now: Antonelli hasn’t been granted a superlicence at the moment. However, it does appear to open the door to the Mercedes junior driver to obtain one before his birthday.

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He’s been linked to the Mercedes seat being vacated by Lewis Hamilton in 2025 and has already tested F1 cars from previous years. Mercedes is likely to want to test him in a current car during a race weekend free practice session before then, which would require a superlicence. This could be with the Mercedes team, or with Mercedes-powered Williams.

There is also the recurring suggestion that Antonelli being offered even more F1 experience by Williams, by replacing Logan Sargeant mid-season. The American incumbent had a difficult debut season last year, and has continued to make mistakes this year. He’s widely expected to be replaced for 2025, making it plausible that Williams could cut a deal to run Antonelli for the rest of the year.

It might seem premature for a driver who’s in his debut Formula 2 season and still getting to grips with that series, but Mercedes boss Toto Wolff missed out on signing Max Verstappen when he couldn’t promise a fast-track to F1, and is unwilling to make the same mistake again with a driver who has been compared to the three-time world champion.


Is Mercedes really back? 

Mercedes Canada GP 2024

Can George Russell once again lead into Turn 1?


The rare sight of beaming smiles in the Mercedes garage and drivers with a spring in their step said everything in Canada. It was confirmed by a pole position and podium finish for George Russell.

A new front wing seems to have solved the car’s set-up difficulties and unpredictable behaviour, giving the drivers a car that they could lean on to maximise pace. But just as Ferrari’s performance in Montreal was dismissed by the team as a one-off, so it remains to be seen whether the Mercedes will still be competitive in Spain.


Carlos Sainz’s future

Carlos Sainz celebrates Australian GP victory spraying champagne on Melbourne podium

Will Audi or Williams offer Sainz the best chance of adding to his victory tally?

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Carlos Sainz is juggling offers from two F1 teams, but they won’t wait forever, and the Spanish Grand Prix has long been seen as an opportunity for him to commit to his future.

The hope of a seat at Red Bull or Mercedes has gone, so Sainz must decide whether to throw in his lot with Audi, which is in the process of taking over the Sauber team ahead of the 2026 season. Despite the vast resources available, however, there appears to be a lot of rebuilding work required, not to mention the matter of producing a brand new power unit that can compete with the new generation from established suppliers, including Mercedes, Ferrari and Honda.

That could be pushing Sainz in the direction of Williams, which may be at the back of the grid now, but is undergoing an impressive transformation in the hands of James Vowles, backed by money from owners Dorilton Capital. Come 2026 and 2027, the team expects that this will translate into improved performance on track. It is also hoping to benefit from the all-new power units that will be used in 2026. Williams’ deal means that it will continue to be supplied by Mercedes, which had the best unit by a mile after the last major rule change in 2014.

Sainz’s choice is just the start, though. His decision could be the pin that releases a series of other driver moves, with the team that Sainz rejects then moving for its second choice, potentially triggering further moves that will fill several of the eight spare seats on the 2025 grid remaining.

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