Teams ready for Catalunya test

Barcelona defender Daniel Alves (left) converses with compatriot, Ferrari driver Felipe Massa

Barcelona defender Daniel Alves (left) converses with compatriot, Ferrari driver Felipe Massa

Formula One returns home this weekend for the first European race of the 2013 season with a familiar scenario unfolding amid hopes of an upset to match last year’s unexpected dramas at the Spanish Grand Prix.
Defending triple world champion Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull, who was victorious at the Circuit de Catalunya in 2011, leads the title race again, this time with 77 points and a 10-point margin ahead of second-placed rival Kimi Raikkonen of Lotus and a 27-point advantage on Third-placed Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes.
Each will arrive at the track, around 25 kilometres inland to the north of the Catalan capital, with high hopes that the upgrade packages on their respective cars can bring them victory in Sunday’s 66-lap race on a circuit they know better than any other because it is used so much for testing and hosted two-thirds of the pre-season work for the 2013 title race.
Last year’s winner, Venezuelan Pastor Maldonado is not expected to replicate his heroics.
But a tightly-contested scrap between the leading teams at the front of the field is expected and that should go some way towards indicating which drivers are likely to emerge as the most serious contenders for glory this year.
Vettel, and his Red Bull team, are already setting the pace, albeit after a spate of dramatic intra-team scraps. That drama set the tone for much of the season to date as it arose from the teams’ need to preserve tyres and car performance in demanding conditions — a stage that may be replicated this weekend if hot conditions play havoc with Pirelli’s supply of rubber and turn the race into a strategic contest again.
Since the track was introduced to the calendar in 1991, it has earned a reputation for offering a broad examination of the cars and drivers, thanks to its mix of medium and high-speed corners, a low-speed complex and a long straight.
In 16 of the last 22 seasons, the winning team in Spain lifted the Constructors’ Championship.
It is sure to create fervour around home favourite, Fernando Alonso of Ferrari. Alonso, fourth in the title race and enjoying the prospect of racing in a competitive car this year, is expected to mount a challenge to Vettel, Webber, Raikkonen and Hamilton at the front of the field.

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