Barcelona: It's time for an upgrade...

Barcelona: It's time for an upgrade...

8 May 2013 – The opening European leg of the 2013 Formula 1 campaign kicks off at the Circuit de Catalunya this weekend, the location for eight days of pre-season testing earlier in the year. Now it’s time for a series of upgrade packages to be applied, ones that hold the potential to significantly change the pecking order come Sunday afternoon.

Three different teams and drivers sharing the spoils over the course of the first four race meetings; it’s fair to say Formula 1 2013 has been entertaining thus far. But this is where everything can change in an instant, with teams bringing their first serious modifications to Barcelona in a bid to uncover vital tenths of a second. It will also give us a clear indication of who is in the driving seat for the middle phase of the campaign.

One team attempting to claw back a championship assault at this phase of the year is McLaren. Martin Whitmarsh’s squad has long targeted the Spanish Grand Prix as its recovery point, having struggled for pace with its MP4-28 chassis. The situation has undoubtedly improved on a race-by-race basis, but this is where we are due to see the first true impact of the team’s traditionally strong development drive.

Will the outfit be able to join the front-runners on a consistent basis? It is too early to tell, but we’re set for a fascinating weekend as various parts are evaluated up and down the pit lane. To help all 11 teams in their respective performance quests, an extra set of Hard compound tyres have been made available by Pirelli for Friday practice, although predicted poor weather looks likely to spoil programmes…

Having notched up three of the four victories on offer so far this season, Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Räikkönen are currently the men in charge of proceedings. However, with Lotus announcing the departure of technical chief James Allison earlier on Wednesday, a sizeable hole has been left in the Enstone engineering department at a crucial stage of the season, not only for 2013 but as the paddock prepares for a massive regulation overhaul in 2014.

And there are plenty of hunters in the field, with Ferrari and Mercedes - who both have eyes on Allison - eager to recover from a handful of costly car failures. While the Scuderia is searching for qualifying pace, the Silver Arrows will be hoping for reduced tyre degradation, and an array of updates could be enough to shake up the order.

Meanwhile, you have to take your hat off to Force India, with the squad taking full advantage of much improved pace and rivals’ pain to pick up a mass of points from the opening flyaways. Although a double retirement in Malaysia was extremely painful, both Paul di Resta and Adrian Sutil could be in with a chance of achieving maiden podium finishes if the team’s relatively small resources can be utilised efficiently.

In the midfield, Williams has endured a similar start to its woeful 2011 campaign, with last year’s recovery a distant memory. If the team is to bounce back, Barcelona would be the prime location given Pastor Maldonado’s maiden triumph 12 months ago, and points will be a minimum target given the fact that the Venezuelan and rookie team-mate Valtteri Bottas have been unable to make the top ten thus far. Ahead of the fifth round, only Marussia and Caterham trail as fellow outfits yet to score.

Speaking of the battle at the back of the field, securing tenth place in the Constructors' standings has taken on a new meaning. Formula 1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone recently announced that only the top ten teams will receive a prize money boost at the end of the year, so Heikki Kovalainen’s continuing practice appearances could just prove vital for Caterham if it is to regain the position it dramatically stole in 2012.

On all fronts, a crucial weekend lies ahead.

As with all 19 Grands Prix on the 2013 Formula 1 calendar, you can follow practice, qualifying and the race via the interactive GPUpdate.net live report feature

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