The first practice session in Spain today highlighted the difficulty of picking a winner out of the field in F1 this year. Around a single, 4.65km lap of the Circuit de Catalunya the 14 fastest cars were separated by just 1.1 seconds.
With margins this fine, the smallest mistake can cost a driver several places on the grid. Get on the brakes five metres too soon, slide the car too much in a corner, or fail to get a clear lap in when the track is at its best, and a driver could find themselves missing that all-important top-ten shootout in qualifying on Saturday.
Getting pole position has been the key to winning this race in the past. In the 21 previous races here the pole sitter has won 16 times. Although overtaking has become easier in F1 in the past 12 months, this remains one of the trickiest circuits for a driver to get past. That hands a substantial advantage to whoever starts from pole position.
Tips for pole position
So who is favourite to start from the coveted position number one on the grid?
McLaren and Red Bull were fastest in practice on Saturday. That in itself is not great surprise, but what is interesting is that Jenson Button was the faster of the teams' drivers.
Button has usually been out-qualified by Lewis Hamilton in their time together as team mates, and is yet to set a pole position for McLaren, which is why his odds on coming out on top in qualifying are slightly longer and worth a look.
As I mentioned earlier this week, Mark Webber has surprisingly long odds given that he set pole position in the last two races at this track and has fared better than his teammate in qualifying this year.
The most interesting proposition for qualifying are the Lotuses. During his quick run on the soft tyres in second practice, Romain Grosjean set the fastest time in the first sector and was on course for one of the quickest times of the day before he was held up.
The car clearly has pace and both he and team mate Kimi Raikkonen are worth a look for qualifying.
Early picks for the race
The other interesting story from practice has been the progress of the Ferraris. The team started the season on the back foot but the upgrades brought to this race appear to have worked.
“At first sight, the results seem to be positive,” admitted Felipe Massa after today’s running.
Fernando Alonso was fastest of all in the first session running on the harder tyres. Although they weren’t as quick in the soft tyres in the second session, Ferrari look likely to do much better in the race.
And Alonso can be counted on to produce something special when he’s driving in front of his home crowd.
The weather may also play into his hands on Sunday. The forecasts warn of a chance of rain which could arrive during the race. Alonso won superbly in the rain in Malaysia earlier this year.
Alonso aside, the Lotuses are worth considering for the race too – their pace over race stints on Friday afternoon looked very good.
Keith Collantine is the editor of Formula One blog F1 Fanatic.