By Alan Baldwin
While Lewis Hamilton chases his fourth victory in five races in Barcelona this weekend, much of the immediate attention at the Spanish Grand Prix will be on a home hero with no hope of winning.
Bookmakers were last week offering better odds, before the birth, on Britain’s latest royal baby being named Macbeth than on Fernando Alonso’s McLaren team winning at the Circuit de Catalunya.
They are now a more reasonable 250-1 on the Spaniard, winner in Barcelona with Ferrari in 2013 and Renault in 2006, and team-mate Jenson Button although just getting into the points for the first time this year will be a big step up for the ex-champions.
Alonso will be very much in the spotlight however on his return to the circuit where he crashed heavily in pre-season testing.
That accident ruled him out of the opening race in Australia and triggered all kinds of conspiracy theories about his condition and what had ‘really’ caused the crash.
Neither McLaren nor Alonso made any mention of the incident in their pre-race preview, preferring to focus on improvements they expect to see in the first race of the European season.
“I’m incredibly happy to be heading back to Europe, to my home country and racing in front of the loyal Spanish fans,” said Alonso.
“We are seeing improvements race by race, and I want to ensure that we maintain this consistency throughout this weekend.
“Although we won’t be fighting for victory in Barcelona, I know I can count on the support of the fans to bring even more motivation during the whole weekend, which will be very special.”
After a three week gap, the fifth round of the season will be closely watched for signs of any shift in the pecking order with teams bringing upgrades to their cars now they have had time back at the factory.
The battle at the front, however, is still likely to be between Mercedes, with double world champion Hamilton in commanding form, and resurgent Ferrari.
The Briton, who posted on Instagram a photograph of himself ringside at last weekend’s Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquaio welterweight unification bout in Las Vegas, is up for another fight.
“Having tasted success there (Barcelona) for the first time last year, I want to do it in even better style this time,” said 2014 winner Hamilton, who has a 27-point lead over team-mate Nico Rosberg.
Mercedes motorsport head Toto Wolff added: “Lewis is in the zone right now, probably driving as well as he has ever done, and Nico showed his teeth in Bahrain with some forceful overtaking and a strong, aggressive race.
“We’re expecting more of the same in Spain.”