Preview: The Spanish Grand Prix is not only the beginning of the European swing of the Formula One year, but in essence it also very much represents a rebirth for many of the teams.
Three weeks have passed since the last race in Bahrain, during which the first in-season testing in three years has taken place at Mugello, Italy. That has allowed most of the teams to work on their cars and arrive in Spain with noteworthy upgrades.
Saturday's qualifying represents the first opportunity to get a proper gauge of how those changes have affected the Formula One pecking order.
On the surface the team with the biggest development is McLaren. The British-based outfit has raised the nose at the front of their cars in an attempt to get more downforce. It is a move that sees the McLaren fall in line with virtually all of the rest of the grid, which began with the less-aesthetically-pleasing high-nose design.
The signs were good in Friday's practice, with Jenson Button recording the fastest time in the day's second session ahead of Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel and team mate Lewis Hamilton in third.
It was a positive afternoon, Button said afterward, according to Formula1.com. I did a good lap on the Option tire, the car is running well, and our upgrades seem to be working. But there are still some improvements to be made.
As Button suggested, not everything went swimmingly for the updated McLaren, with the winner in Australia twice heard complaining of terrible understeer.
Likely to be challenging the McLarens for the front row on Saturday are the Red Bulls. Despite coming under scrutiny for a relative lack of pace at the start of the season, Sebastian Vettel's victory in Bahrain last time out showed that the team to beat over the past two years could be so again in 2012. Indeed, Vettel now leads the drivers' championship, with Red Bull out in front in the constructors' standings
Like the rest of the paddock, Red Bull will be eager to see where their updates leave them on the grid.
I think we should be OK, said Vettel, according to Formula1.com. We have quite a number of new parts on the car this weekend and the question will be if they all deliver what they are supposed to--how much of a step forward we were able to take compared to the others.
The other team that could well make a bid for pole is Lotus. A second and third place in Bahrain confirmed their strong early season form and, with a new front-wing layout unveiled in Barcelona, they could be a real threat for a first victory since returning to Formula One.
We've been fast everywhere else so far and there's nothing to suggest we won't be fast here again, Kimi Raikkonen said boldly after Friday's practice, according to Formula1.com.
In keeping with the nature of the season so far, qualifying in Spain promises to be a thrilling and unpredictable spectacle.