Nico Rosberg will have Formula One history in his sights in Spain this weekend, even if Dutch teenager Max Verstappen seizes his share of the limelight.
The championship leader has won seven races in a row, including the last three of 2015, and can join fellow-German Michael Schumacher (2004) and Britain’s Nigel Mansell (1992) as the only drivers to start a season with five successive victories.
The chances of that happening looked remote this time last year, when Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton had won three of the first four and was heading for a third title, but Rosberg is 43 points clear of the Briton.
As 18-year-old Verstappen would agree, after his rapid promotion from Toro Rosso in a swap with demoted Russian Daniil Kvyat, F1 moves fast off the track as well as on it.
“I’m just enjoying the moment and the form I’m in, doing my best to keep it going and hoping I can carry it through to the end of the season,” said Rosberg, 11/10 with bookmakers and Hamilton at 5/4.
Another triumph for Mercedes will equal McLaren’s run of 11 in a row from 1988, and that looks more than likely given the champions have won 36 of the past 42 races.
Rosberg returns to a circuit where he won from pole last year, his first victory of that season, but he has plenty of rivals.
Hamilton will be even more determined to turn the tide while McLaren’s Fernando Alonso can count on strong home support.
“I’m confident they’ll get to the bottom of the problems we’ve been having. I know I’m still quick,” said Hamilton.
“I’ve known that since day one in testing and, when I’ve had clean air and a damage-free car this season, I’ve shown it on track.”
Barcelona marks the real start of the European season, the sport’s historic heartland, even if Russia preceded Spain this year for the first time.
A circuit where teams test pre-season, it is both predictable and surprising – there have been nine different winners in nine years yet all but two of the last 15 pole-setters have won.
“Barcelona is a very good indication of where you are with the car,” said Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, whose team hope to show their real potential after a nightmarish string of mishaps and failures.