F1 begins its European tour in Barcelona

With Australia, Malaysia, China and Bahrain now completed, the "European season" on this year's Formula One calendar begins this weekend with the Spanish Grand Prix.

Teams are already quite familiar with Circuit de Catalunya, since F1 pre- season testing is held at this 4.655-kilometer (2.892-mile) road course, located just north of Barcelona.

F1 held two of its three pre-season test sessions at this circuit. Lotus did exceptionally well in testing there two months ago. Kimi Raikkonen, who is in his first season with Lotus, posted the quickest time on the final day. His teammate, Romain Grosjean, also topped the time charts.

Raikkonen finished second and Grosjean placed third in last month's Bahrain Grand Prix. Sebastian Vettel from Red Bull picked up his first win of the season there.

"I expect Lotus to be very competitive at Barcelona," Raikkonen said. "It's going to be very, very close between the top teams. This is the only circuit where the teams have already tested with the new cars, and the set-up is crucial, as the track changes with the wind and temperature. All the teams have updates for the first European race, which makes it even more interesting and even tighter at the top.

"I have won here twice, and there's nothing better than winning in any grand prix. Those two wins are my only podiums in the event."

Raikkonen's first Spanish GP win came in 2005 when he drove for McLaren. His second victory in this race occurred in 2008 with Ferrari. Raikkonen started on the pole in both of those races.

Vettel is the defending winner of the Spanish GP. Starting second in last year's race, Vettel overcame issues with his KERS and then held off a furious challenge from McLaren's Hamilton Lewis in the closing laps for the win.

"Of all the current GP tracks, Barcelona is the one that we know the most, because we have done so much testing there in recent years," Vettel said. "The knowledge that you gain at the tests doesn't always help due to the changing wind direction that occurs there, which can sometimes give you a nasty surprise, especially into turn one. A car that functions well aerodynamically in Barcelona will work everywhere, so it will be an interesting weekend."

Vettel recorded the fastest lap in the first day of testing at Barcelona, but his car experienced its share of mechanical and engine issues in the days that followed there. He also went off course and broke the front wing on the car.

After winning in Bahrain, Vettel moved atop the championship standings for the first time this season. The two-time defending world champion currently holds a four-point lead over Hamilton.

"Our performance at Barcelona during winter testing looked promising," Hamilton said. "But the form of the season is still very hard to read, so it's difficult to predict who'll be at the front next weekend. Nonetheless, we had a great race there last year. I pushed Sebastian all the way to the finish. I think we have a comparatively stronger car this year, so I hope we can have another strong race."

Vettel's teammate, Mark Webber, is five points out of the lead. Webber started on the pole and finished fourth in last year's Spanish GP.

Series: Formula One. Date: Sunday, May 13. Race: Spanish Grand Prix. Site: Circuit de Catalunya. Track: 4.655 km (2.892 miles), 16-turn road course. Start Time: 8 a.m. (et). Laps: 66. Miles: 190.825 (307.104 km). 2011 Winner: Sebastian Vettel. Television: Speed.