As the calendar shifts to May, Formula One endures its first three-week break of the season.
It's a nice opportunity for teams to make changes to the car before Spain, provided they can get back to their shops in a timely fashion. Force India was one of those teams that still had a majority of its members stranded in Shanghai several days after the race due to travel restrictions from the volcanic eruption in Iceland, but with the lengthy break, it likely will not have any long term ramifications.
Mercedes is one major team that is looking to make adjustments for Barcelona.
Michael Schumacher's car has undergone changes to its weight distribution in an effort to increase front downforce. The decrease in front tire width is a key to this change, as the old tires Schumacher was used to prior to his retirement three years ago provided more weight and downforce at the front of the car.
Red Bull meanwhile is seeking to alter downforce at the rear. The team is working on its own version of the F-Duct, which of course is a scary premise for the competition, as it could mean that the RB6 is about to become even faster on the straights.
Indeed, Europe is the time on the schedule for the strong runners to showcase what they have.
PHILIPPE LOPEZ/AFP/Getty ImagesLewis Hamilton usually heats up with the weather and the European start of the season.
The necessary improvements have hopefully been made at this point, and teams will generally have to succeed or fail by their alterations.
Fernando Alonso recently put it best to reporters: "The championship always starts in the first race, but it's true that it's just a race to confirm the good feelings you've had during testing. It's also true that in Europe it is time to show who is going to fight for the title and who isn't."
With nine of the next 10 races held in Europe, including Istanbul which is just on the border of Europe and Asia, the heart of the schedule is clearly on the horizon. So who might we see at the top of the driver standings at the end of the European swing? It could very well be the 2008 F1 champion.
Over the past two seasons, Lewis Hamilton has the most podium finishes on the upcoming nine European circuits. Delving deeper, Hamilton has found the podium nine times in those seventeen races, and his four wins in that span are the most of any active driver.
Most podium finishes the last two seasons on upcoming nine European tracks (active drivers)
Driver -- Podiums -- Victories
Lewis Hamilton -- 9 -- 4
Rubens Barrichello -- 6 -- 2
Felipe Massa -- 6 -- 3
Jenson Button -- 4 -- 3
Sebastian Vettel -- 4 -- 2
Mark Webber -- 4 -- 0
A notable name not on this list is of course is Alonso. Over the past two seasons, Alonso failed to record a single podium finish on a European track with Renault. He is in much-improved equipment this season with Ferrari, so he is a name that also must be factored in.
Still, the case for Hamilton over the summer months looks quite strong.
The early summertime in the Northern Hemisphere means that Monaco is close on the schedule as well.
Alongside that race are the other two members of the triple crown of motorsports, the Indianapolis 500 and the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
While modern racing dictates that drivers really do not tackle more than one of these races in the same year, it was commonplace to attempt two or all three within the timeframe of just a month or two only a few decades ago. Graham Hill, the only driver to ever win all three races, drove in all three events in 1966 and he is just one example from the 1950s, 60s and 70s.
In 1966, Hill competed in the Monaco Grand Prix on May 22, finishing third. Hill won the Indianapolis 500 after starting 15th a week later. At Le Mans on the 18th and 19th of June that same year, he co-piloted the number seven Ford GT40 Mk II but failed to finish. Hill would later win that race in 1972 while driving alongside Henri Pescarolo. Having won five times at Monaco, Hill is certainly one of the best representatives of all-around driving skill that motorsports has to offer.
There are modern exceptions of course, such as Sebastien Bourdais. Last season, Bourdais competed for Toro Rosso at Monaco and then finished second overall for Peugeot at Le Mans less than a month later.
It's an example of drivers still attempting two of the races in the same season, and it is, of course, rare. Could you imagine if Fernando Alonso or Lewis Hamilton were to attempt all three in the same year? It will never happen today, but it's fun to think about.