Lewis Hamilton topped the opening free practice sessions for the Spanish Grand Prix by a comfortable margin, heading Nico Rosberg by 0.4s, with Daniel Ricciardo in third place. Sebastian Vettel, meanwhile, hit trouble, the champion being forced to sit out the whole of the afternoon session.
Hamilton had the edge on the qualifying simulation runs, with 4/10ths over Rosberg and a second over the next non-Mercedes car, but his long run performance was also strikingly fast and consistent. Rival teams had hoped to close the performance gap on Mercedes with their update packages, but if anything it appears that Mercedes may have pulled further ahead,
“It’s been a great day today and I’m happy to be back in the car after what feels like quite a long break,” said Hamilton. “I can feel the positive step forward that we’ve made with the car so a big thank you to everyone back at our factories for all of their hard work since China.”
Mercedes team CEO Toto Wolff added, “Barcelona is a milestone in this year’s calendar in terms of understanding the relative performance of different teams and we are pretty happy with how this first day went.”
This morning’s first session saw Hamilton head the McLaren of Jenson Button by 0.9s. Behind them Nico Rosberg and Vettel ran into problems. For Rosberg, a cooling issue was resolved prior to FP2 and the German immediately found himself on the tail of his team-mate. However, Vettel suffered more serious technical problems. His RB10 rolled out of Turn four and to a halt after twenty-five minutes of FP1 and the damage caused by the electrical fault forced to sit out the remainder of the session .
The day went from bad to worse for Vettel as the problem could not be fixed and the World Champion was unable to take to the track in the second session. This will put the Red Bull Racing driver on the back foot heading in to a weekend in which he would have hoped to get the better of his team-mate.
Ricciardo had another strong day and though he was unable to challenge the Mercedes pair he enjoyed a 0.6s buffer over the Ferrari of Fernando Alonso, a gap that will give Vettel some confidence before he returns to the car on Saturday morning.
Ferrari and McLaren, though, seem to have made the biggest strides since Shanghai, as Raikkonen shadowed Alonso to take fifth place with Kevin Magnussen and Jenson Button taking sixth and seventh place, respectively.
Ferrari President Luca Di Montezemolo was in the garage today prompting a more aggressive approach by his drivers and looking to build on Alonso’s impressive podium last time out. Home favourite Alonso claimed an emotional victory here last year and was today hustling his F14 T around the Circuit de Catalunya trying to drag every bit of performance from it.
For McLaren, who led the Constructors’ Championship after the first race in Melbourne, recent races have proved less successful as they have dropped behind Mercedes, Red Bull and Force India. This weekend and with two weeks of upgrade preparation behind them they look likely to put themselves ahead of the Force India and Toro Rosso cars that they have been battling with previously.
Spanish Grand Prix, Barcelona, Free Practice
1. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m 25.524s
2. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m 25.973s
3. Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull 1m 26.509s
4. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m 27.121s
57. Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1m 27.296s
6. Kevin Magnussen McLaren 1m 27.788s
7. Jenson Button McLaren 1m 27.811s
8. Felipe Massa Williams 1m 27.824s
9. Pastor Maldonado Lotus 1m 27.866s
10. Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso 1m 28.049s
11. Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1m 28.074s
12. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1m 28.246s
13. Adrian Sutil Sauber 1m 28.284s
14. Valtteri Bottas Williams 1m 28.698s
15. Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1m 29.105s
16. Sergio Perez Force India 1m 29.129s
17. Romain Grosjean Lotus 1m 29.493s
18. Jules Bianchi Marussia 1m 29.991s
19. Max Chilton Marussia 1m 31.148s
20. Kamui Kobayashi Caterham 1m 31.338s
21. Marcus Ericsson Caterha 1m 31.586s
22. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull no time