Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton may have registered the fastest lap time, but the top three teams appear to be closely-matched on race pace for this weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix, with Red Bull Racing looking set for their most threatening weekend so far.
With drivers struggling to come to terms with the low-grip conditions at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, the fastest lap times could be taken with a pinch of salt.
Hamilton’s best lap of a 1:18.259 was set on the soft tyre, but his effort on the super soft tyre (the fastest available tyre this weekend) yielded an error.
Generally, drivers had difficulty in making major improvements on the super soft tyre; second-placed Daniel Ricciardo couldn’t improve on his earlier soft-tyre effort, which was just over one tenth of a second behind Hamilton.
Daniel Ricciardo was entrusted with many of the revised components on the Red Bull RB14 – something which the team hope will bring “a couple of tenths” of improvement – during free practice one. The team have brought revised front wings and barge boards this weekend but, fortunately for the team, the Australian was using an older-specification front wing when he lost grip and had a low-speed crash at turn four in free practice one.
The second Red Bull of Max Verstappen did improve whilst running the super soft tyre, but his time was still 0.274 away from Hamilton’s time. He was one of several drivers to have at least one off-track moment, with the Dutchman harmlessly spinning at turn two.
Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel was one of the drivers who improved when equipped with the super softs. He was another half-a-tenth behind Verstappen, with the second Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas close behind after his super soft tyre effort.
“Today was okay. The car balance, I’m reasonably happy with. Overall, I think it’s been a tricky day with the tyres,” summarised Vettel.
“I think we can improve, there’s definitely a little bit more in the car, and a little bit more in me if I get everything together so we should be okay tomorrow. It’s very close, we could be P1 or P6.”
Kimi Raikkonen finished sixth-fastest, but was denied the chance to complete many longer runs after he returned to the pits with a yet-to-be-identified power unit problem.
On the longer runs, the Red Bull’s appeared to be very strong on both the soft and the super soft tyres. On the super soft runs, both of their drivers were lapping in around the mid-1:22’s, with the Mercedes and Ferrari drivers setting times typically a couple of tenths slower.
Despite the Haas duo of Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen ending the day as the fourth-fastest team, there were concerns on Grosjean’s side of the garage. He endured a troublesome start to his Spanish Grand Prix weekend as he struggled to overcome the low-grip conditions.
The Frenchman went off-track on a couple of occasions during the opening practice session, before spinning off into the gravel trap in the first few minutes of the afternoon session.
The partially-revised Force Indias and the heavily-revised McLarens were in close contest, occupying positions nine through to twelve on the qualifying simulations.
Wheel attachment issues were highlighted once again in free practice two, this time by the Force India of Sergio Perez.
After leaving the pits, seemingly with all four wheels attached, one wheel came loose half-way around the lap, bringing out the virtual safety car.
The return of Robert Kubica
The first free practice session marked the first time since 2010 that Robert Kubica took part in an official Formula One session.
Completing a free practice session is a small step in his bid to return to the F1 grid. He took over Sergey Sirotkin’s seat for the opening 90 minutes – the very man he was in a shoot-out with for the second Williams seat for this season.
He might have finished ahead of fellow Williams driver Lance Stroll in FP1, but comparisons against Stroll must be taken with a pinch of salt, given that Kubica was running the new parts and Stroll failed to complete the entire session after beaching his car in the gravel on the outside of turn five.
Williams has had a troubled start to the 2018 season and yesterday confirmed that the car’s designer Ed Wood had left the team.
Speaking after free practice one, Kubica gave a damning verdict of the FW41:
“It has been a difficult session for us, with difficult balance. It’s how we were expecting it to be, but not this bad. It was a bit of a shock for me.
“I felt embarrassed when I was driving inside the car.
“I felt comfortable, but it’s difficult to be comfortable in such a difficultly-balanced car to drive, and with difficult conditions. I think I did as I was asked and I’m happy with what I delivered.”
SPANISH GRAND PRIX, Free Practice
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m18.259s – 39
2 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull/Renault 1m18.392s 0.133s 41
3 Max Verstappen Red Bull/Renault 1m18.533s 0.274s 39
4 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1m18.585s 0.326s 34
5 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1m18.611s 0.352s 39
6 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1m18.829s 0.570s 16
7 Romain Grosjean Haas/Ferrari 1m19.579s 1.320s 24
8 Kevin Magnussen Haas/Ferrari 1m19.643s 1.384s 39
9 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren/Renault 1m19.722s 1.463s 32
10 Sergio Perez Force India/Mercedes 1m19.962s 1.703s 28
11 Esteban Ocon Force India/Mercedes 1m20.024s 1.765s 38
12 Fernando Alonso McLaren/Renault 1m20.035s 1.776s 35
13 Nico Hulkenberg Renault 1m20.183s 1.924s 43
14 Pierre Gasly Toro Rosso/Honda 1m20.373s 2.114s 32
15 Marcus Ericsson Sauber/Ferrari 1m20.501s 2.242s 37
16 Charles Leclerc Sauber/Ferrari 1m20.514s 2.255s 29
17 Carlos Sainz Renault 1m20.672s 2.413s 31
18 Brendon Hartley Toro Rosso/Honda 1m21.265s 3.006s 34
19 Lance Stroll Williams/Mercedes 1m21.556s 3.297s 35
20 Sergey Sirotkin Williams/Mercedes 1m22.060s 3.801s 36
All images: Motorsport Images
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