Spanish GP Free Practice: Mercedes lead the way as Red Bull make inroads

Henry Kelsall

Mercedes lead the way in Free Practice for the Spanish Grand Prix as Red Bull made a good step forwards with their new upgrade package for the weekend.

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Mercedes unveiled an extensive upgrade to the W08 and it appears to have worked, Lewis Hamilton topping both FP1 and FP2 with a 1:21.521 in the morning and a 1:20.802 in the afternoon. Teammate Valtteri Bottas was 0.029 and 0.090 behind respectively in both sessions and looks to be right in the mix for both the win and the pole for the Grand Prix. The Finn will be brimming with confidence after his win in Sochi last time out. Ferrari were three tenths behind in FP2 after being around a second off the pace in FP1, with Sebastian Vettel ahead of Kimi Raikkonen. The Scuderia though is unlikely to be concerned, with fuel loads and engine settings no doubt varying across the top two teams. Vettel had a gearbox issue in FP1 but was able to return to the track to complete more of his program and ran faultlessly in FP2 despite a minor off at turn 4, but acknowledged that there was some ground to make up in the car’s set-up.

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Red Bull meanwhile appeared to have made good progress with their upgrades for this weekend, although it is less substantial than expected and not as extensive as what Mercedes have brought. Normally one second plus off the pace, Max Verstappen was 0.636 slower than Hamilton in FP2 and this represents great progress from the Red Bull team with both drivers feeling as if the team has made a good step forwards. Although Verstappen said he feels “more needs to come from the engine” and of course Renault’s upgrade is delayed from Canada to Baku. It will be interesting to see how they fare in the race and qualifying compared to their rivals but Red Bull is probably a much clearer third than they were in Russia where Williams put them under pressure.

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Renault had a great Friday and look to have stolen a march on Williams. Hulkenburg was P9 in FP1 and was P7 in FP2, Jolyon Palmer behind him in P8 and ahead of Massa’s 9th placed Williams. They surprised many with both their short run and long run pace and are well in the hunt for points this weekend. Haas showed promise in FP1 with Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean 7th and 8th but they slid to 11th and 15th in FP2, a gearbox issue ending Magnussen’s FP1 early. Force India had hoped to close the gap to Red Bull but they clearly have not done so, both drivers outside the top ten in both sessions. Toro Rosso are also in the points hunt but two teams that probably aren’t are Sauber and McLaren. Sauber have had to delay their upgrades until Monaco so expect to struggle in Spain whereas Fernando Alonso’s engine decided to let go in FP1 after just three corners. He left the track to play tennis but he and Stoffel Vandoorne both ran laps in FP2. Vandoorne was 13th in Fp1 & FP2, whereas Alonso was last in both sessions.