Both Mercedes topped the times in both of Friday’s practice sessions for this weekends Spanish Grand Prix. In FP1, Valtteri Bottas was eight and a half tenths faster than Lewis Hamilton, while in FP2 it was Hamilton a tenth faster than Bottas.
Mercedes on fire
Mercedes look to be the team which have gained the most with this first round of upgrades as in FP1 Bottas was comfortably ahead of Hamilton. In winter testing Mercedes didn’t really show much of there single lap pace.
As expected Mercedes set the pace in both of the sessions, but it looks as if the gap has opened up. The team were a second faster during FP1, but as expected that gap came down in FP2. But certainly, Mercedes have pace on the track.
However I don’t think we saw Ferrari manage to show real performance on the track and both Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen made mistakes. If they are really off the pace this weekend and going forwards there will be questions.
Hamilton says he isn’t convinced that Mercedes is that far ahead, and is convinced that Ferrari was sandbagging on track. Saying “ I think it’s still very close. Not really quite sure where Ferrari’s pace was today, but they’re probably sandbagging, or something, they’ll bring it out tomorrow.”
“The Red Bull’s obviously very close to my pace, so I think, again, it’s going to be relatively close between the top three teams.”
Teammate Bottas offered a similar assessment to Hamilton’s, saying: “Things can really change from Friday to Saturday, we know that Ferrari is still going to be there tomorrow, and Red Bull looks quick.”
Vettel, for his part, stressed that he pushed for the best possible laptime on Friday, and insisted that overnight improvements would not “come for free”.
Upgrades, upgrades and upgrades
All the teams have relived there first major upgrades of the season. One of the most striking was the McLaren nose. The ‘capped nose’ features two nostrils on either side with two veins on either sides which is combining ideas from Mercedes, Sauber and Force India.
Ferrari has gone as we saw with the technical directive with new wing mirrors on the halo, this increase the airflow. But in FP1 we saw the FIA inspect these. Red Bull was focused around the bargeboards, it looks like a snow plow and the team are expecting “a couple of tenths” worth of lap-time improvement out of the package but, if a true title challenge they need a net two tenths.
Mercedes focus has been on a consistent development rate since testing, but there’s no obvious to the untrained eye updates. But there were minor tweaks to the car. Renault brought their upgrades in Baku, but they have a new front wing as well aerodynamic tweaks, including new front-wing endplates, are in addition to a fuel update from partners BP, designed to boost engine performance.
As we have already mentioned there is some debate about Ferrari’s wing mirrors, but Sebastian Vettel says the new wing mirror design offers better rear visibility and, in his opinion, makes the Halo more attractive.
The new winglet suggests that there is some kind of aero gain, though the team l insists the mirrors also offer better rear visibility. Vettel said “That’s why we changed it because it was quite difficult for us to see cars behind.”
“Now they are in a bit of a different position, and I can see a little bit better below the rear wing. So that’s why we changed it. I think it also looks better. The Halo is still not pretty, but it makes it look a little bit better.”
Speaking about his underperformance in FP2, he suspects the main issue is with the tyres, which have a thinner thread than normal to prevent overheating.
“Today I think was OK — car balance, I’m reasonably happy. I think overall it’s been a tricky day with the tyres to understand what they are, because we changed. We had to change, everybody had to change. We’ll see.
Robert Kubica made his first outing at a Grand Prix since November 2010, but he says that the Williams car was “not enjoyable” and “hard work”, while he was satisfied with his performance.
Kubica was only nineteenth fastest, 3.3 seconds off the pace and teammate Lance Stroll, who crashed with half an hour to go, was twelfth.
“It’s difficult to say that it was enjoyable because our car balance was very bad and it was very difficult to drive, so it was difficult to enjoy it. But I’m satisfied with the session and how I reacted to difficult conditions and a difficult balance.”
“It sounds strange that you can be happy about P19 but actually I’m happy. To enjoy it you need to have a car which is suiting your driving style and is giving you margin to drive it.” The Pole says that the team knows the weakest part of the car and there were no short-term fixes.
Force India fined
Force India have been fined for an unsafe release in FP2. The team failed to attach the left front to Sergio Perez’s car properly in the latest incident with tyres this season.
Perez and a Force India representative were summoned by the stewards, who considered a fine was sufficient as the team gave Perez the appropriate instructions after realising what the problem was.
“Unusually, the wheel clamped to the car and it was not immediately apparent that the wheel was not fully fitted,” the stewards explained in a statement.
Kevin Magnussen has been awarded a reprimand after narrowly avoiding a collision with Charles Leclerc’s Sauber during FP1.
In the final moments of the session, Leclerc was closing on the slower-moving Magnussen on the pit straight and moved to pass on the inside line, only for Magnussen to move across, forcing Leclerc to back off sharply.
The stewards summoned him for “alleged impeding and a potentially dangerous manoeuvre”, but only the latter charge was upheld, resulting in a reprimand rather than a more severe sanction from the panel led by former F1 driver Derek Warwick.
If Ferrari’s on track performance is to be believed, Mercedes would take pole hand down. However, no one really believes that Ferrari is that far behind Mercedes we should see the team raise their game in FP3 then we will know for sure.
I don’t think that Red Bull can be in this fight as they have struggled in recent years to fight at this type of circuit. But they can be there if any of the top four drivers have problems. Grid position is important here as only three of twenty-seven races have not been won from pole.