Mercedes Valtteri Bottas set the pace in both of the practice sessions ahead of the Spanish Grand Prix. He was a tenth faster in FP1 ahead of Sebastian Vettel and in FP2 he was four-hundredths of a second faster teammate Lewis Hamilton.
Mercedes lead the way
Valtteri Bottas has set the pace throughout practice topping FP1 by a tenth over Sebastian Vettel by two tenths and teammate Lewis Hamilton by four-hundredths of a second in FP2. Mercedes pace in Barcelona has generally been strong in recent years, and despite the upgrades, they have remained ahead.
While it was believed that Ferrari would have been closer as we have seen at some races this season, the gap has grown between the top two. In second practice it was around three tenths, which is about the average we have come to expect this season.
While I thought that this might happen, I was hoping that we would begin to see something from Ferrari but then again Mercedes have won every race, expect 2016, in the hybrid era in Barcelona. Mercedes have continued to step up and maintain that pace.
Bottas said, “It’s always an interesting day when you’re bringing new parts to the car to get a feel for it and see if they bring the performance they should. The car felt really good today, completely different to how it was in winter testing.”
“It seems like our cornering performance has improved. The balance around the lap is also better, so it looks like we’ve taken the right direction since the winter.”
Hamilton added, “It was quite windy on track today and it was a bit tricky with the grip levels on the three different tyres, but we got through our programme and now have lots of data to analyse tonight and then fine-tune the car for tomorrow.”
“It seems like it’s working, but it’s hard to feel it because this track is so different to the streets of Baku. We’ve got work to do with the balance, but it’s been positive for us to be out there.
Ferrari’s upgrade shortcut
Ferrari’s earlier engine upgrade introduced in Barcelona is a legacy of it deciding to “shortcut” its development programme after the very first race. In testing, the Scuderia topped the times but has been comfortably beaten by Mercedes in the first four races.
The team brought its first aerodynamic upgrade of the season to the last race in Azerbaijan and has brought more new parts to Spain this week, as well as an updated engine that was originally planned for Canada in two races’ time.
Team principal Mattia Binotto explained: “Obviously when you are planning such a change on your schedule you need to do it a few weeks ago. It’s not something we decided within that week. We recognised that we may have been late on our performance compared with our competitors.”
“We tried to push on all the main items where we were already planning developments. We were looking for opportunities in anticipating some of the programmes. We did it already with an aero package in Baku which was introduced earlier compared to our initial programme. We did it here as well for the power unit.”
However, the team may have shot themselves in the foot as the regulations restrict the teams to three power units. This means that it must complete the remaining races with the partially-used original engine, the new spec and the final upgraded unit.
Asked by Motorsport.com if that would force Ferrari into a fourth engine at the end of the year, Binotto said he did not anticipate needing grid penalties.
Verstappen forced to change engine
Max Verstappen was forced to take an engine change between FP1 and FP2 following a oil leak during the first session. The Dutchman had started the day with the Spec 1 unit that he used in the first three Grand Prix’s of the season.
However, the early move to the spec 2 is will not be seen as a major issue as Honda was planning to change the engines overnight. The concern will be if there is a sign of a serious issue that means that Verstappen’s Spec 1 engine is no longer usable.
If that proves to be the case, it might have to be dropped from the pool earlier than planned, thus potentially edging Verstappen closer to penalties later in the season.
Honda F1 boss Toyoharu Tanabe, “We’ve now changed the PU on Max’s car following the oil leak that occurred during FP1. Both cars started FP1 with Spec 1 PUs with a plan of changing them for Spec 2 tonight, therefore Max’s PU change has happened just one session earlier than planned.”
Teammate Pierre Gasly is unaffected.
Looking for upgrades
Most of the teams have brought the first major upgrade package of the year for the Spanish Grand Prix. Mercedes are continuing to push, they have introduced a new aero upgrade to boost downforce which they need here as it is a downforce dependent circuit.
Ferrari has brought a new front wing, adding an inside flap which we have seen on the Red Bull. The car also had a new floor fitted to its car in Baku as well as the engine upgrade brought forward from Canada.
Red Bull has described their upgrades as “fairly subtle” but they have introduced a tapered edge on the outer edge as they have done in recent years here.
Haas has one of the biggest upgrades, although it’s only on Romain Grosjean’s car. They have a new floor, new barge boards and front wings.
McLaren has brought minor upgrades across the car, but the most noticeable was the front wing. The team carried out several runs using flow-vis paint as they tried to understand the airflow over the front of the car.
While engine supplier, Renault are introducing a fresh engine onto their cars this weekend. The upgrade, which Daniel Ricciardo ran on their own RS19 in opening practice, is being billed as delivering both performance and reliability improvements.
Regulation changes exposes strengths and weaknesses – Norris
McLaren’s Lando Norris believes that the regulation changes are exposing the strengths and weaknesses of cars more than the regulations did in the past.
In the first four races of the season the gap between the midfield teams as fluctuated race by race, with the Bristolian sceptical that the rapidly changing order can be explained by the difficulties some teams are having managing tyres.
McLaren believes that things are shuffling around because of the way that the 2019 car changes aimed at helping overtaking have altered how teams need to approach set-up.
“Maybe some teams think it is that [tyres], but I think the cars this season, the set-ups and how everyone is with the front wings, and how everyone has tried to maximise everything, varies quite a bit from track to track,” explained Norris.
“You have got lower-downforce and higher-downforce tracks, and we have places where you need lower drag.” Norris believes that the range of circuits so far this year has highlighted the weaknesses and strengths of the different teams.
“That is something we have been able to pick out quite easily: where we are strong, where we are weak and also where other teams are strong and weak. I don’t think it is so much the tyres, maybe a small amount of it is, but I think it is more just how the fundamental car is set up – at least for us.”
Williams swaps chassis
Williams has swapped the chassis of Robert Kubica and George Russell for this weekend, with Russell using his teammate’s car from the first four races of 2019.
Kubica has complained all season of discrepancies between his and Russell’s car and after Friday practice at Barcelona Russell said the previous differences between the two cars was put down to “a sensor issue”.
Russell, however, revealed that both drivers are using different chassis now anyway. He explained that Kubica was due to get a new chassis and has taken over the one that Russell drove for the first time in the previous race in Azerbaijan.
Russell had to switch to a new chassis in Baku following his bizarre crash with a drain cover in opening practice. He added, “There was a new chassis that Robert was getting, that was always the plan. Because my chassis was damaged from Baku, I’ve now been allocated Robert’s chassis.”
Despite the change and minor upgrades, Kubica remained unconvinced that progress has been made.