Formula 1 championship leader Valtteri Bottas seems determined to continue the momentum from his victory last time out in Azerbaijan by topping the timesheets at the end of the opening practice session of the Spanish Grand Prix.
Once again, Mercedes-AMG and Scuderia Ferrari led the four-way fight at the sharp end of the timing screens, with each team running a raft of major upgrades to their respective cars as the ‘European’ leg of the season gets underway.
Bottas’ eventual advantage on the stopwatch was just 0.115 seconds, and this time the gap was not to his teammate but to Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel. The Finn was the only driver to break the 1m18s barrier during the session, although his early pace was tempered by losing the final quarter of the session with a suspected hydraulics leak in his Mercedes.
Vettel and his Ferrari teammate Charles Leclerc ran in close company on the timing screens, with barely one-tenth of a second separating the pair. Despite having what everyone perceived as the quickest car in pre-season testing, Ferrari has gone winless since the start of the season and came armed with a multitude of new parts to close the gap to Mercedes. These new components included a front wing design inspired by Alfa Romeo’s C38 contender, as well as a redesigned floor and engine cover.
The pair put their upgrades to good effect, running close to Bottas and comfortably outpacing the sister Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton. The Briton was seemingly unhappy with his car’s handling on its Pirelli tyres as he encountered challenges getting them into the right operating window.
Red Bull Racing did not claim its usual positions inside the top six in the session’s final results by dint of not opting to run on Pirelli’s Soft compound tyres. Pierre Gasly and Max Verstappen stuck exclusively to the slower Medium compound rubber and as a result the pair finished eighth and twelfth fastest respectively.
Verstappen had a session rather more dramatic than he would have liked. The Dutch driver almost had a coming-together when he came across a much slower Bottas at the final chicane, leading to him gesticulating wildly at the Finn who had unwittingly compromised his lap. Later on, an oil leak saw him consigned to the Red Bull garages.
A rather surprising fifth-fastest, therefore, was the Haas-Ferrari team. The American outfit ran a number of major upgrades on Romain Grosjean’s car while keeping the sister VF-19 of Kevin Magnussen in its ‘pre-Europe’ configuration to assess these new parts’ performance. Grosjean finished the session fifth-fastest and lapped within one second of Bottas’ fastest time, while Magnussen was seventh-quickest and a quarter of a second slower than his teammate.
They were split by the McLaren of local hero Carlos Sainz Jr. Despite the thinly-populated grandstands, the Spaniard put in a solid sixth-fastest and finished comfortably quicker than rookie teammate Lance Stroll who languished in 16th and almost a second off his pace.
Daniil Kvyat was ninth-quickest for the Honda-powered Toro Rosso team, ahead of the factory Renaults of Nico Hülkenberg and Daniel Ricciardo who are both set to run the French brand’s upgraded power units this weekend.
The session ended with just one minute to go when Racing Point’s Lance Stroll crashed out at Turn 9 and brought out the red flags. The Canadian had snap oversteer and ran into the gravel, burying the nose of his car in the tyre wall.
|FORMULA 1 EMIRATES GRAN PREMIO DE ESPAÑA 2019 – FREE PRACTICE SESSION 1|
|Driver||Team / Entry||Time||Gap||Laps|
|1.||Valtteri Bottas||Mercedes-AMG Motorsport W10||1:17.951||19|
|2.||Sebastian Vettel||Scuderia Ferrari SF90||1:18.066||+ 0.115||20|
|3.||Charles Leclerc||Scuderia Ferrari SF90||1:18.172||+ 0.221||20|
|4.||Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes-AMG Motorsport W10||1:18.575||+ 0.624||22|
|5.||Romain Grosjean||Haas F1 Team VF-19||1:18.943||+ 0.992||25|
|6.||Carlos Sainz Jr.||McLaren F1 Team MCL34||1:19.155||+ 1.204||31|
|7.||Kevin Magnussen||Haas F1 Team VF-19||1:19.180||+ 1.229||27|
|8.||Pierre Gasly||Red Bull Racing RB15||1:19.285||+ 1.334||30|
|9.||Daniil Kvyat||Scuderia Toro Rosso Honda STR14||1:19.364||+ 1.493||34|
|10.||Nico Hülkenberg||Renault F1 Team RS19||1:19.450||+ 1.499||25|
|11.||Daniel Ricciardo||Renault F1 Team RS19||1:19.511||+ 1.560||24|
|12.||Max Verstappen||Red Bull Racing RB15||1:19.844||+ 1.893||14|
|13.||Lance Stroll||Racing Point F1 Team RP19||1:19.855||+ 1.904||28|
|14.||Antonio Giovinazzi||Alfa Romeo Racing C38||1:20.021||+ 2.070||28|
|15.||Alexander Albon||Scuderia Toro Rosso Honda STR14||1:20.030||+ 2.079||25|
|16.||Lando Norris||McLaren F1 Team MCL34||1:20.066||+ 2.115||33|
|17.||Sergio Pérez||Racing Point F1 Team RP19||1:20.459||+ 2.508||26|
|18.||Kimi Räikkönen||Alfa Romeo Racing C38||1:20.591||+ 2.640||22|
|19.||Robert Kubica||ROKiT Williams Racing FW42||1:20.889||+ 2.938||27|
|20.||George Russell||ROKiT Williams Racing FW42||1:20.990||+ 3.039||23|
Image via Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport