The European leg of the Formula One season began with Nico Rosberg narrowly posting the fastest time in the opening free practice session at the Spanish Grand Prix.
Brushing off the dust from the three-week break, Formula One roared back into action under the early Spanish sun. Although the temperatures were not blistering, Rosberg hit the Circuit de Catalunya to post the fastest early times, narrowly edging out Hamilton as the teams looked to see if their early season upgrades had worked or not.
When the 90-minute session flicked into action, the 4.655km track sat at 19˚C, with air temperatures just one degree lower. But the drivers heading out for FP1 on the Pirelli hards included Jolyon Palmer (for Grosjean), Raffaele Marciello (for Ericsson) and Susie Wolff (for Bottas) as the trio took one of their Friday drives at the Spanish Grand Prix.
Developments were also being tested out up and down the field at one of the most vital stages of the season. For Ferrari, they were going for an aggressive and bold strategy of using 16 new pieces at once. Mercedes on the other hand were going for a more conservative strategy with less new pieces at once, but still hoping for developments to keep them ahead.
After the early minutes ticked by, all drivers had taken to the track to carry out an installation lap but most swiftly returned to their garages as the Mercedes duo set the early benchmark time with low 1:31’s. McLaren’s installation lap was also the first time their new livery was seen on track following the change away from chrome to grey.
Over the opening 30 minutes of FP1, more drivers posted a lap time, with the Ferrari of Vettel slotting in between the two Mercedes drivers. The upgraded Ferrari was however slightly off the Mercedes at any one point, while Raikkonen was further back.
Both teams, including others, were running aerodynamic upgrades including a new stepped sidepod on the Ferrari along with changes to the floor and shrunken sidepods. For Hamilton and Rosberg, they now have fins on the barge boards of the Mercedes to direct the airflow around the sidepod and towards a new cooling duct.
As for Red Bull, they were finally running with a new front wing after looking to bring it to the car over the opening stages of the season. And for McLaren, they were running with flo-vis paint covering the front of the car as they looked to understand their upgrades.
As the drivers looked to settle into their modified cars, Felipe Nasr almost lost control of his Sauber through turn 9 but held on during a sideward moment for the Brazilian. Sergio Perez on the other hand ran very wide at turn 4 and was forced into a trip through the gravel to make his way back onto the track.
Meanwhile, the Silver Arrows continued to set the pace and in doing so increased their lead over Ferrari during the opening session. As the final thirty minutes approached, the pace-setting Nico Rosberg was eight tenths clear of Vettel and 1.4 seconds clear of Raikkonen. While Alonso sat in eight for McLaren, six tenths ahead of 15th placed his team-mate.
Daniel Ricciardo also remained in the Red Bull garage for most of the session after completing just two installation laps. Both of his runs were brought to an early end after the team spotted an issue and called him back to the garage.
Back out on track, Nico Rosberg was showing an aggressive approach as he took to the pit lane. But his aggressive, or just late, entry to the pit lane saw the German enter after the safety bollard and an investigation swiftly followed for Nico.
Nevertheless, Nico Rosberg remained in P1 throughout the late stages of the session and topped the time sheet by just seven hundredths of a second. Hamilton’s second place was more than clear of Sebastian Vettel, while his former team mate managed to return to the track and get the Red Bull up to 9th. But despite Ricciardo moving up to P9 by the chequered flag, neither Red Bull driver was able to complete more than 10 laps.