Lewis Hamilton tops first free practice at the Spanish Grand Prix.
Upgrades galore adorned the paddock as Formula One flocked back to its European heartland. But, once again, it was not long before a Honda issue killed McLaren’s running. Killing Fernando Alonso’s spirit at the start of his home Grand Prix, while Lewis Hamilton set the opening fastest time.
With the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya being an ever present race on the Grand Prix calendar and used time after time for pre-season testing, Formula One teams have bags of data at their factories to prepare for the race with.
That data comes in hand, too, when upgrades are needed as you have a benchmark to work against. Before then arriving at the first European race with a package you know rather than merely hope will bring benefits.
And this year is no different, with new carbon fibre constructions adorning cars up and down the paddock. From Toro Rosso’s new front wing, Ferrari’s new four-element T-Wing and slotted bargeboard to the package Red Bull have aimed for in a bid to move them closer to the top again.
But while Red Bull run an updated package to their seemingly basic version ran from the start of the year, their new bargeboards still look relatively basic when compared with the Mercedes.
That is not helped either with Mercedes bringing more new parts to Spain than those that appear old.
Adding more winglets onto their front suspension mounts, more slotted bargeboard elements and a large scoop vane on the front nose. Along with changes to their under-nose turning vane as they look to better channel airflow vortices exiting from the front wing.
Another area Mercedes has updated is with their engine through reliability gains. Aiming to make a more durable unit. While also bringing a lighter car to Spain but still admit there remains more work to do.
The same must be said for Honda, too. For while McLaren brought an aggressive bargeboard to Spain – one that features a handful of slots while channelling airflow away from the cockpit – Alonso’s first free practice lasted just 12 minutes.
The Spaniard’s session lasted just that slender 12 minutes as his Honda engine packed up early on. Pitching the McLaren into a smoke engulfed spin, before coming to a rest with fluid oozing from the rear.
Alonso’s serious engine failure caused the car to seize to a halt following the spin, meaning a crane was needed to clear the car. Giving even more oil and fluids the chance to pour endlessly out the car. Leaving Fernando even more frustrated at his power unit provider.
“It’s a question for Honda, not for me,” declared Alonso. “The engine blew up after one corner… It’s the way it is, we miss the first session. I feel sorry for the fans. It is tough, but I think it is more tough for McLaren. They bring updates, trying to find milliseconds here or there, and we cannot even run.
Alonso was not alone in having issues, though. With Vettel and Magnussen both at parts struck with apparent gearbox issues.
For Vettel, the current championship leader was forced to pull over at the pit exit after reporting a problem with his gearbox when he slipped out of gear exiting the final corner.
While for Magnussen, late on into the session – while running Haas’ upgraded package – the Dane suffered a late issue that forced him to lock up and loss gears before coming to a rest aside an extraction point. Giving K-Mag the chance to examine the car while it was craned clear.
In terms of lap times, Felipe Massa kicked the leaderboard off with the first benchmark of the weekend via a 1:27.199. A time set on the hard compound Pirelli compound as all drivers lapped on the Italian firms’ hardest offering despite claims the tyre was not best suited for the race.
Magnussen: “There’s absolutely no grip [on the hard tyres].”
The tyres did, meanwhile, allow times to lower. With Bottas slotting into P1 on a 1:25.027, before Raikkonen took to the top with a 1:24.605.
Hamilton soon smashed in a 1:23.614, before improvements from Bottas and Hamilton again swapped the order once more before medium tyres broke out onto the circuit.
With mediums, Magnussen finally had some grip under his belt and bolted up the order as he found two-seconds to the hard compound. Vettel was also back out on track following his early issue, returning to post a 1:22.600 and move top.
Vettel was only top momentarily, though, with Bottas and then Hamilton taking P1 by more than a second to the Ferrari. Further gains were then on offer for both Silver Arrows shortly after, until traffic slowed their progress while Raikkonen ran off track at T13.
Ricciardo in the upgraded Red Bull still remained off the pace of Ferrari and Mercedes during FP1. Running with an unsettled rear end as he struggled for grip, crossing the line on his fastest lap nearly four-tenths down on Verstappen.
|5||Max Verstappen||Red Bull||TAG||22||1’22.706||1.185|
|6||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull||TAG||17||1’23.084||1.563|
|10||Carlos Sainz Jr.||Toro Rosso||Renault||21||1’24.004||2.483|
|11||Sergio Perez||Force India||Mercedes||23||1’24.188||2.667|
|12||Esteban Ocon||Force India||Mercedes||22||1’24.324||2.803|
|15||Daniil Kvyat||Toro Rosso||Renault||18||1’24.642||3.121|