The Friday in F1 Spanish GP has multiple to talk with Red Bull Racing on race pace against Mercedes, chassis for Sebastian Vettel and Carlos Sainz plus a Haas surprise.
As we’ve come to expect of F1 Spanish GP weekends, Mercedes were the ones to beat at the Circuit de Barcelona Catalunya on Friday, as they topped the timesheets in both the morning and the afternoon – and comfortably too.
Though the roles of the F1 teams’ two drivers reversed from FP1 to FP2, what was certain was that the trailing team of Red Bull Racing was hardly a factor in the non-competitive struggle for P1 on the board, but with regards to race pace they seemed to be there.
After what was a self-proclaimed productive day for the team, FP2 time-topper Lewis Hamilton said that the latter session of the day was better for him, as he also spoke on the heat. It was something that Mercedes had struggled with at Silverstone, and at Spain it appears they’ll have similar temperatures to contend with.
“It’s definitely been quite tough out there,” said Hamilton. “I don’t think I’ve ever been to Spain when it’s been this hot. The weather is beautiful, but it’s tricky for the car and very tough on the tyres as well. It’s also been quite windy and that can make it difficult out there, but it’s a good challenge.
“It’s been a positive day, particularly the second session which went better for me. We didn’t see any blistering, the tyres felt OK and the long runs didn’t look too bad, but we also didn’t see any blistering last Friday, so we’ll have to remain careful. We’ll debrief this evening and see where we stand and what we can do to improve. The Red Bulls look very close to us on the long runs, so we can expect another close race here.”
At the same time, Valtteri Bottas’ day would have struggled to be more opposite that of his teammate, but his comments largely aligned, bar of course that he struggled more so in FP2 than in FP1, as he battled understeer in the afternoon for an unspecified reason.
Third place-sitter in both F1 sessions, Max Verstappen – who was a whopping nine tenths of Hamilton in FP2, and roughly six tenths off the Briton’s teammate in FP1 – said that the day was largely positive, though he did admit that there is still work to be done on the front of one-lap pace.
As for race pace, the Dutchman is confident even though the harder compounds are once again available to Mercedes, whose only weakness seems to be tyre degradation in the heat. “The car was performing quite well and overall it was a positive day,” said Verstappen. “Over one lap we are clearly still lacking to Mercedes but on the long runs the car felt nice to drive which is of course what is important for the race.
“We are using the hardest tyre compounds here which is different to last weekend. I would maybe have liked the softer tyres but that is not for us to choose, the tyres are manageable and it is pretty hot out there. I expect in Qualifying that Mercedes will still have the edge as they are very fast but who knows in the race.”
Teammate Alexander Albon predicted significant tyre management for this F1 race, as he stated he is happy with the direction things are headed, even if there were some mistakes made with regards to set-up during FP2 and so he may switch to how they ran in FP1.
Meanwhile, in the morning sessions, Ferrari looked particularly competitive, albeit the pace of Sebastian Vettel – who placed fifth in FP1 – was only good enough for a position outside the top ten in FP2. Charles Leclerc, too, dropped as the day went on, as he came fourth in the morning, and sixth in the afternoon session.
Vettel, specifically, was one to keep an eye on as he sported a new chassis, the German getting a replacement after a hairline fracture was discovered on his previous tub. He said after the day that the car felt better, but he didn’t detail in what areas specifically improvement was felt. “It was a mixed day,” he said.
“I was reasonably happy in terms of our one lap pace, even if in the afternoon I struggled a bit more to put the laps together. However generally I have a better feeling with the car. Today we tried a few things and we have learned some things we can use. Let’s see where we are after quali.
“In terms of race pace we should be quite okay, but obviously there is still some work to do. In particular, managing the tyres will be key and with the high temperatures expected to continue, this will be far from easy.” Leclerc added that the race simulation they did showed promise and was better than his expectations as other F1 weekends has been.
Moving on, another F1 driver to get a new chassis was Carlos Sainz of McLaren, who placed outside the top ten in FP1 and only seventh in FP2. He did, though, beat his teammate Lando Norris, who has thus far gotten the better of him in 2020. The Spaniard stated that the pace of his MCL35 was there, but that they are still battling overheating – an issue that cost him in previous rounds, and one that they spent Friday trying their best to sort.
“A normal Friday for us, where we tried a couple of test items and mainly tried to understand the overheating issue we had in my car over the last weekend,” said Sainz. “Unfortunately, the problem is still there and costing lap-time, so we’ll keep investigating in order to take the best decision. Apart from that, performance-wise, the car wasn’t too bad. There are still a few changes to make, but the main focus point now is still the cooling.”
Norris did no better than P13 in Friday’s running, even coming one position worse in FP2. The Briton said he is still chasing grip, but that foundations have been laid after two sessions out on track. Racing Point, meanwhile, were one of three teams to have a driver set their fastest time on the medium tyre, as they did for both Sergio Perez and Lance Stroll in FP1.
The pairing were nonetheless within the top ten in that session, as only Stroll finished running outside the upper half of the field in FP2, when the whole field switched to softs. Upon his return after a forced break, Perez came P7 in FP1 and P8 in the session succeeding it, as he stated it was a physical day in the cockpit, and that he was happy to get back into the groove seamlessly.
“It was great to be back in the car,” said Perez. “I’d missed F1 so much! I’m very pleased to be behind the wheel and working with my team again. I thought it would take me some time to get back up to speed after missing two race weekends, but I’m pleased that I was able to get back into the rhythm very quickly. It was a physical day out there in the high temperatures.
“But the main thing is that we showed promising pace, so I’m looking forward to qualifying tomorrow. We completed the programme, and I’m happy with what we achieved, so we can aim for a good result in qualifying and points on Sunday.” One surprise performance of the day came from Haas, who did well to finish both cars within the top ten in FP1.
They continued their form into the afternoon as Romain Grosjean representing his team colors well by placing fifth in that particular session before having a late engine issue. The Frenchman said that – while the car is no different – the performances are on the up thanks to particularly good set-up work within his team that has unlocked this pace. He added that the lessened power-sensitivity of Barcelona could compliment their car more so than the long straights and sweeping corners of Silverstone.
“I don’t really know where this performance came from,” said Grosjean. “In all fairness, it’s the same car from the beginning of the year, we’ve just been making some good set-up work since Silverstone. The performance there was really good, but it was power sensitive, here that’s maybe a little less. Sixth in FP1, fifth in FP2, then the long-run pace was pretty good too – we’re really happy with all that.
“There’s a little bit more work to be done on the car to bring it more to my liking. I hope nothing changes though, I hope this all stays the same so tomorrow we can go for a really good qualifying session – that would definitely set up a good weekend.” Kevin Magnussen explained that his drop-off in pace in FP2 was due to a failure to get in a good low-fuel lap on the board.
One other strong performance of the day was Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo’s, the Australian coming P4 for FP2. He explained that in the morning he was unhappy with the car, but that a resolution of the issue at the root of that problem allowed him to go faster in FP2, and get a better read on its performance.
Having had this, he is confident heading into the F1 race. Meanwhile, Esteban Ocon stated that his team will be working to find more consistency from his car. At Alpha Tauri, both drivers will be leaving Silverstone feeling satisfied, as Pierre Gasly and Daniil Kvyat both completed their respective test programs, the latter even overcoming a problem to do so.
The similarly-named Alfa Romeo team, though, the general consensus was that work needed to be done, as Spain continues to deliver them poor pace as Silverstone, the Hungaroring, and the Red Bull Ring did before it. Williams sent out Roy Nissany – their test driver – in FP1, and – despite a spin – the Israeli driver managed to replicate on some level the pace of Nicholas Latifi. He was incredibly happy with his running, as he feels he delivered in the session. Meanwhile, both Latifi and George Russell struggled to get to grips with the hot temperatures at the circuit.
Here’s how F1 Spanish GP FP1 panned out
Here’s how FP1 of F1 Spanish GP panned out