It was Mercedes who laid down the gauntlet in Spain on Friday morning, with Valtteri Bottas edging team mate Lewis Hamilton for a Silver Arrows one-two. The Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel was almost one second behind the pacesetter, while Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo was one of two drivers to crash out of the opening session.
FP1: Bottas leads Mercedes one-two as Ricciardo crashes out
Bottas – shod with soft tyres - had a convincing eight-tenths advantage over Hamilton and nine-tenths over Vettel, who finished the session on the supersofts. Max Verstappen came home one second behind the Finn in fourth while the other Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen had to settle for fifth.
McLaren promised a host of upgrades this weekend and the early signs were positive, with Fernando Alonso securing P6 while Stoffel Vandoorne came ninth. Despite Ricciardo’s early exit, he set the seventh-quickest time, just ahead of Romain Grosjean while Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly completed the top ten.
It was a relatively low-key start to the session at a track very familiar to the drivers and teams. But the new asphalt here in Spain is certain to give them something to think about this weekend, and a mixture of medium and soft tyres were on show during the early stages.
Force India’s Esteban Ocon set the first time 15 minutes in, but all the focus soon turned to Robert Kubica. The Williams man, the first driver to debut the supersoft rubber at this track, was competing in a Grand Prix weekend session for the first time since 2010.
It was clear early on that the tail wind – particularly at Turns 9 and 13 – was proving to be a problem. A handful of drivers suffered trips through the gravel – Brendon Hartley and Romain Grosjean among them – while Vettel and Bottas both went for spins as the windy conditions took their toll.
One driver who stayed on track was Hamilton, and the Briton – the winner in Azerbaijan last time out - showed Mercedes’ hand by going top of the timesheet before Bottas then leaped above him. The pair were both shod on the softs at the time, before Hamilton then went for a run out on the medium compound rubber.
It was all going smoothly for Red Bull before Ricciardo encountered the same Turn 4 problem as Hartley and Grosjean – but he was unable to avoid hitting the barriers, albeit very lightly, and his FP1 came to an abrupt end.
The conditions continued to cause concern and Williams, still shod with the softest of the rubber, saw both their drivers encounter problems. Moments after Kubica went for a spin at Turn 13, Lance Stroll lost the rear on entry at Turn 5 and found himself stuck in the gravel.
The remainder of the session played out without incident, with the majority of drivers able to complete decent mileage. The damage to Ricciardo’s Red Bull didn’t seem too serious, and shouldn’t impact the Australian’s FP2.
So will Ferrari deal their hand in the second session? Or will Mercedes further demonstrate their early pace in Barcelona? We’ll find out later…