He was the winner last time out in Baku – and Valtteri Bottas was right back on the pace as running got underway in Spain, the Finn leading Free Practice 1 for Mercedes, ahead of the Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel.
With both Mercedes and Ferrari running heavily updated cars this weekend as the ‘European season’ begins, it was the Silver Arrows who used their upgrades to best effect on Friday morning, although Bottas’ advantage over Vettel was a mere 0.115s. And his happiness at being fastest would have been checked by a suspected hydraulic leak on his car that saw him stuck in the garage for the final part of the session.
After a fairly smooth 89 minutes of running, meanwhile, Lance Stroll brought out the red flags when a big snap of oversteer caused him to run off the circuit at Turn 9, his Racing Point RP19 burying itself into the trackside barriers. He emerged unscathed, having set the 13th fastest time of the session.
Behind the top two, Ferrari's Charles Leclerc finished third, a tenth off Vettel’s pace, while Lewis Hamilton was fourth and six-tenths adrift of Bottas’ time in the second Mercedes, the Briton appearing dissatisfied with his ability to get his Pirelli tyres in the zone.
Haas F1 Team
Absent from the top positions were Red Bull, who opted not to run the soft tyres during the session. Pierre Gasly ended up eighth for the team, while Verstappen was 12th, the Dutchman having endured an eventful FP1 that saw him narrowly avoid hitting a slow-moving Bottas going through Turn 14, before a suspected oil leak saw him consigned to the garage.
Haas planned to spend Friday doing a 'compare and contrast' on their own ‘substantial’ upgrades, with Romain Grosjean testing the new parts and Kevin Magnussen set to get them on Saturday should they be found to be effective. They were very effective, as it turns out, with Grosjean getting to within a second of Bottas’ time in fifth place – despite a few scrappy moments for the Frenchman – and over two-tenths up on what Magnussen was able to manage in the old-spec VF-19.
Sandwiched between the two Haas cars came local hero Carlos Sainz, who gave the fans something to cheer about by going P6 for McLaren. Daniil Kvyat was P9 for Toro Rosso, while the Renaults of Nico Hulkenberg and Daniel Ricciardo – who are both set to run the French manufacturer’s upgraded power units this weekend, as they seek to get back on terms with the rest of the midfield pack – 10th and 11th.
So, it’s Mercedes who strike the first blow in Spain – but expect the times to tumble as we move towards the qualifying simulations of FP2 on Friday afternoon.
FP1 HIGHLIGHTS: 2019 Spanish Grand Prix