Mercedes was fastest in both of Friday’s practice sessions ahead of Red Bull Valtteri Bottas set the pace in FP1 by three hundredths faster than the Red Bull of Max Verstappen. While it was Sir Lewis Hamilton who was fastest in second practice going a tenth ahead of Bottas
Mercedes ahead still the team to beat
Mercedes and Red Bull have been neck and neck, throughout a pulsating start to the 2021 campaign but in Spain, perhaps for the first time this season, it looks like the world champions have taken a significant step forward.
For the third year in a row, Mercedes dominated Friday Practice, and since 2014 they have won every race in Barcelona, apart from 2016 when Hamilton and then-teammate Nico Rosberg crashed into each other. Hamilton does, however, look to be the favourite for pole. The championship leader is looking for his 100th pole this weekend and a record-equalling fifth straight win at the same circuit.
Hamilton appears to have the upper hand, this circuit has been dominated by Mercedes since 2014 because of the performance they have had since then. But Verstappen did make a mistake on his fastest lap and had traffic on another one. The Englishman say that he was impressed with the midfield.
Mercedes looked strong on both qualifying and race pace, Toto Wolff suggested it had been the team’s best start to a weekend of the season up until now. Saying, “I think it was our best Friday so far, so pretty encouraging. We just discussed on the pit wall, so we have 24 hours to really screw it up!”
It looks likely that Mercedes will not need to split set-up and strategy this weekend because they have such a big advantage, Bottas has suggested that will not be happening this weekend. He added, “I think this weekend we’re planning to run the same setup in terms of rear wing and everything.”
“I think for this track, we have a pretty good understanding of what should be the optimal for both. I think from that side it is okay. So tonight, it’s is the usual thing: trying to fine tune the setup as best as we can, because every millisecond we can find, we know it’s going to help in qualifying.”
Bottas suggested however that tyre management this weekend could be difficult as they were overheating on a single lap.
Red Bull optimism
Red Bull drivers are however remaining optimistic despite being behind Mercedes and both Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez being behind. In FP2, Verstappen’s mistake left him six tenths off because of the debris with him running over the kerb. However, he was three tenths off in FP2.
Perez has revealed this season that he has been struggling to adapt to Verstappen’s set up of the car saying “We have such a limited track time with these cars this year, with the new rules of testing and also in practice, that everything happens very quick. It’s very hard to do any work like it used to be in practice, where we had more time. Now, it’s really a couple of runs and the day is over.”
The Mexican was three-hundredths behind Verstappen in FP2, setting his fastest time on the medium tyres but he is not finding the same performance from the car. Perez can and well get better but they need to hope that they can close the gaps between the two drivers.
Leclerc’s promising start
Charles Leclerc had a promising start to the weekend, in FP1 he was just half a second off session-leader Valtteri Bottas in FP1 and just five hundreds off fourth-place Lando Norris in that session, before logging a time good enough for third behind Bottas and Lewis Hamilton, in FP2.
This again highlights a continuing recovery for Ferrari who were 1.2 seconds off Hamilton in the same session in August last year. Leclerc told reporters, “It was a very good day, we had a good day, a clean day, I changed a little bit my approach compared to Portimao – taking it a lot more step-by-step.”
“I’m just driving a lot better and in a better place with the car, so hopefully we can keep on building on that strong first day for tomorrow, as tomorrow will be important obviously, with qualifying, especially on this track. So I think we know where to improve, now let’s see if we make a good job by just getting better where we are struggling.”
Ferrari’s struggles last year first became clear in testing and it is a very different car to the one we saw last season. They are making progress toward Mercedes and Red Bull.
Yesterday we saw Leclerc speak about how he has changed his approach and there are hints of maybe a Ferrari reveal.
Track limits high on the agenda
One of the talking points this season has been track limits and team principals will discuss whether or not they need to change on Saturday in their regular meeting. You need to imagine the issue will be also discussed this evening by the drivers meeting between the GPDA and FIA.
Track limits were a talking point last weekend when Max Verstappen lost a pole position and fastest lap for running wide, Red Bull team boss Christian Horner says that the topic will come under the spotlight. Although there is no debate over Verstappen breaking the rules after running off the circuit in Portimao.
Horner thinks that the consistency of how track limits are applied needs to be discussed. He told Sky Sports ahead of FP1, “I think the main thing for us is that we were over the track limits. So obviously we had lap times [in Portugal] or overtaking places [in Bahrain] taken off us.”
“But I think it’s just the consistency from track to track, from corner to corner. If it’s difficult for the teams to understand, I’m not quite sure how you’re supposed to explain it to the fan.”
Central to all of this is what Toto Wolff described as a ‘Shakespearean novel’ last year when it came to track limits. Some races we have the white line defining the edge of the track and sometimes it’s the edge of the kerb.
We need to remember that the drivers cannot see the white line from the car and there is nothing like a rumble strip on the edge of the track or grass.
Continuing recovery in F1’s financial results
Formula One has released its Q1 financial results showing continuing recovery from the pandemic. Between January and March revenue was $159m up from $17 the previous year while returning a profit of $33m in the first three months of the year.
Of course, revenues are normally at their lowest during the first quarter tend to be lower with only two races being held, and 2020 saw no races during Q1 & Q2 where as only Bahrain took place in Q1 this year. The teams also jointly received $44m for the quarter this year, when there were no payments in 2020.
In addition, the numbers have been impacted because F1 has reclassified some of its revenue streams, with certain elements moving from ‘other’ to ‘primary’ revenue.
Liberty has also re-classified certain components previously reported in other F1 revenue into primary F1 revenue to better align with the way it currently evaluates the business. Primary revenue being classed as F1TV, F2, F3, race hosting fees, broadcasting fees and advertising, secondary revenue.
It says “The more significant components that were reclassified into primary F1 revenue include fees for F1 TV subscriptions, fees for licensing commercial rights for Formula 2 and Formula 3 races, fees for the origination and support of programme footage, fees for broadcast rights for Formula 2 and Formula 3 races, and fees for advertising rights on Formula 1’s digital platforms. Following the reclassification, other F1 revenue is primarily comprised of freight and hospitality revenue.”
In explaining the increase in its 2021 revenue, F1 also revealed a one-off payment which is believed to relate the cancellation of the Vietnamese GP.
Liberty noted: “Primary F1 revenue increased in the first quarter with growth in race promotion, media rights and sponsorship fees. This was primarily due to the recognition of race-specific and season-based income with one race held in the first quarter of 2021 compared to no races in the prior-year period.
Top of the Tweets
Max Verstappen, “I am pretty happy, we had quite a good day. The car seems competitive. We will try to improve to make sure that we are up there tomorrow #KeepPushing Flag of Spain #SpanishGP”
Robert Kubica, Alfa Romeo reserve driver, “It was nice to be back in the car in an official session and I’m sorry about finishing the session like this. I am looking forward to trying the new 18-inch tyres and helping the team in making this important step. It will be an interesting session!”
Alpine, “Both sessions were dense, we tried a lot on both cars and that gives us a lot of data to analyze to find more speed.”
Fernando Alonso, “Overall, I am pleased with our two sessions and I think the car balance feels good, so it gives me confidence for tomorrow.”