Valtteri Bottas was fastest in the first practice session for this weekends Spanish Grand Prix. The Finn was eight and a half tenths faster than his Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton on the soft tyres but was faster than Sebastian Vettel despite the German using the supersoft tyres.
Bottas set his fastest time on the softs, putting in good times on his fastest lap in sectors one and three to go miles ahead of his teammate. However, it wasn’t an ideal session for the Finn as he was the first driver to have a spin, after locking up under braking.
Moments later, Vettel followed suit when he spun at the final chicane as did Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson at La Caixa. Brendon Hartley took a trip through the gravel at Repsol in his Toro Rosso and was followed soon after by Romain Grosjean in the Haas.
Since preseason testing, the Circuit de Barcelona – Catalunya has been largely resurfaced, and with teams bringing there first major upgrades of the season drivers had to get to grips with the cars. Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo was the first major casualty, the Australian crashed into the barriers at Repsol.
Ricciardo had a wobble on entry, and took to the gravel, running straight across and nudging the barrier hard enough to break the front left.
Earlier there were been numerous drivers spinning and making mistakes. Bottas made his at La Caixa, this time locking up and running deep after encountering traffic. Further incidents ensued as drivers grappled with the tricky circuit, with both Williams drivers falling foul in quick succession.
However, it looks as if Mercedes have made the most gains on track as Bottas was almost a second faster than Vettel’s Ferrari and his teammate was eight and a half tenths off. Yesterday, Hamilton admitted gee has “zero comfortability” with the car.
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen was fourth fastest, however, the Dutchman set his time on the mediums the slowest compound of tyre which Pirelli has brought this weekend. But that put him ahead of Fernando Alonso.
The McLaren driver, who won in WEC at Spa last weekend, has admitted is a crucial weekend in their season. Alonso finished the session sixth ahead of Ricciardo. In his first ‘official’ outing since the 2010 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Robert Kubica was nineteenth fastest and over a second faster than teammate Lance Stroll.
Stroll was clearly struggling with the Williams, the Canadian spun the car at the chicane, before complaining “unbelievable how bad the balance is, I just want a little bit of understeer”. That caused a second virtual safety car and when that ended, Bottas improved his benchmark yet again.
This weekend and the test next week, is expected to give the teams the best understanding of the cars this season.