Valtteri Bottas set the pace in the first practice session ahead of the Spanish Grand Prix, after outpacing Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel by a tenth. The Mercedes driver set the pace using the soft tyre trading times with Vettel and teammate Charles Leclerc.
Bottas then established himself midway through the session as the fastest driver with two fast laps, however, his session was brought to an early conclusion as he was forced to stop running because of an oil leak with the car suffering a precautionary engine shutdown.
Ferrari was looking for a strong weekend, this is a start but the questions about all-round pace will remain until Saturday. Vette was a tenth off, with Leclerc a further tenth behind. Both teams have brought big upgrades this weekend, but the pressure is more on Ferrari as they will look to close the gap to Mercedes.
Lewis Hamilton was unable to challenge the top three, the five times champion finished over half a second off his teammate. The Englishman looked to struggle with tyre wear on his flying lap, but Mercedes certain appear to have the pace on a single lap.
The session was one of the most important and anticipated practice sessions of the year as teams introduce their first big car upgrade packages – and every team had at least something additional on their car or engine. Haas appears to be the biggest winners early on, though Romain Grosjean in fifth was the upgrades.
Carlos Sainz managed to split the pair in sixth, the McLaren running upgrades to go two hundredths faster than the second Haas of Kevin Magnussen. Red Bull had a fairly low key morning, Pierre Gasly only eighth fastest, nine hundredths faster than Daniil Kvyat.
Red Bull’s lack of pace one of mystery, the aero upgrade not appearing to bring them closer to Mercedes and Ferrari. Verstappen nearly suffered a collision early on with pacesetter Bottas.
Renault has brought an engine upgrade, but they have so far been cagey as to whether the works cars are using it. Nico Hulkenberg was using it that put him six-hundredths faster than his teammate Daniel Ricciardo.
The session was brought to an early conclusion when Lance Stroll crashed his Racing Point. The Canadian suffering a wobble on the exit of Campasa, which sent him straight on and into the barriers nose first.
He emerged unharmed, although the front of his car picked up significant damage, and the session ended under red flags.
Although Williams finished the session at the bottom as they have done all season, some signs of progress are coming through. Robert Kubica was only four tenths off Kimi Raikkonen in an Alfa Romeo which uncharacteristically looked to be the slowest midfield car.