Sebastian Vettel took the top spot in the first practice session of the weekend for the 2016 Spanish Grand Prix, to make it a one-two for the Scuderia Ferrari squad, who were the only team to use the soft Pirelli compound tyre during the session.
The German set a superb time of 1m23.951s to take first place, following a lengthy time in the pits at the start of the session. The Ferrari man headed up the leader board from team-mate Kimi Raikkonen, who had led the times initially, but the Finn had to settle for second in the end, just one tenth shy of the German’s time. The Maranello-based squad were the only team to use the soft rubber during the session, so could Ferrari be on a different strategy to their rivals this weekend?
The times being recorded during this FP1 session were impressive, beating the fastest time set in FP1 during 2015, of 1m26.828s, by almost three seconds.
The Mercedes AMG PETRONAS drivers of Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton in contrast, spent the whole of the FP1 session on the medium compound tyre, finishing in third and fourth position respectively. There was a new ICE and MGU-K for the German here in Spain, and a new turbo and newly designed MGU-H for the Brit, who had experienced technical problems with that part in the last two races and will be hoping to overcome those here at the Circuit de Catalunya, where qualifying on pole is all important.
Rosberg once again looked cool and calm as he racked up the laps in the W07, Hamilton meanwhile had a few shaky moments as he ran wide at Turn 1 in particular, the Brit exploring the limits, as he looks to close the gap on his team-mate.
Daniel Ricciardo was fifth for the Red Bull Racing team, just two tenths ahead of newly appointed team-mate Max Verstappen, who has switched places with Daniil Kvyat, now back with the Scuderia Toro Rosso squad where he made his F1 debut back in 2014, for the rest of the season. The Australian did set the fastest time of the session on the hard compound tyre, but it was hard to judge his pace accurately as it was not used by many other teams.
Verstappen meanwhile struggled to get the right balance in the RB12 at the beginning of the session, as well as experiencing problems with acceleration, before an off at Turn 1 caused a big lock up for the Dutchman and a massive flat spot on his front right tyre. But as the new RBR recruit got more and more used to the Red Bull machine, his times and places in the order improved, and he ended the session in sixth place, with a time set on the medium rubber.
It was a relatively quiet session for the Williams Martini Racing squad, with Valtteri Bottas the first of their drivers in seventh place. Early in the session the Finn had experienced a small electrical issue with the Fw38, but that did not seem to hinder his performance too much. Team-mate Felipe Massa meanwhile, seemed to struggle with the Williams, having two off-track moments at Turn 5 as he tried to keep things under control. The Brazilian finished further down the order in ninth place, five tenths slower than Bottas.
Carlos Sainz Jr was the first of the Toro Rosso runners in eighth place, the Spaniard having a steady session at his home Grand Prix, where he will be hoping to perform well for the fans. New team-mate Kvyat meanwhile finished five tenths off the pace of Sainz down in twelfth position, after spending a long time in the pits, as the team worked on a seat adjustment as well as other set-up changes, as the Russian got used to being back at Toro Rosso.
Having brought a number of upgrades to Spain, the McLaren-Honda team were looking to find a step up in performance here at the Circuit de Catalunya. Fernando Alonso finished the session in the top ten, but Jenson Button had a troublesome FP1. First of all the Brit reported getting a bit hot down the right hand side of his seat, before later advising that as soon as he started turning the steering wheel, it turned the rear of the car. The team could not find a resolution to the 2009 world champion’s issues and Button ended the session down in nineteenth place, nearly one and a half seconds off the pace of his team-mate.
Kevin Magnussen was the first of the Renault Sport F1 runners, finishing just out of the top ten in eleventh place, the Enstone-based team having brought a number of updates for this weekend’s Grand Prix and hoping for a good result. For FP1 the Dane’s team-mate was Reserve Driver Esteban Ocon, who had replaced Jolyon Palmer, but it was not a great session for the Frenchman, who suffered a slow puncture early in the session, and after completing just six laps without setting any time, an issue with the car ended his session early.
Sahara Force India were another team that had made massive changes to the car here in Spain, and evaluating those changes was the main order of the session for the team. Nico Hulkenberg finished just ahead of team-mate Sergio Perez, who had problems with the VJM09 mid session when smoke began to pour from the rear. The Mexican was unsure at the time if it was brake or engine related, and pitted so the mechanics could take a look. The team later confirmed it had been an oil leak that had caused the problem, and after some fast work from the mechanics, Perez was able to get back out on track, albeit with just four minutes of the session remaining.
Felipe Nasr was next up in the Sauber in fifteenth place, the Brazilian still looking to be struggling with the C35. He finished ahead of the first of the Haas F1 Team runners, Romain Grosjean. The Frenchman complained for most of the session about the troublesome VF16, commenting over team radio that the car was a disaster at low speed, with no rear-end grip. It was an unhappy Grosjean once again.
Marcus Ericsson was eighteenth in the second Sauber, ahead of Button, with the Manor Racing team duo of Pascal Wehrlein and Rio Haryanto bringing up the rear, in twentieth and twenty-first position, ahead of Ocon who did not set a time in the Renault.
Do Ferrari have something up their sleeve for the race this weekend? Will Mercedes have a fight on their hands? The scene has been set for an interesting weekend!
2016 Circuit de Catalunya Free Practice 1 Results
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