Lewis Hamilton has gone fastest in the first practice session for the Spanish Grand Prix. With the European season kicking off at the Circuit de Catalunya, teams have brought have a raft of updates to their cars and there was plenty of testing going on during FP1. Test drivers Felipe Nasr and Giedo van der Garde were out in action, taking over from Valtteri Bottas and Esteban Gutierrez at Williams and Sauber respectively.
Following domination from Mercedes in the first four races – including three 1-2 finishes – the European season offers the chasing pack their best opportunity to start catching the leaders. The circuit places a lot of emphasis on aerodynamics and downforce which could play a key part in allowing the likes of Red Bull and Ferrari to gain an advantage over Mercedes. In the race last year Nico Rosberg started from pole position with Lewis Hamilton in second; however, both drivers lost out in the race because of tyre struggles. Rosberg finished in sixth place while Hamilton dropped ten places to 12th. Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso, who won the race – his home race – last year, revealed in the drivers press conference on Thursday that he was unlikely to even achieve a podium this weekend. Amongst Ferrari’s upgrades for this weekend are a new front wing, which Alonso ran with in FP1, a revised engine cover and body work towards the rear of car, along with a new rear wing for Kimi Raikkonen.
During the session, Force India’s Sergio Perez, lost one of his mirrors and had to return to the pits holding onto it in the cockpit. Sebastian Vettel stopped out on track after setting a lap-time, with over an hour of the session remaining. He encountered an electrical problem. Vettel is using a different chassis this weekend – one that was used in pre-season testing – as Red Bull continue to look for ways to close the gap to Mercedes. Team-mate Daniel Ricciardo is expected to get a different chassis come the British Grand Prix. Shortly after Vettel’s car ground to a halt, Caterham’s Marcus Ericsson was told over team-radio that he had a software problem on his engine which was also being encountered by other Renault-powered teams. Elsewhere, Mercedes – who have brought a revised front wing this weekend – completed some mid-session changes to the ERS cooling system in Rosberg’s car, taking the floor off to do so.
Sauber’s test driver van der Garde had a hairy moment at turn one when he suffered brake failure, narrowly avoiding a collision with a barrier. Other than Vettel coming to a stop on track, and a few drivers running wide at various points on the track, the session was fairly trouble free in terms of drivers encountering problems on track.
Hamilton ended the session fastest, eight tenths ahead of McLaren’s Jenson Button and nine tenths ahead of Red Bull’s Ricciardo. Alonso, Rosberg, Raikkonen, Kevin Magnussen, Pastor Maldonado, Perez, and Felipe Massa rounded out the top ten. Massa had spent a lot of time in the garage – along with Nasr – and Williams only completed a handful of laps between the duo.