The European leg of F1 kicked off this Friday with the first two free practice sessions for the FORMULA 1 GRAN PREMIO DE ESPAÑA EMIRATES 2018, the Spanish F1 Grand Prix, at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya. All eyes focused on the teams’ technical updates and how they played in comparison with their rivals’. After testing the water on the first day of this seasons’ fifth round, the two Mercedes AMG Petronas seem to be one step ahead of the rest. The Brackley team lorded over the FP1 with Valtteri Bottas and a scorching 1m18.148s lap, while Lewis Hamilton showed his might in the second session, on a 1m18.259s.
Although it is certainly too early to draw conclusions, doubts surrounded Ferrari’s garage: some glitches affecting Kimi Räikkönen’s power unit kept him from finishing the second free practice, and he scooped sixth (1m18.829s), while team mate Sebastian Vettel ended fourth (1m18.585s), three tenths of a second slower than Hamilton. Bottas chose not to use soft tyres in FP2 and finished fifth (1m18.611s) for Mercedes.
Aston Martin Red Bull proved they are capable of challenging the two leading teams in the Constructors Championship, placing Daniel Ricciardo second (1m18.392s, trailing Hamilton by as little as 0.133s), and Max Verstappen third (1m18.533s, 0.274s off the pace).
Expectations were high in McLaren: the MCL33 has been thoroughly updated, with a brand new nose standing way apart from the previous model. The Woking team devoted the first practice to gathering aerodynamics information and trying to work out tyre behaviour in the refurbished car. Fernando Alonso ranked sixth in FP1, but then dropped to 12th fastest in the second practice, this time on medium tyres.
Pirelli’s tyre choice of this year’s Grand Prix is one degree softer than in the previous season. Most drivers chose medium and soft compounds for FP1, and focused on the super soft tyre during the second practice. Looking at today’s compounded laps at the Circuit de Barcelona Catalunya, the overall conclusion to be be drawn could be that, apparently, the supersoft compound will not be the preferred choice for the race. Only four drivers (Kimi Räikkönen, Roman Grosjean, Pierre Gasly and Sergey Sirotkin) improved their morning laps in the afternoon session on supersoft tyres. However, Sirotkin had not in fact participated in FP1.
The positive note was Robert Kubica’s comeback to Formula One after his accident seven years ago. He replaced Sergey Sirotkin in FP1, and the Russian driver took charge of the second free session for Williams Martini Racing. Neither Sirotkin nor team mate Lance Stroll were able to beat the Polish reserve driver best lap (1m21.510s). Kubica will be again on board of a single seater in Barcelona next week, during the testing scheduled after this Grand Prix.
On a complex day for Renault, Carlos Sainz collected 17th fastest place in FP2, while team mate Nico Hulkenberg ended a modest 13th.
Albon clinches FIA Formula 2 pole position
Alexander Albon secured the fastest time in the FIA Formula 2 qualifying practice. The DAMS Thai driver clocked a 1m28:142s best lap and will start tomorrow’s race in front row, at 4.40pm. He capitalized on the red flag raised 17 minutes before the end of the practice: while most drivers preferred to extend their pit stop, he jumped back on track as soon as the race restarted. With no traffic on the tarmac, Albon set a blistering pace and pulled an insurmountable gap from his rivals. Nyck De Vries, Luca Ghiotto and George Russell finished behind him, while the only Spaniard on the series, Roberto Merhi, completed the top 10.
Fan Zone and Run the track
One of Saturday’s highlights is the Fan Forum, a unique opportunity for fans to linger closer to their heroes. World Championship drivers are expected at the Fan Zone, located behind the Barcelona-Catalunya circuit main grandstand, shortly after the qualifying practice, between 6 and 7pm. Motorsport lovers will then have the opportunity of asking questions and interacting with some of the main Grand Prix protagonists, such as local heroes Fernando Alonso and Carlos Sainz.
As part of the parallel activities program, a running session is scheduled for tomorrow at 7pm. The 500 participants who have enrolled in the jog will run a lap around the Catalan track. This initiative, sponsored by the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya and Diario Sport media outlet, will offer fans the chance to run on the track just a few hours before the Grand Prix, fully immersed in a Formula 1 setting.
Tickets on sale at www.circuitcat.com.
Tickets for the FORMULA 1 GRAN PREMIO DE ESPAÑA EMIRATES 2018 can be purchased at www.circuitcat.com or at the racetrack box offices as of 8am. Doors 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7 will open on Saturday at 8am.