Mercedes dominated the opening practice session for the Spanish Grand Prix but Friday morning’s running was more notable for a number of incidents as multiple drivers made errors.
Valtteri Bottas set the pace with a 1m18.148s, leaving him over 0.8s clear of teammate Lewis Hamilton as Mercedes ended first and second. The gap was significant but only because of an improvement from Bottas on a second new set of soft tires, while Hamilton switched to the medium compound for his second run.
Sebastian Vettel was third for Ferrari but his best time of 1m19.098s left him nearly a second off Bottas, and the German had used the supersoft tire for the majority of the session. Running updated wing mirrors on the Ferrari that are mounted from the Halo instead of the sidepods, Vettel also had a spin at Turn 13, one of many drivers to make an error.
While Max Verstappen was fourth and within 0.1s of Vettel while using the medium tire for his best time, his Red Bull teammate Daniel Ricciardo was one of the big casualties of the session after crashing at Turn 4. Ricciardo lost the rear in a corner that was catching many drivers out due to the wind, and after catching the slide ran straight through the gravel and broke the front wing against the tire barrier.
The incident brought out the Virtual Safety Car to remove the Red Bull, with Ricciardo’s crash following two trips through the gravel for Romain Grosjean and one for Brendon Hartley at the same corner.
Ricciardo ended up in seventh place, with Kimi Raikkonen – like Vettel also using supersofts – fifth and Fernando Alonso in sixth. Alonso’s lap time was a source of encouragement for McLaren as the team ran a number of eye-catching aerodynamic updates, including a front wing and nose assembly that features a number of slots and additional winglets.
Alonso used the soft tire throughout the session to ensure a stable baseline to analyze the updates, but was still 1.7s off Bottas on the same tire. Grosjean ended up eighth despite his struggles – also going off at Turn 7 – ahead of Stoffel Vandoorne in ninth and Pierre Gasly in 10th.
At the wrong end of the timing screens were Williams, with a tricky start to the weekend for the team slightly overshadowing Robert Kubica’s return to competitive F1 action for the first time in over seven years. Kubica replaced Sergey Sirotkin in FP1 but ended up 19th fastest after a spin at Turn 13 on what was set to be his best lap on supersoft tires.
Kubica improved later on but was 3.3s off the pace as a result, although teammate Lance Stroll had an even more difficult session as he went off at Turn 5 immediately after Kubica’s spin and got stuck in the gravel to bring out the Virtual Safety Car for a second time. That off ended Stroll’s running prematurely and he finished 20th, 1.3s adrift of Kubica.
Aside from the aforementioned mistakes, Marcus Ericsson also went off at Turn 12, while his teammate Charles Leclerc ended the session complaining about Kevin Magnussen. The Dane continues to attract controversy and swerved to block the Sauber at top speed before the braking zone for Turn 1.
“Magnussen needs to understand he’s not alone on track,” Leclerc said over team radio. “Honestly. He’s on a slow-down lap and he stays on the line. Every time it’s him. Every time.”