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Start French GP
Spanish Grand Prix 2021

What we learned from Friday practice for the F1 Spanish Grand Prix

The first day of action from the Spanish Grand Prix is over, with plenty to pick apart from Friday practice. What have we learned from the two practice sessions in Barcelona?

To news overview © Pirelli

The first day of practice for the Spanish GP has ended, with Mercedes leading the way with a 1-2 as Lewis Hamilton pipped Valtteri Bottas for top spot.

The expected Red Bull battle didn't unfold, with Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez decidedly midfield at the chequered flag, but is there cause for concern?

Let's run through what we learned from Friday's track action..

Verstappen makes another error

Sure, it's only Friday practice and, sure, it doesn't matter too much in the greater scheme of things. But it was another small error from Max Verstappen that meant the ultimate pace of the Red Bull went unseen. Worse, the Dutch driver damaged his front wing late in the session as he, once again, fell foul of the track limits and hit the kerb at Turn 8.

Verstappen was just a tenth shy of Lewis Hamilton's benchmark pace when he made his error at the new Turn 10, before switching back to long-run pace after aborting his lap.

For whatever reason, it's Verstappen who seems to be constantly tripping up over the track limits regardless of whether they're painted lines or physical kerbs. That same mistake on Sunday would almost certainly mean finishing second best to Mercedes..

Red Bull vs. Mercedes

Last year, Red Bull finished a long way shy of Mercedes at this venue. Barcelona is commonly regarded as a bellwether circuit, thanks to its demands on almost every aspect of a car's performance. Performing well at Catalunya usually is a strong indicator of how good a car is overall, and it certainly appears as though Mercedes have a slight edge.

The long-run pace shown in the race simulations at the end of the session was reasonably evenly matched, with Mercedes opting to split their running between the soft and medium compound. Red Bull only used the softs for their race simulation, and were about two tenths of a second of lap behind Mercedes on average.

It's worth noting that Verstappen was consistently towards the bottom of the speed trap figures, particularly across the start/finish line. Both he and Perez were at the very bottom of these charts, around 10km/h slower than Hamilton, and this suggests that the team are either running a lot of downforce, heavy fuel, or are simply not pushing their Honda engines.

Certainly Verstappen, never one to hide his feelings, seemed confident at the end of the day despite Mercedes' dominant showing, and the Dutch driver can never be ruled out from stepping up to the plate when the chips are down.

“Overall I think we actually had quite a good day and the car seems pretty
competitive," he told media afterwards.

"How competitive we are going to be tomorrow is always going to be a question mark on a Friday but from our side we are quite happy. Of course you always want to improve and do better so we just have to make sure tomorrow that we are up there but I’m looking forward to it.”

Lewis Hamilton was similarly pleased with his day's work, and seemed to have already dialled in the W12 to suit the circuit.

"It's been a good start to the weekend, the track is awesome and our balance is similar to what we had in the last race," he said.

"It looks close but I think we've got good pace - we understand the car and know which direction we need to go balance-wise. We made some tweaks along the way, I don't know if the car got better through the session but there were definitely findings there and we'll analyse the two sessions to hopefully have a better set-up for tomorrow."

Alpine getting on top of early season deficit

Having looked distinctly off the pace in Bahrain and Imola, Alpine hinted at some proper pace last time out in Portugal. While that weekend got away from them, the French team have picked up where they left off again and finished in fourth and fifth in practice.

Split by just half a tenth, Esteban Ocon and Fernando Alonso were just under 0.4 away from the ultimate pace at a circuit that, as mentioned before, rewards cars that are well put together.

Racing Director Marcin Budkowski revealed that there's no updates on the car since Imola, but that the team have been experimenting with correlation between what they're seeing in simulations and the track. Whatever they're doing, it's working, and don't rule out Ocon or Alonso from springing a surprise result sooner rather than later.

Barcelona circuit so close to being amazing

Sure, the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya might not be the prettiest track on the calendar in terms of aesthetics. That's down to its surroundings being a Spanish industrial estate, as opposed to a gloriously leafy Italian park or a gloomy imposing Belgian forest.

But the circuit has always been a fast, flowing spectacle with few hard stops. The first two sectors are joyous to watch onboard, with drivers slicing their way around and barely having to use their brakes to any great extent. But the track was always ruined by the third sector, and its finicky, awkward Turn 10 and final chicane.

The return to the 'old' layout for Turn 10 looks to be a good move, with the radius forcing drivers to reconsider how best to get set up for the following Sabadell corner. Now, if the final chicane could be removed, the entire track would be a gloriously fast and flowing lap.

With the 2022 regulations set to mean cars can actually follow each other far more closely, the circuit could end up producing some fantastic racing and finally ditch its reputation for being a snooze-fest.

RN365 News dossier F1 2021 Spanish Grand Prix

The latest news about the Spanish Grand Prix straight from the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.