During the first practice of the Spanish Grand Prix, almost all the teams avoided using the medium compound tires, to keep them for the afternoon session when the conditions would be similar to those in which they would be raced. Once all three compounds were run, the teams discovered a significant difference in lap times between them. “We have a delta between hard and medium which is quite large, up to a second, maybe a little over a second,” said Mario Isola, F1 manager at Pirelli. “Between medium and mild, we are talking about 0.7, 0.8.”
These are larger gaps than what was seen last weekend in Portugal, a much less demanding track for rubber, where the C1, C2 and C3 compounds were also used. “We are talking about a complete difference here with a circuit with this level of grip which is not comparable to what we had in Portimao,” said Isola.
Red Bull showed a steady pace in the first few tests, with Max Verstappen sharing the times with Mercedes on soft tires. Significantly, this weather was his best of the day.
Whatever their pace in the second session, it remains uncertain. Neither Verstappen nor Sergio Perez did a practice qualifying lap and both appeared to be focusing on tire wear for the race.
On the radios, Verstappen was told to preserve his left front tire, which still takes a pounding on this track. More tellingly, Perez was told at the end of the session that his pace seemed ideal, given Mercedes’ race simulation laps, which stabilized around the 1’23 mark.
Red Bull CEO Christian Horner suggested after the session that Mercedes was the team to beat. “Qualifications are crucial,” he said. “It is important that we are close to Mercedes this weekend.”
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“I think it would be amazing if we could beat Mercedes on this kind of track,” he added. “We just don’t need to concede too many points right now, with our eye on the long game. “
It looks like the usual game of bluffing and counterbluffing. Lewis Hamilton, after leading the session, certainly thought there was more time to be found in the laps of the Mercedes.
McLaren may also have concealed their pace in the afternoon session. The teams seemed, in general, to choose to focus on the pace races rather than qualifying and it certainly seems that is what the papaya cars were doing.
If so, Daniel Ricciardo’s woes do not seem to be over yet, at least compared to his teammate: if Red Bull’s message to Perez about Mercedes having a race lap around 1’23 for a Race lap was okay, so Norris was on their pace in his simulations this afternoon.
However, Ricciardo was more in the window of 1’24. Sure, he was testing new front fenders and changing the car’s design elements, but he indicated he needed a lot more of a step forward than he found.
“I don’t think it was the aero package or anything, I think this morning I struggled to feel comfortable or confident,” he explained. “So I was always a bit out of the way and just looking for some rear grip, basically. A little bit of finding the car and not really having the confidence to push it.
“I think we tackled it this afternoon, I think the car was better and we took a step. [But] clearly one step is not enough, we have to take another.
After a tough weekend in Portugal, AlphaTauri looked in better shape. At least in the second practice session, where they finished sixth and seventh fastest, with Yuki Tsunoda close to Pierre Gasly’s pace. While it is reasonable to assume that Red Bull would have been ahead of them under other circumstances, Gasly did not expect their car to be suitable for this track and the two were separated by a considerable distance in time during the of the first session.
Alpine is much more where expected, especially given the changing wind conditions of the second session. They have shown a steady pace in the gusty conditions of Portimao and appear to benefit from situations where other teams suffer from instability. Fernando Alonso’s races in the afternoon session also seemed to be on a good pace, which suggests that they do not exceed their weight in the low fuel simulations.
Marcin Budkowski was optimistic after the second practice, saying he believed places in Q3 were possible. “It’s going to be very, very tight,” he said. “It’s always difficult to know what fuel loads people are using, what engine tuning they are using on a Friday.
“But certainly last year we struggled here all weekend so we look better than last year and that’s already good news.”
Ferrari’s Friday seemed to start off consistently, with Carlos Sainz Jnr and Charles Leclerc placing in the top six in the opening practice. However, it then seemed to become less consistent – an opportunistically timed quick lap for Leclerc placed him third in the afternoon session, while Sainz did not appear to be securing any qualifying points, placing him eighth. Reflecting the situation of its rival McLaren, the races of Sainz were around 1’24, that of Leclerc in 1’23.
At the back of the grid, Haas remains firmly behind Williams and the two drivers are clearly fighting for pace. Their qualifying laps are over 1’21 and their race is over 1’27 per lap, indicating that their rookie drivers can look forward to another lonely Sunday.
Citations: Dieter Rencken
Combined practice times
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Team progress compared to 2020
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Spanish Grand Prix 2021
Browse all articles from the 2021 Spanish Grand Prix