Mercedes, Hamil­ton dom­i­nate prac­tice

New Straits Times - - Sport -

BARCELONA: Lewis Hamil­ton set the pace in Span­ish Grand Prix prac­tice yes­ter­day as For­mula One world cham­pi­ons Mercedes re­sponded to the chal­lenge of Fer­rari with aero­dy­namic up­grades and con­sis­tently quicker times.

With the cham­pi­onship finely bal­anced af­ter four long-haul races, Mercedes turned up at the Cir­cuit de Catalunya with a car whose re­vised fea­tures drew ap­pre­cia­tive and ap­pre­hen­sive mur­murs around the pad­dock.

It ap­peared to be to triple cham­pion Hamil­ton’s lik­ing, with the Bri­ton on top of the timesheets in the morn­ing with a best lap of one minute 21.521 sec­onds and then fastest again in the af­ter­noon in 1:20.802.

His times were re­spec­tively a mere 0.029 and 0.090 quicker than those of Fin­nish team mate Valt­teri Bot­tas.

Fer­rari’s Kimi Raikko­nen was third in both ses­sions but cut his morn­ing deficit of nearly a sec­ond down to 0.310 af­ter lunch.

Cham­pi­onship leader Se­bas­tian Vet­tel was fourth on the timesheets, 0.418 off the pace in the sec­ond ses­sion, with the Ger­man also suf­fer­ing an early prob­lem that halted his Fer­rari at the pit­lane exit.

“There’s some­thing bro­ken,” the Ger­man, who leads Hamil­ton by 13 points, said over team ra­dio. “There’s an is­sue with the gearbox.”

The car was pushed back to the garage and Vet­tel reap­peared on track just over half an hour later.

Spain’s dou­ble world cham­pion Fer­nando Alonso en­dured far more frus­tra­tion, with his McLaren again break­ing down be­fore he had set a time in the morn­ing. He was also slow­est in the af­ter­noon.

McLaren blamed an oil leak from the Honda en­gine, ev­i­dent to all with liq­uid spilling out of the tip­ping car as it was winched away by a crane.

“The en­gine blew up af­ter one cor­ner. It’s the way it is, we miss the first ses­sion. I’m sorry for the fans,” said the Spa­niard, who failed to start the pre­vi­ous race in Rus­sia due to a break­down on the for­ma­tion lap.

“It’s tough but it’s more tough for McLaren, who brings up­dates try­ing to find a mil­lisec­ond here and there and we can­not even run.”

Alonso is due to head straight to In­di­anapo­lis af­ter to­mor­row’s race, miss­ing the Monaco Grand Prix so he can com­pete in the Indy 500 on the same day.

On the team’s cur­rent form, it will come as a re­lief — with pad­dock jok­ers al­ready won­der­ing what other sport­ing events he might want to en­ter to de­lay his re­turn. Wim­ble­don, per­haps?

The driver, an ac­tive user of so­cial me­dia, posted a photo on In­sta­gram of him­self on a ten­nis court.

“The en­gine feels good. Much slower than be­fore. Amaz­ing,” he said sar­cas­ti­cally af­ter the sec­ond ses­sion.

Red Bull’s Max Ver­stap­pen, last year’s win­ner in Spain on his team de­but, was fifth fastest ahead of Aus­tralian team­mate Daniel Ric­cia­rdo.

The team had also been hop­ing for a big step up with aero­dy­namic up­grades, and ended the day with Ver­stap­pen 0.636 slower than Hamil­ton.

Haas driver Kevin Mag­nussen, us­ing an up­graded floor on his car af­ter the toss of a coin to de­cide who got it, was sev­enth in the morn­ing with French team mate Ro­main Gros­jean eighth.

Re­nault’s Nico Hulken­berg and Jolyon Palmer filled those slots in a later ses­sion that was briefly red-flagged due to de­bris on the track. Reuters

REUTERS PIC

Mercedes’ Lewis Hamil­ton ar­rives in the pits dur­ing first prac­tice for the Span­ish Grand Prix at the Cir­cuit de Catalunya in Mont­melo yes­ter­day.

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