Mercedes finally got their first win of the season when Lewis Hamilton was victorious in the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. That took Hamilton to the top of the table with a four-point lead over Sebastian Vettel and he will be looking to extend that lead in Spain this weekend.
Mercedes topped the first practice session, but it was Valtteri Bottas who finished 0.849 seconds ahead of his team-mate, though he did achieve his best time while on a softer tyre than Hamilton. The Ferrari’s of Vettel and Raikkonen were third and fourth.
Red Bull have been threatening the domination of Mercedes and Ferrari this season and would do a lot better if they didn’t keep crashing. It was the turn of Daniel Ricciardo this time as cars struggled with the windy conditions in Spain. The problems occurred for Ricciardo when he ran wide after oversteering at Tur Four, his Red Bull touched the barrier and that resulted in damage being caused to his left-hand front suspension and front wing. He ended the session seventh fastest.
Fifth fastest was his team-mate Max Verstappen and Fernando Alonso would have been happy with finishing sixth. McLaren have a new nose design this weekend as they continue their bid to get higher up the field and was only 0.6 secs behind Verstappen.
Williams aren’t expecting a good weekend as this track will expose the clear aerodynamic weaknesses their cars possess. It’s an important weekend for Robert Kubica as he makes his return to the circuit, but he could only finish 19th quickest. That was ahead of his team-mate Lance Stroll who was doing ok until going off at Turn Four and that was the end of his session.
Another good session for Mercedes and this time it was Lewis Hamilton who finished fastest. He was ahead of the two Red Bulls with Ricciardo second and Verstappen third. Fourth place went to the Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel ahead of Bottas in the other Mercedes.
Hamilton’s lead at the top was 0.133 seconds with Verstappen a further 0.141 seconds behind and Vettel was 0.326 seconds behind the Championship leader. There were some worrying moments for Ferrari though with smoke coming from the back of Kimi Raikkonen’s car.
The windy conditions continued in the second practice session again helping to cause a few mishaps. Romain Grosjean had problems, but he was able to get back on the track and finish seventh fastest just behind Raikkonen with the other Haas of Kevin Magnusson in eighth.
Fastest of the McLaren’s was Stoffel Vandoorne in ninth with Alonso down in 12th, a time set on a medium tyre. Williams were only 19th and 20th with Stroll ahead of Sergey Sirotkin and they were three seconds off the pace.
That wind was on the mind of Lewis Hamilton who thought he’d had a pretty good one all things considering due to “the changing direction of the wind” causing problems for drivers to “define where the set-up needs to go.”
I’ll be back tomorrow with a report on the final practice session and qualifying, till then enjoy your racing.
By Steve Ashfield for Pillow Motor Sports