Despite the raft of updates between the close of the Russian Grand Prix and the start of Friday practice the pecking order looked unshakeably familiar by the close of the first day of the Spanish Grand Prix weekend. Normal order was resumed in FP2 as Mercedes and Ferrari dominated the top four with Rosberg posting a 1.23.922 to end Friday as the fastest runner, with Kimi Raikkonen splitting the two Mercedes’s with a time just two tenths shy of that set by the championship leader. As Nico Rosberg looks to make it eight wins in a row, and Lewis Hamilton aims to get his 2016 back in track, here are four of the most pressing talking points ahead of qualifying for Sunday’s Spanish Grand Prix.
All eyes will be on Verstappen and Kvyat
As first days at work go, Max Verstappen will surely go home the happier. Sixth in FP1 and eighth in FP2 were strong results for a young driver who before today, would have only driven the Red Bull in a simulator. Although now up against the highly regarded Daniel Ricciardo, Verstappen finished FP2 just 0.2s shy of his race winning teammate and looks to be a safe bet for a top ten finish on both qualifying and race day. Over at Toro Rosso, despite a remarkably less frosty atmosphere than of late, Kvyat struggled to match Carlos Sainz who enjoyed his best qualifying of 2015 at Circuit de Catalunya by lining up in 5th place on the grid. The Russian finished 12th and 15th over the days two practice sessions whilst Sainz managed 8th and 5th and will no doubt be expecting a run out in Q3. It will of course, take Kvyat some time to gel with Toro Rosso’s 2016 challenger, however it’s critical that he matches Sainz quickly in order to protect any chance of a future career with Red Bull.
Alonso back in the top ten
Two weeks on from scoring his first points of the season in Russia, Fernando Alonso once again returned to the top ten in both sessions (10th in FP1 and 7th in FP2) as McLaren continued their impressive resurgence. Although much of the talk in FP1 focused on the new, highly developed front wing debuted by Jenson Button the 2009 champ struggled over the course of the day relative to his teammate, but McLaren now look safe bets to make it through to Q2, and I wouldn’t be surprised if one of the championship winning pair sneaked into Q3.
Rosberg continues his rich vein of form
Nico Rosberg arrives in Spain seeking to win his eighth race on the bounce, an incredible run which stretches all the way back to Mexico City last Autumn. Rosberg is now the most successful F1 driver never to have won a world championship, but victory in Barcelona would take him one step further to erasing that record from his copybook. Incidentally, if Mercedes win this weekend they would equal McLaren’s record of 11 successive race victories set back in Mika Hakkinen’s championship winning year of 1998. Rosberg finished ahead of Hamilton in both FP1 and FP2, beating him by a whopping 0.7s in the latter. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Hamilton close that gap by the time Q3 comes round tomorrow but will be have enough pace to get the edge on his teammate? It’s been a while since we’ve seen a proper qualifying fight between the two.
A difficult Friday for Jolyon Palmer
Having to sit out Fp1 is hardly idea for any driver, something which was mentioned by Romain Grosjean on many an occasion last season as he was forced to sit out practice sessions whilst Jolyon Palmer was given time in the car. Fast forward a year, and it was now Renault rookie Palmer who sat by the sidelines as Esteban Ocon got his first taste of the Renault machinery. Ocon had a difficult morning completing just six laps as the RS16 spent the majority of time in the garage and Palmer, back in the car for FP2 fared little better in the afternoon. A high speed tyre blowout just before the braking zone into turn one red flagged the session and Palmer emerged in the closing minutes to set a 1.26.770 which left him in 17th.