Subscribe

Sign up for free

  • Get quick access to your favorite articles

  • Manage alerts on breaking news and favorite drivers

  • Make your voice heard with article commenting.

Autosport Plus

Discover premium content
Subscribe
Special feature
Formula 1 Spanish GP

What we learned from Friday practice at the 2024 F1 Spanish GP

Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes have started the Barcelona Formula 1 weekend strongly, with Red Bull and Max Verstappen appearing surprisingly weak. But a closer analysis of what really happened in opening practice for the 2024 Spanish Grand Prix suggests the latter point may not be reality

Sir Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes F1 W15

Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes topped the times as practice at Formula 1’s 2024 Spanish Grand Prix got under way, while Red Bull and Max Verstappen appeared to be struggling.

But, digging beyond the headline times in FP2 reveals that Verstappen and co are far from panicking – with a major set-up change coming for his RB20 on Saturday that will bring both one-lap and long-run gains.

At the same time, Mercedes is quietly confident it can stay in the hunt more so than at other events this season where it has looked strong early in a weekend before fading.

Add in fast times over fliers and strong long-run pace from McLaren and Ferrari, and there is hope a theorised four-way fight for Barcelona supremacy will play out in the sessions that matter.

The story of the day

Given the major demand on tyres at Barcelona and the value of stability for early aerodynamic data at this familiar venue, FP1 was a rather sedate affair. George Russell, Verstappen and Carlos Sainz exchanged the top spot between them during the initial installation running on the harder compounds.

Verstappen then led the switch to softs before he was pipped by 0.024s courtesy of Lando Norris and the Briton’s FP1-topping 1m14.228s. After a brief red flag period as debris from Fernando Alonso’s Aston Martin was collected from Campsa (Turn 9), the field switched to higher fuel running.

Norris broke out of the traps fastest in FP1, and was close to the summit in FP2 later in the afternoon

Norris broke out of the traps fastest in FP1, and was close to the summit in FP2 later in the afternoon

Photo by: Steven Tee / Motorsport Images

In FP2, Mercedes led from the off – with Russell heading the leading gaggle on the medium tyres. Sainz was the first of the frontrunners to switch to the softs and his time was only beaten by Hamilton’s session leading 1m13.264s – an effort set five minutes later.

Pierre Gasly slotted his Alpine into a shock fourth place on his FP2 qualifying simulation effort, before Hamilton tried on a second set of softs and failed to better his previous time. Sergio Perez completed his soft-tyre running much later than the rest as Red Bull made numerous set-up tweaks, with the Mexican driver ending up down in 13th and 0.577s off Verstappen’s fifth-place time.

The field then conducted the typical FP2 long-run data-gathering exercises regarding tyre life, which was notable only for Ferrari spending a long time altering Charles Leclerc’s set-up (the Monaco winner having called his car “horrendous” in FP1 when he was having to catch big oversteer snaps at Turn 2) and Hamilton and Norris dipping wheels into the gravel.

The critical corners at Turns 10 and 12 are where Hamilton gains back his previous 0.125s losses

These incidents took place late on at the exits of Turn 12 and Campsa respectively. Norris was so wide in his moment he feared he’d sustained floor damage on his McLaren.

What the data tells us

That the best times from Mercedes, Ferrari and McLaren in FP2 were covered by 0.055s highlights how close things sit right now.

Mercedes also believes Russell could’ve matched Hamilton’s session leading time had he not been “held up by [Nico] Hulkenberg at Turn 10 and lost four and a half tenths”, per team boss Toto Wolff.

Mercedes believes Russell could have matched Hamilton's FP2 time without traffic

Mercedes believes Russell could have matched Hamilton's FP2 time without traffic

Photo by: Sam Bloxham / Motorsport Images

FP2 overall times

Position Driver Team Time

1

Hamilton Mercedes 1m13.264s
2 Sainz Ferrari +0.022s
3 Norris McLaren +0.055s
4 Gasly Alpine +0.179s
5 Verstappen Red Bull +0.240s
6 Bottas Sauber +0.660s
7 Magnussen Haas +0.757s
8 Alonso Aston Martin +0.827s
9 Tsunoda RB +0.947s
10 Albon Williams +1.543s

What’s interesting about Hamilton’s FP2 best time is that – based on GPS trace data, plus additional information gleaned from the Barcelona paddock by Autosport that includes the understanding Mercedes likely has more to come on engine performance on Saturday – for all of the first sector and the first two corners of sector two, he’s down compared to the drivers he ends up heading.

The critical corners at Turns 10 and 12 are where Hamilton gains back his previous 0.125s losses. This suggests he aced the typical Barcelona challenge of not pushing too hard early in a lap and having tyre life left to spend come the final turns. Even without the low-speed chicane that was removed from the F1 layout for 2023 here, that challenge remains demanding and will be a key feature of qualifying tomorrow.

The GPS data also shows something unusual for a non-sprint Friday: Verstappen’s Red Bull heading his rivals on top speed down the straights.

Verstappen was quick through the speed traps although Red Bull ended up only fifth in FP2

Verstappen was quick through the speed traps although Red Bull ended up only fifth in FP2

Photo by: Sam Bloxham / Motorsport Images

Typically, Red Bull runs with its engine mode turned down significantly in practice and while rival teams clocked that again on their post-FP2 studying of Verstappen’s time, the Dutchman’s slender rear wing compared to a more normal Barcelona downforce arrangement made the difference on the straights.

“The set-up has to go in that direction [higher downforce] for the race,” said Red Bull motorsport advisor Helmut Marko – referring to how a bigger rear wing will naturally aid tyre life and add one-lap stability on this track. “We didn’t use full power, so it is not so alarming. The long runs were ok.”

Red Bull’s best average on the soft long-runs is a massive 0.71s up on McLaren and a further 0.158s better than Mercedes

Soft long-run averages

Position Team Time laps
1 Red Bull 1m19.342s 6
2 McLaren 1m20.052s 12
3 Mercedes 1m20,210s 12
4 Ferrari 1m20.316s 14
5 Alpine 1m20.881s 12
6 Aston Martin 1m21.065s 11
7 Haas 1m21.276s 15
8 Williams 1m21.712s 14
9 RB 1m22.053s 17

N/A

Sauber    

Marko’s final point can be seen in the table above – where as ever, it’s important to remember the varying practice fuel loads caveat across the teams.

On this, it’s worth noting how on the best soft tyre averages and medium tyre averages from the relevant teams (see below), Alpine drops back from being amongst the frontrunners.

Alpine drops away from the leading pack when longer runs are factored into the mix

Alpine drops away from the leading pack when longer runs are factored into the mix

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

Still, though, Red Bull’s best average on the soft long runs is a massive 0.71s up on McLaren and a further 0.158s better than Mercedes. Verstappen’s times on the red-walled compound do however tail off rather compared to Norris and Hamilton, which suggests he was suffering from more tyre degradation compared to the two Britons.

They were seemingly rewarded for starting their runs holding back more, with Norris in turn able to lap closer to the pace he started at on the softs compared to Hamilton.

A caveat to highlight here is how Verstappen and Norris were offset on testing two compounds – the latter going for a longer run on the mediums to a shorter second stint on the softs, with Norris doing the reverse. Hamilton completed just a single lengthy softs stint.

The averages show Ferrari to be further adrift on long-run pace at this stage – including on the medium tyre averages. Here, the lower lap count clocked by both McLaren and Ferrari is another positive sign for Red Bull ahead of what will be a two-stop race, where the hard is not expected to be a particularly good race tyre.

Also intriguing for Ferrari was just how much work it completed on Leclerc’s car ahead of his FP2-closing long-run, with the Scuderia apparently making considerable set-up changes around a ride height adjustment as the SF-24 was kept in the garage.

Medium long-run averages

Position Team Time Laps
1 McLaren 1m19.030s 4
2 Ferrari 1m20.247s 5
3 Red Bull 1m20.506s 12
4 Alpine 1m21.133s 10
5 Sauber 1m21.257s 14
6 Haas 1m21.331s 13
7 RB 1m21.507s 12
8 Aston Martin 1m21.630s 11
N/A Mercedes/Williams    
Is there more to come from Ferrari and Leclerc tomorrow after set-up changes kept him in the garage in FP2?

Is there more to come from Ferrari and Leclerc tomorrow after set-up changes kept him in the garage in FP2?

Photo by: Andrew Ferraro / Motorsport Images

Be part of the Autosport community

Join the conversation
Previous article Why Mercedes new F1 floor did not appear on official FIA documents
Next article Why Red Bull put Verstappen in a 2022 F1 car at Imola this week

Top Comments

Sign up for free

  • Get quick access to your favorite articles

  • Manage alerts on breaking news and favorite drivers

  • Make your voice heard with article commenting.

Autosport Plus

Discover premium content
Subscribe