Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc leads practice for Spanish GP, Mercedes hopes

Formula One leader Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc was at the top of both practices at the Spanish Grand Prix on Friday when Mercedes was seen closing the gap.

Leclerc topped the charts during both hour-long sessions. George Russell and Lewis Hamilton were next in their Mercedes, who have struggled to keep pace with Ferrari and the Red Bull this season. They were within 0.2 seconds of Leclerc.

Carlos Senz had his fourth best time at Ferrari, followed by defending champion Max Verstappen for the Red Bull.

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Leclerc put Worstapen ahead by 19 points after five races, but Worstapen cut the deficit after successive wins in Italy and Miami.

Teams often roll out major upgrades to Spanish GPs that already have a handful of races in the bag, and this well-known circuit, where teams test even in winter, is perfect for measuring progress.

Ferrari hopes the upgrades to Spain will help keep pace with the pace the Red Bull has enjoyed in the last two races, when Verstappen defeated Leclerc.

“Hopefully (the upgrade) will be a good one and enough to stay in front of the Red Bulls again,” Leclerc said.

Verstappen says his team will not show any surprises but plans to reduce the weight of the car.

“Our car is a bit thick so we have to slim it down,” Verstapen said before getting behind the wheel on Friday.

It turns out that focusing on the reliability of the car is the top priority for the Red Bull, a car failure that prevented Verstappen from finishing in Bahrain and Australia, where Leclerc won.

“(Ferrari) is coming up with a few upgrades so at the end of the day it will be interesting to see what it offers them,” Verstappen said. “We just have to focus on our package. We want a clear weekend. “

Hamilton is not accustomed to competing outside of Barcelona, ​​where he has won six times in a row and five years. But he was encouraged by the apparent improvement in the car.

Hamilton said he was “extremely happy with the progress” and that his engineers had stabilized his Mercedes.

“We are not the fastest yet but we are on our way. This is the first time I’ve straightened out without bouncing, “said Hamilton. “I am really grateful for those upgrades, we just have to fine tune them. Tomorrow we can get it in better shape so that we can move forward in front of the boys. ”

The best result of the season for 103-time race winner Hamilton, third place in the season opener in Bahrain. He finished sixth with 36 points. Leclerc 104 is ahead.

Russell has so far surpassed the seven-time world champion in his first year with Mercedes, finishing more than his new teammate in four of the five races.

The inaugural exercise featured two drivers making their debut on the F1 weekend in an experimental role. Jury whips in for Sergio Perez of Whips Red Bull, while Nick de Vries drives Alex Alban’s Williams. Veteran Robert Kubica has replaced Zhu Guanieu with Alpha Romeo.

It was the most event-free day without a car failure that kept Valerie Botas out of action. “Something broke,” he said as he stopped on the grass at Alfa Romeo Ground. Finn was returned to Paddock on the back of a scooter.

Race officials expect more than 110,000 fans to attend each of the events after two years of racing without the public due to the epidemic. The mask that Hamilton wore at the pre-practice press conference was one of the few seen on the track.

Spanish fans are eager to see the last Spaniard Sange and Fernando Alonso win the Spanish GP in 2013.

The Barcelona-Catalonia track is notorious for being tough on tires. And forecasting hot temperatures for this weekend should be key to tire management. Leclerc confirmed that when he told his team on the radio that “my tires are falling apart” at the end of the exercise.

Saturday qualifiers after the third practice. 66-Lap Race Sunday.

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