World Championship leader Charles Leclerc set the fastest time for Ferrari ahead of the two Mercedes of George Russell and Lewis Hamilton in Friday’s second free practice ahead of this weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix. The 24-year-old Monegasque driver was fastest in one minute and 19,670 to outpace Russell by a tenth of a second and seven-time champion Hamilton by two-tenths when Mercedes, with a comprehensive upgrade package, rediscovered their pace. Local star Carlos Sainz was fourth in the second Ferrari ahead of Red Bull’s world champion Max Verstappen and another Spanish two-time champion Fernando Alonso of Alpine.
Sergio Perez was seventh in the second Red Bull ahead of four-time champion Sebastian Vettel in a heavily revised and resurrected Aston Martin, Esteban Ocon in the second Alpine and Haas’ Mick Schumacher.
It was an encouraging day for Mercedes, but Russell was quick to temper their optimism with realism.
“Remember, we were fastest in Miami on Friday and we lost everything on Saturday,” he said.
Hamilton said he was “positive and super happy”.
“Thanks to the factory and all the hard work. We are not the fastest, but we are on the way and the bounce is much better.”
If it was good for the defending champions, it was less for Red Bull on a day when they were frustrated by a ruling by the governing body, the International Motoring Federation (FIA), exempting rivals Aston Martin from copying parts of their machine.
“Imitation is the greatest form of flattery,” said Red Bull team chief Christian Horner.
“But we wouldn’t be happy if there had been IP (Intellectual Property) transfers.”
Horner, whose Red Bull outfit has lost many employees who have been tempted to move to Aston Martin in recent months, said his team was conducting internal investigations and warned that data theft was a criminal offence.
On a hot afternoon in Catalonia, Verstappen was fastest at the start, narrowly ahead of Sainz, before Valtteri Bottas parked his stricken Alfa Romeo in turn one.
“Something is broken,” he reported.
A Virtual Safety Car (VSC) was briefly deployed to allow marshals to move the car behind the barriers before the action resumed without much further drama.
When teams switched to soft tyres, it was Vettel who took over at the top, displacing the champions Red Bull, proving the success of his team’s upgrade package.
Verstappen responded in 1:20.006, outdoing Vettel by seven-tenths before Sainz delighted his home support in a large crowd on Friday by going fastest to end the on-track version of the Aston Martin v Red Bull “copycat” feud.
The FIA had previously cleared Aston Martin of all faults after it was claimed that their improved car was a copy of the speed-setting Red Bull, much to the chagrin of Horner and team adviser Helmut Marko.
“It should now become clear how this incredible example came about,” Marko said in conversation with Sky Sports Germany. He added that Red Bull had “proof” that data had been downloaded.
Leclerc was unperturbed by this past Sainz by three tenths to reach the top in 1:19.670, a lap that kept him in control while others, including Russell and Hamilton, improved to take second and third respectively.
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