Max Verstappen made it a Friday clean sweep at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, setting the fastest lap of the second practice session at the 2023 Spanish Grand Prix.
The world champion cut a frustrated figure during FP1 and complained of porpoising but appeared happier when cars returned to the track for FP2.
That being said, his gap at the top of the timesheet was cut from nearly eight tenths to less than two, with his 1:13.907s on the soft tyres leaving him 0.170s ahead of the Aston Martin of Fernando Alonso.
The Spaniard also ended the session able to match Verstappen closest in terms of race pace, setting up the prospect of an exciting GP.
Nico Hulkenberg in the Haas completed an eclectic top three, a further tenth behind the championship leader.
Sergio Perez, looking to bounce back from a dismal Monaco showing, risks losing more ground to his teammate this weekend. The Mexican finished the session 0.312s behind Verstappen in fourth.
The Red Bulls look close on race pace but that will mean little if Perez is stuck behind slower cars at the start of Sunday’s GP.
Elsewhere, Charles Leclerc once again led the Ferrari challenge. The Monegasque’s best effort was more than three tenths off Verstappen’s pace but a shade quicker than Carlos Sainz in seventh.
George Russell was eighth on a poor day for Mercedes, ahead of Lewis Hamilton in 11th, with Valtteri Bottas and Pierre Gasly completing the top 10.
|1.||Max Verstappen||Red Bull|
|2.||Fernando Alonso||Aston Martin|
|4.||Sergio Perez||Red Bull|
|9.||Valtteri Bottas||Alfa Romeo|
Have Mercedes improved?
A lot was made of the Mercedes upgrade package debuted at the Monaco GP. It was a diversion from the team’s radical ‘zero-sidepod’ design and appeared to provide an initial boost on the streets of Monte Carlo.
However, the Barcelona track is a more accurate indicator of performance, and after two hours of track time, the Brackley-based outfit don’t really appear any closer to Red Bull than they were prior to the updates.
Russell and Hamilton finished 10th and 12th respectively in FP1, more than a second behind Verstappen, and while FP2 was an improvement, it still left them well off the pace.
To make matters worse, riding onboard with the two British drivers showed how unstable the rear of the W14 still is, particularly on the run down to the Turn 10 hairpin.
Russell enjoyed the better of the FP2 running in eighth, ahead of Hamilton in 11th, but was still 0.485s down.