until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Formula 1

Early hints of Spanish GP battle as Norris heads Verstappen in FP1

by Valentin Khorounzhiy
3 min read

McLaren driver Lando Norris led opening Formula 1 practice at the Spanish Grand Prix, the 60-minute session offering an early promise of a competitive Barcelona weekend.

As Formula 1 returned to Europe for its long mid-season leg on the continent, reigning champion Max Verstappen restored Red Bull to the front during the initial runs, setting the pace on the hard tyre - which this weekend represents the hardest race compound in the range, C1.

Yet Verstappen, in an upgraded RB20 debuting revised sidepod inlets and other changes, was only around a tenth and a half up on Mercedes' George Russell on the same tyre, albeit with Russell having extended his C1 run further.

And when Verstappen swapped to the softs, C3s, his laptime proved within reach for McLaren's Norris, who wound up topping the session by 0.024 seconds. The Brit was potentially aided by putting in that lap a few minutes after Verstappen.

But, given both McLaren and Mercedes have declared no updates this weekend, it supports the initial - but very tentative - suggestion that the RB20's overhaul hasn't immediately restored it to its early-season dominance even as F1 has come to a more conventional track compared to those making up the previous few grand prix weekends.

The most eyebrow-raising session, though, was perhaps that of Ferrari, which like Red Bull has brought extensive upgrades and had a strange but potentially promising hour.

Both Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc, who described the feeling in his SF-24 as "horrendous" on the opening run, were adrift in their initial runs on hards, and Leclerc never quite put a clean lap together once he'd swapped to the medium.

But Sainz's change to the medium yielded the third-fastest laptime, 0.344s off Norris, a gap that should be accounted for (and perhaps then some) by the offset in tyre compounds.

Mercedes' revival following its upgrade's Monaco debut has continued, with Russell just half a tenth down on Sainz on the same medium tyre - and ahead of the second Red Bull, that of Sergio Perez.

Perez was a second off Verstappen on the hards, but reduced the gap to less than half a second once they'd swapped for softs.

Oscar Piastri was six tenths down on McLaren team-mate Norris in sixth, narrowly ahead of Lewis Hamilton, who was consistently adrift of Mercedes team-mate Russell through the session.

Esteban Ocon was an encouraging eighth for Alpine, especially as his best time was set on the mediums.

There was a brief red-flag interruption with 22 minutes left on the clock as Fernando Alonso's Aston Martin shed part of its front wing, leaving it as debris near the racing line.

It was the closest the session came to having anything resembling a major incident, although Valtteri Bottas's DRS flap on his Sauber's upgraded front wing wobbling uncontrollably was a brief but dramatic visual.

Haas's FP1 stand-in Ollie Bearman, increasingly seen as a shoo-in for a Ferrari-backed race seat with Haas in 2025, was 19th.

He was 0.034s off the team's regular driver Kevin Magnussen on the initial runs, and slipped to two tenths back after their respective soft-tyre attempts.

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