Charles Leclerc showed the Ferrari upgrades were working a treat by making it a Friday free practice double for the Spanish Grand Prix.
But it will have been Mercedes ending the day happiest as they surged back into contention for a potential pole position and even a Barcelona victory with P2 and P3 for George Russell and Lewis Hamilton.
The Circuit de Catalunya, for round six of this year’s championship, is the venue where most teams have rolled out their first big upgrades on the 2022 cars – and already a controversy has emerged regarding how similar the revised Aston Martin looks to the Red Bull.
And if any team looks to have made significant headway it is Mercedes, as their ‘porpoising’ looked to have been eradicated to a major extent following a filming day run they had done with Russell at the Paul Ricard circuit this week.
Red Bull, meanwhile, may be a touch concerned with Max Verstappen, winner of the last two races, slower in FP2 than both Ferraris and both Mercedes.
‘it’s only practice it’s only practice it’s only practice it’s only practice it's only practice it's only practice’ 😆😆😆
— Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS F1 Team (@MercedesAMGF1) May 20, 2022
For a trio of drivers FP2 was the first on-track action of the day as Sergio Perez, Alex Albon and Zhou Guanyu had all sat out FP1 to give others a chance, not needing to learn this circuit quite so much having gained plenty of knowhow during unofficial testing in February.
Perez and Albon had allowed Red Bull and Williams respectively to start fulfilling the FP1 rookie criteria brought in this year by running Juri Vips and Nyck de Vries, while Robert Kubica was given one of his occasional turns in the Alfa Romeo.
Immediately as the FP2 flying laps began, on medium tyres, the story of the season continued with Verstappen and the Ferrari duo assuming their regular places at the top of the leaderboard as Lando Norris took a trip through the gravel in the heavily updated McLaren.
Ten minutes into the session, Valtteri Bottas’ afternoon was over as he reported “something broke” on the Alfa Romeo and pulled over to the side of the track – causing a Virtual Safety Car period, during which Sainz slowed down to remonstrate with Alex Albon whom he referred to as “so dangerous, this guy” over an impeding incident. The stewards announced it would be investigated after the session.
Sebastian Vettel was among the first to have the soft tyres fitted and went straight to the top of the standings in the Aston Martin that had been the subject of so much attention, but that was quickly eclipsed by Verstappen who went close to breaking the 1:20 barrier which only Ferrari had done in the earlier session.
By the halfway mark, both of the Scuderia’s cars had dipped back into the 1:19s and, in familiar fashion, it was Leclerc who had the edge over local hero Sainz by over three tenths.
What a lap @Charles_Leclerc !!
1:19.670, leading the standings for the moment 🤩
— Scuderia Ferrari (@ScuderiaFerrari) May 20, 2022
Mercedes then started getting in on the act as Russell and Hamilton pushed themselves into a Ferrari sandwich, second and third respectively, while at the other end of the standings McLaren were having a difficult afternoon as Norris needed a floor change following two excursions into the gravel.
Norris was 2oth and unable to go out again due to the work required on the car and Daniel Ricciardo, who had by then only used the hard tyres, just two places higher at the time before improving on the softs – although only by a few positions.
As for best of the rest, that was looking like Alpine as Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon both ended the session in the top 10 – and that meant two Spaniards in the leading six, to give the home crowd high hopes of plenty to cheer throughout the rest of the weekend.
1 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 1:19.670
2 George Russell Mercedes +0.117
3 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes +0.204
4 Carlos Sainz Ferrari +0.320
5 Max Verstappen Red Bull +0.336
6 Fernando Alonso Alpine +0.533
7 Sergio Perez Red Bull +0.962
8 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin +1.033
9 Esteban Ocon Alpine +1.075
10 Mick Schumacher Haas +1.087
11 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri +1.247
12 Kevin Magnussen Haas +1.343
13 Lance Stroll Aston Martin +1.579
14 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri +1.615
15 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren +1.715
16 Valtteri Bottas Alfa Romeo +2.158
17 Zhou Guanyu Alfa Romeo +2.196
18 Alex Albon Williams +2.649
19 Nicholas Latifi Williams +3.527
20 Lando Norris McLaren +3.718