Just as they were for most of the Monaco weekend, Max Verstappen and Fernando Alonso were locked together at the top of the standings in FP2 for the Spanish Grand Prix.
The Red Bull driver went 0.170s faster than one of the home heroes at the top of the timesheets in second practice around the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, with Haas driver Nico Hulkenberg putting in an excellent qualifying simulation to place himself third in the session.
Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon rounded out the top five, with Charles Leclerc, Carlos Sainz, George Russell, Valtteri Bottas and Pierre Gasly finishing off the top 10 in the session – and only 0.550s separating Verstappen in P1 and Gasly in P10.
A slow final sector on his fastest attempt saw Lewis Hamilton eventually end up 11th for Mercedes, with plenty of running still to be done on Saturday heading into qualifying.
The early part of FP2 saw the majority of drivers head out on track on test Pirelli compounds, with two sets having been made available to each driver as the sport’s tyre manufacturer look to move to a more sturdy construction from the British Grand Prix onwards, with the cars significantly faster than they were last year.
Away from harder tyres being on most of the cars, Russell reported that the bottoming issue that he found in first practice continued in the early part of FP2, with his Mercedes hitting the ground through the reprofiled Turns 13 and 14 – which are in use for the first time at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya since 2006.
But it was the Ferrari drivers that set the early benchmark on soft tyres, Sainz clocking a 1:14.999 with Leclerc 0.223s behind. Though in an ominous sign for Ferrari and the rest of the field, Verstappen soon went faster than both of them and top of the FP2 timing sheets – but on medium tyres, which should be a slower compound.
Russell’s troubles continued when he took to the gravel at Turn 10 to avoid the slow Oscar Piastri ahead of him, which angered the Mercedes driver on team radio, though he was able to crawl through and get out of trouble.
The traditional FP2 qualifying simulations began and Sainz was able to gain a heap of time on his earlier best, with a 1:14.274 being seven-tenths faster than his previous best to go back to the top of the leaderboard, before Leclerc went slightly faster still and pipped him a few seconds later.
Ferrari’s hopes of topping the session would soon be dashed, however, when Verstappen became the first driver to dip below the 1:14 barrier this weekend by clocking a 1:13.907, with the Haas of Hulkenberg and Alpine of Ocon both going quicker than the Ferrari duo in their flying runs.
But with the Mercedes W14 unleashed, signs were promising for Hamilton by setting the fastest first sector of anybody, sitting just a tenth behind Verstappen at the end of the second sector, but a half-second loss in the final sector left him down in the lower reaches of the top 10, before dropping down to an eventual P11.
Alonso had no such issues in the final sector from his perspective, the Aston Martin driver looking particularly planted through the fast Turn 14 and setting a purple sector 3 to go second quickest of anybody, 0.170s behind Verstappen’s benchmark, while team-mate Lance Stroll could only manage P18, nine-tenths off Alonso’s pace in the session.
The second half of the FP2 session was reserved for race simulations around the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, with the drivers looking to get their eyes in and try different compounds out to inform their strategies.
With three harder compounds from Pirelli’s tyre range in place in Barcelona and at least a two-stop race expected on Sunday, strategic variance will no doubt play its part throughout the field.
The closeness of the pack in practice also hints that qualifying could well be a tight session once again, as was the case in Monaco, though if anyone is going to challenge at the front of the field, Alonso or Perez look the most likely based on Friday’s evidence.
1 Max VERSTAPPEN Red Bull 1:13.907
2 Fernando ALONSO Aston Martin +0.170
3 Nico HULKENBERG Haas +0.270
4 Sergio PEREZ Red Bull +0.312
5 Esteban OCON Alpine +0.335
6 Charles LECLERC Ferrari +0.339
7 Carlos SAINZ Ferrari +0.367
8 George RUSSELL Mercedes +0.485
9 Valtteri BOTTAS Alfa Romeo +0.541
10 Pierre GASLY Alpine +0.550
11 Lewis HAMILTON Mercedes +0.642
12 Oscar PIASTRI McLaren +0.676
13 ZHOU Guanyu Alfa Romeo +0.678
14 Lando NORRIS McLaren +0.787
15 Kevin MAGNUSSEN Haas +0.806
16 Nyck DE VRIES AlphaTauri +0.878
17 Yuki TSUNODA AlphaTauri +0.933
18 Lance STROLL Aston Martin +1.103
19 Alexander ALBON Williams +1.149
20 Logan SARGEANT Williams +1.508