The Formula One season may have moved to Europe after a three-week hiatus and with it brought significant upgrades for many of the teams, but the order of the grid looks set to be very similar at the Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona.
Championship leader Sebastian Vettel set the pace in Friday’s second practice session in his Red Bull, just 0.017 seconds over the man he edged out for last year’s title Fernando Alonso. The second Red Bull of Mark Webber recorded the third fastest time ahead of Lotus’ Kimi Raikkonen, currently second in the championship, and the second Ferrari of Felipe Massa. The Mercedes’ of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg were sixth and seventh fastest, respectively.
“We have some new parts here but the days of big, big upgrades don’t really happen now with the regulations how they are,” Vettel said, according to Formula One’s official website. “This afternoon was fairly conclusive, but this morning wasn’t really much good with the weather.”
In the break since Vettel took the checkered flag in Bahrain last month, a new hard tire has also been introduced by Pirelli to try and mitigate the heavy abuse they have taken in the opening weeks of the season. Yet the manufacturer dismissed calls for more to be done to prevent tire failures.
“It’s hard to say much about the harder tire, I think the number of pit stops will be the same here in this race as at the last few,” explained Vettel.
The teams at the front of the grid have been tightly matched so far this season and Alonso does not believe there is likely to be any great change at his home Grand Prix.
“I don’t expect any great surprises compared to Bahrain and I think the top group is now defined, with Red Bull, Mercedes, ourselves and Lotus,” he said. “Although we need to see how much McLaren manages to improve, while also keeping an eye on Force India, who have been very strong in qualifying and the race.”
The signs do not look good for McLaren improving, despite debuting revised bodywork and a new front wing. Jenson Button was 12th in Friday afternoon’s practice, a place ahead of his teammate Sergio Perez.
While stating that the car had improved, Button conceded that it is unlikely to see them gain ground on their rivals.
“It's going to be quite a big gap to the front,” he said, according to BBC Sport. “There are some areas we need to work on.
"Everyone is improving so you need to make a bigger step than them and I don't think we've done that."
Where to watch: Qualifying for the Formula One Spanish Grand Prix will get underway at 8 a.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by NBC Sports Network, with a live stream available on NBC Sports Live Extra.