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Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Leclerc Spanish GP . Ferrari lead 1-2 in first practice for

MONTMELÓ, Spain ( Associated Press) – Formula One leader Charles Leclerc and Ferrari teammate Carlos Sainz set the fastest time on Friday in the first practice session of the Spanish Grand Prix.

Leclerc posted a session-leading lap of 1 minute, 19.828 seconds. Defending world champion Max Verstappen achieved a third best time of 0.336 seconds at Red Bull at Leclerc’s pace.

Mercedes’ George Russell is fourth, Alpine’s Fernando Alonso fifth and Lewis Hamilton sixth.

Leclerc leads Verstappen by 19 points after five races, but Verstappen is closing the gap after consecutive victories in Italy and Miami.

Teams often roll out major upgrades at the Spanish GP with a handful of races already in the bag and this famous circuit, where teams also test in the winter, is perfect for assessing progress.

Ferrari is hoping the upgrade it brought to Spain can help it match the pace of the race that Red Bull enjoyed in the last two races, when Verstappen beat Leclerc.

Verstappen said his team plans to reduce the weight of the car.

“Our car is a bit fat so we need to thin it out,” said Verstappen before getting behind the wheel on Friday.

The focus appears to be a top priority for Red Bull after the car’s failure prevented Verstappen from finishing in Bahrain and Australia, where Leclerc won earlier this season.

“(Ferrari) are coming with some upgrades, so it will be interesting to see what gives them at the end of the day,” Verstappen said. “We just need to focus on our package. We want a clean weekend.”

Ahead of practice, both Hamilton and Russell said they are hoping Mercedes will make some profit this weekend, even if they cannot fight for the race trophy that Hamilton has claimed for the past five years.

“I believe there is potential to be up front, we just can’t unlock it,” Hamilton said. “I’m putting my hopes, pure faith and trust in the team that we will get there.”

The season’s best result for 103-time race winner Hamilton was a third-place finish in the season opener in Bahrain.

Russell has surprisingly outlasted the seven-time world champion in his first year with Mercedes so far, outperforming his new teammate in four of the five races.

The practice session featured the F1 weekend debuts of two drivers in test roles. The jury for Red Bull’s Sergio Perez was filled by Vips, while Nick de Vries fired Alex Albon’s Williams. Vips finished at the bottom of the table, two places above Vries.

Veteran Robert Kubica also found a turn for Alfa Romeo in place of Zhou Guanyue.

Race officials expect more than 110,000 fans to turn out over three days of each event after two years of racing without the public due to the pandemic. The face mask Hamilton wore at the pre-practice news conference was one of the few people seen on the track.

Spanish fans are eager to see Sainz and Alonso, who were the last Spaniards to win the Spanish GP in 2013.

Hot, sunny and dry conditions are forecast.

The second practice session is later Friday. Qualifying will take place on Saturday after the third practice session. There is a race of 66 laps on Sunday.


More Associated Press Auto Racing: https://apnews.com/hub/auto-racing and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

World Nation News Desk
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