Lewis Hamilton edged out Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas in opening practice for the Spanish Grand Prix as McLaren’s Fernando Alonso hit more reliability problems.
While Hamilton, who toiled to only fourth at the last round in Russia, topped the timesheets on Formula One’s return to its traditional European heartland, Alonso completed just three corners before he broke down.
The 35-year-old Spaniard, yet to finish a grand prix this season and who failed to even start in Russia after an engine issue on the formation lap, suffered an oil leak before grinding to a miserable halt in front of his home fans.
Alonso, who will miss the Monaco Grand Prix later this month to participate at the Indianapolis 500, hitched a ride back to the pit lane on the back of a motorbike as his stricken McLaren was towed back to the garage.
The double world champion then posted a picture from a nearby tennis court with his trainer. “Keeping the body active,” Alonso wrote accompanied with a halo emoji.
Honda confirmed they will change Alonso’s power unit and are hopeful the Spaniard will return for second practice later on Friday.
There was drama for championship leader Sebastian Vettel, too, after he encountered an apparent gearbox issue in the opening exchanges of the 90-minute session here at Barcelona’s Circuit de Catalunya.
The four-time champion, who is 13 points ahead of Hamilton in the title race after winning two of the opening four grands prix, stopped at the end of the pit lane before being rolled back to the Ferrari garage by his mechanics.
Vettel did manage to return to the track and completed 23 laps, but he was only fourth in the order, 1.079 seconds adrift of Hamilton’s best time.
Indeed Hamilton and his Mercedes team will be heartened by their form on Friday morning after bringing a raft of updates to Spain for the fifth round of the championship.
And it was Hamilton who held the early advantage over his team-mate. His best lap of one minute and 21.521 seconds was 0.029 sec faster than Bottas, still beaming from his debut victory in Russia a fortnight ago.
Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen was third fastest, nearly one second slower than the Mercedes pair, with Vettel in fourth, and the Red Bull duo of Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo next up in the order.
Sergey Sirotkin, the Russian who replaced Jolyon Palmer for opening practice, was slowest of all the timed runners. Palmer will return to the Renault cockpit for second practice.