Lewis Hamilton bounced back from his disappointing weekend in Russia to lay down a marker to his rival Sebastian Vettel after he completed a practice double for the Spanish Grand Prix.
Hamilton finished a distant and curious fourth in Sochi to fall 13 points behind Vettel in the title race, but the triple world champion was back on top of the order at the Circuit de Catalunya ahead of his Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas.
Hamilton’s Mercedes team and Ferrari, spearheaded by four-time champion Vettel, arrived in Spain for the start of Formula One’s European season with two victories each under their belt.
But following a raft of updates on their car it is Mercedes, and Hamilton in particular, who appear to hold the advantage after the Briton led home a one-two in both practice sessions.
Hamilton’s best effort of one minute and 20.802 seconds saw him finish 0.090 secs ahead of Bottas – a winner last time out in Russia – with Kimi Raikkonen leading Ferrari’s effort in third and Vettel trailing only in fourth.
Indeed it was not a straightforward day for the German after he stopped at the exit of the pit lane with a gearbox issue in the opening session. He then ran off the track and into the gravel at turn four before finishing 0.418 secs behind Hamilton.
Fernando Alonso will be absent from the Monaco Grand Prix later this month as he swaps Formula One for the Indianapolis 500, and his one-off soiree to the United States probably cannot come soon enough for the double world champion.
Alonso, 35, endured yet another miserable day, this time in front of his home supporters, after he came to a shuddering halt on track having completed just three corners after another failure from within his beleaguered Honda engine.
This time it was an oil leak for Alonso – who has failed to reach the chequered flag at any of the four races this season – and his latest reliability issue is unlikely to fill him with confidence that the embarrassing streak will not extend to five here.
Alonso hitched a lift back to the paddock on a scooter before he left the circuit for McLaren’s team hotel to play tennis with his trainer. “Keeping the body active,” the Spaniard wrote on Instagram, accompanied with a halo emoji.
McLaren replaced his faulty Honda engine, and after Alonso returned to the paddock he was back on track for the second 90-minute session.
But the Spaniard, who is out of contract with McLaren at the end of the season and hinted on Thursday this could be his final year with the British team, completed only 21 laps and finished last of the 20 runners more than three seconds adrift of Hamilton.
There was some encouragement, however, for his team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne after he ended up 13th in the order.
British driver Jolyon Palmer is in need of a strong weekend in Spain following a dour start to his campaign, and the 26-year-old will be heartened by his and Renault’s pace on Friday after he finished eighth, 1.2 secs off the pace.
Red Bull, despite bringing a host of new parts to Spain, remain the third best team – albeit closer to both Mercedes and Ferrari – with Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo fifth and sixth in the order.