Charles Leclerc on top in Spanish GP Practice as Mercedes Show Signs of Life

World Championship leader Charles Leclerc topped the times with Ferrari ahead of the Mercedes of George Russell and Lewis Hamilton in second free practice on Friday ahead of this weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix.

The 24-year-old Monegasque driver was fastest at 1 minute 19.670 to beat Russell by ten seconds and seven-time champion Hamilton by ten tenths while Mercedes, with its extensive upgrade package, rediscovered its pace.

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Local star Carlos Sainz finished fourth in the second Ferrari race, ahead of world champion Max Verstappen in Red Bull and Spain’s two-time Alpine champion Fernando Alonso.

Sergio Perez finished seventh in the second Red Bull, ahead of four-time champion Sebastian Vettel in a rough-and-rev Aston Martin, Esteban Ocon in the second Alps and Mick Schumacher of Haas.

For Mercedes, it was an encouraging day, but Russell was quick to temper their optimism with realism.

“Don’t forget that we were the fastest in Miami on Friday and then we lost everything on Saturday,” he said.

Hamilton said he is “very positive and happy.”

“Thanks to the factory and all the hard work. We are not the fastest, but we are on our way and the bounce is much better.”

If that was good for the defending champions, it was less so for Red Bull on a day when they were frustrated by a ruling from the governing body, the FIA, which acquitted rival Aston Martin of copying parts of their machines. .

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“Imitation is the greatest form of flattery,” said Red Bull boss Christian Horner.

“But we will not be happy if there is any transfer of intellectual property.”

Horner, whose Red Bull team has lost several employees tempted to move to Aston Martin in recent months, said his team was conducting an internal investigation, warning that data theft was a criminal offence.

On a sweltering Catalonia afternoon, Verstappen was quickest in the early run, narrowly ahead of Sainz, before Valtteri Bottas stopped his doomed Alfa Romeo at Turn One.

“Something broke,” he said.

A virtual safety car (VSC) was deployed briefly, to enable guards to move the vehicle behind barriers before resuming work without further drama.

When the teams switched to running soft tyres, it was Vettel who took the lead, replacing champion Red Bull, proving the success of his team’s promotions package.

Verstappen responded in 1:20.006, beating Vettel by seven tenths before Sainz was delighted to back him home in a big crowd on Friday by going faster to finish a version on the track of the “mock” Aston Martin v Red Bull fight.

The FIA ​​had earlier cleared Aston Martin of any wrongdoing after it was claimed that their upgraded car was a copy of Red Bull, much to the chagrin of Horner and team advisor Helmut Marko.

“It must now be clarified how this fantastic version will turn out,” Marko said, speaking to Sky Sports Germany. He added that Red Bull had “evidence” that the data had been downloaded.

Unfazed by it, Leclerc outpaced Sainz by three tenths to climb to the top with a time of 1:19.670, a lap that kept him in control while others including Russell and Hamilton improved to finish second and third respectively.

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