Given the various upgrades brought by the teams to Barcelona, the anticipation has been high as to the new pecking order of the teams. The practice sessions give us a glimpse of car performance but until the gloves are off no one really knows how the cars will perform at full tilt.
Mercedes believed they have improved their car significantly, yet Lewis Hamilton finished the session just P6 and over 3/4 second behind pole sitter Charles LeClerc. Again his team mate George Russell is snatching the crown of team leader from Hamilton as he claimed P4 and appeared to find the W13 easier to manage.
The gap from the pole sitter to Mercedes must be dismaying for those back at Brackley as it is hardly the major step forward the team had hoped the upgraded car would bring.
When asked whether he was happy with the upgrade, Toto Wolff told Sky F1 “6/10th away [from pole] is miles away”.
Max Verstappen had pole position in his grasp leading the timesheets after the first runs in Q3, yet a loss of power meant his final run was compromised. Such was the pace in his RB18 his first run time was better than the improving Carlos Sainz in the field leading Ferrari who finished the session third.
Having spun on his first flying lap in Q3, Charles LeClerc was under huge pressure to deliver a lap and went out first to nullify the possibility of a yellow flag ruining his lap. The Monogasque driver blitzed the lap finishing 0.4s ahead of team mate Carlos Sainz and ahead of Verstappens first and only run time.
Sergio Perez will now make things difficult for his team mate as Max finds himself in a Ferrari sandwich. This of course means in the race Ferrari can split there strategy putting Max under pressure to decide which Ferrari to cover at the pit stops.
The saving grace for the Dutch world champion is that the Red Bull long run pace is much better than the Ferrari cars. High temperatures and tyre degradation have plagued the red team previously.
The big question: Is the slipper shod Red Bull of Verstappen capable of being kind to the tyres and doing one stop less than the Ferrari’s?