MONTMELÓ – The leader in points in Formula 1 Charles Leclerc spent all three training sessions before the Spanish Grand Prix and bypassed the reigning world champion Max Ferstappen in the final session before Saturday’s qualifying.
The Ferrari driver was just 0.072 seconds faster than Ferstappen of Red Bull. The pair of “Mercedes” consisting of George Russell and Lewis Hamilton was third and fourth in speed in Saturday morning’s session.
Qualifying for Sunday’s race was to take place after the final training session, which took place on a warm sunny day on the Barcelona-Catalonia track. Although much of Spain is at risk from the heat with May temperatures being among the hottest in the last two decades, the morning practice was 32 C (89 F).
Most of all from Haas Mick Schumacher, when he was denied brakes and seemed to catch fire just 15 minutes after the hour-long session.
Schumacher told his team on the radio that “the brakes are on, the rear brakes are on” when he flew by. Crew members promptly extinguished the flames that erupted from the rear right wheel by fire extinguishers.
The team said it was changing gears and was “confident that Mick’s car will be in shape to qualify.”
More than 100,000 fans are expected at the first Spanish Grand Prix with full spectators from 2019; the public was not allowed to attend in 2020, and only 1,000 fans were admitted inside in 2021 due to pandemic restrictions.
Spanish racer Carlos Sains, who was the best shot to win on home soil, was fifth in speed on Saturday morning in his Ferrari. A fuel system problem forced Ferrari to change the chassis of the Science overnight.
Fernando Alonso’s countryman has not had a happy return home yet. He was 12th in Saturday morning’s training session for Alpine, accused the FIA of incompetence in driving races and was fined during one of Friday’s training sessions.
Spain’s best driver this season had a hard time, with the two-time Formula One champion scoring just two points and his Alpine team-mate Esteban Ocon scoring 24.
Leclerc holds the lead over Ferstappen by 19 points after five races, but Ferstappen has the momentum and wins in a row in Imola and Miami. The Dutchman has three wins to Leclerc’s two wins this season.
But Ferrari is one of several teams that arrived in Spain to upgrade their cars in 2022 and hoped the team would be able to stop Ferstappen on a 4.6-kilometer (2.8 mile) track.
Qualifying will be important as the pole sitter for this race has won 23 of 31 times because there are few checkpoints on the track.
Hot temperatures should make driving tires key during the 66-wheel race on the track, known for its hardness to the tires. Leclerc complained about this during Friday’s practice.
Ferrari racing director Laurent Mekis admitted before qualifying that the Italian equipment “was not satisfied with our long runs” due to tire wear.
“We hope to help with the modernization (we brought it to Spain) and ease the tires,” Mekis said.
Hamilton has won the Spanish GP six times and each for the past five years. But the seven-time world champion entered the weekend as an outside contender for what has so far been a double title fight between Ferstappen and Leclerc.
Hamilton was beaten by new teammate Russell in four of five races this year as Mercedes slowly walked out of the gate with their new car.
Echoing Hamilton’s positive impressions of Friday’s practice, Mercedes CTO Mike Elliott said his team had done a lot to eliminate the jumping effect called “soldering” that plagued the team with the new car.
“We definitely set up the car,” Elliott said. He did not rule out a rebound that could bring Mercedes back to the title fight.
“We’re lucky to be at the forefront for a long period of time, and now we’ve found ourselves as contenders,” he said. “We’re not far behind, if we can put our car in place, we have a chance.”
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