The most fun practice session of the year in Barcelona? We thought so…

Spanish Grand Prix, Barcelona 9 - 12 May 2013If you have nothing planned this evening, and didn’t bunk off to watch the first two free practice sessions for Sunday’s Spanish Grand Prix, then can I humbly suggest you cancel plans for this evening and fire up the iPlayer.

I watched the Beeb today and, while I have no doubt Messers Brundle and co did their usual excellent job on Sky, the combination of Allan McNish (making his debut for the BBC), Big Gary Anderson, and some exhilarating camera work made for some of the best three hours of F1 viewing I’ve seen in a long time.

Has a shaky start to the season on the interest-o-meter made Bernie deploy his own hairdryer on the production team? The return of the helmet cam, some low, low front wing cams, another angle above the exit of the pit lane, plus a device which seem to trigger a kerb-cam when anyone locked up – it all made today’s practice more compelling to watch than any race we’ve had so far. Maybe it’s just the excitement of F1 coming home to Europe for the summer, but it felt like it got its mojo back today.

Sebastian Vettel ended the day fastest, but only just from Fernando Alonso. And we know, because McNish and Anderson were all over it, that the Ferrari looked the more consistent bet, marginally happier on its hard compounds than the Red Bull.

Lotus were also there or thereabouts and, although lacking the last few hundredths against the red cars and the blue/purple/red/yellow/silver (really, who is in charge of the paints at Red Bull?) cars, better still on the long runs on the hards. Especially Romain Grosjean. Impossible to say as ever on a Friday, but it looks like we have a proper race on. Not just for Sunday, but for the rest of the season. Wait until you see the look on Fernando Alonso’s face before you shout that one down.

And it was really about those three teams; Red Bull, Ferrari and Lotus. Mercedes looked to have slipped back a little on pace. That would be okay if there was any sense of confidence that it had sacrificed speed for some more laps from its rear tyres. There wasn’t a lot of evidence of that today, even with unseasonably low temperatures and a track cooled by the morning rain.

Still, Lewis Hamilton looked a lot happier than Jenson Button. McLaren’s message this weekend is that it knows what the problem is, just that it’s not an easy fix. That much was self evident, JB not setting a time in the morning at all and managing only 12th in the afternoon nearly 1.5secs off the pace.

The BBC had gone to some lengths to pre-record interviews with a lot of the drivers on the Thursday, and played them out across the sessions. Button’s was as downbeat as any I have seen in a long time, including during last year’s ‘lost mid-season’. It’s no secret Jenson likes things hunky dory. They are clearly anything but right now, and don’t look like getting any better in a hurry.

On today’s performance McLaren haven’t a hope of making Q3, and would need to leap frog Force India (predictably) and Toro Rosso (the most improved looking team boasting upgrades today) to do so.

The top ten then; VET, ALO (just 0.017secs behind), WEB, RAI, MAS, HAM (all that group inside three tenths of Vettel), ROS, SUT, VER, and Paul Di Resta who’s turn it was this weekend to enjoy Pirelli’s exploding tyre joker.

Qualifying tomorrow at 13.00 on the BBC and Sky might just be electric. You will want to watch that, but have a catch up on today first if you can. I promise you it’s worth it…

Comments are now closed