Fernando Alonso quickest in rain-hit first practice

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Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso finished quickest in the first free practice session for the Spanish Grand Prix this morning, setting the fastest time at the very end of the session as drivers left it late to take advantage of a drying track.

A heavy downpour just before practice got underway curtailed running during the first half of the session, with DRS being disabled due to the wet conditions. Many drivers were caught out on the damp track, but it soon began to dry out, allowing them to continually better their times in pursuit of top spot. Lewis Hamilton, Daniel Ricciardo, Jean-Eric Vergne and Felipe Massa all went quickest at one point, yet it was home favourite Alonso who finished the session quickest with a time of 1:25.252; two tenths quicker than teammate Massa.

Vergne finished an excellent third for Toro Rosso, with the Italian team looking strong in this opening sessions, although whether this is due to their upgrades or the wet weather remains to be seen. In fourth place was Romain Grosjean, who is looking to repeat his strong performance at the Circuit de Catalunya from last season, and he was closely followed by Adrian Sutil and Lewis Hamilton, who finished fifth and sixth respectively. Valtteri Bottas impressed many to finish in seventh, whilst Caterham will be pleased to have soundly beaten Marussia towards the back of the grid. Red Bull and McLaren had difficult sessions, with Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber finishing P19 and P20 respectively, and Jenson Button failed to post a time. However, they may have been looking to bide their time and wait for a dry session later this afternoon.

A wet practice is never ideal, but it could be a good indicator of the result should storms hit the circuit for the race on Sunday. Ferrari will be pleased to have returned to action so excellently, although, as they will know from Bahrain, there are no points awarded for topping practice sessions.

You can find a complete classification of results here.

Schmidt Peterson confirms all-Canadian lineup of Hinchcliffe, Wickens

Photo: IndyCar
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The Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team is going for a diet of denim, maple syrup, pace and politeness in its 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series lineup, with an all-Canadian pairing of James Hinchcliffe and Robert Wickens confirmed for next season.

Hinchcliffe was known to want a driver of Wickens’ caliber alongside him in the second seat after three less-than-fruitful seasons with James Jakes (2015), Mikhail Aleshin (2016) and a combination of drivers (Aleshin, Sebastian Saavedra, Jack Harvey) rotated through the second car the last three years.

Recent changes have brought them to this point and now leads them to becoming full-time teammates for the first time in a decade, since the defunct country-focused A1 Grand Prix series in 2007-2008.

Hinchcliffe has re-signed with Schmidt Peterson after three seasons with the team. His first was shortened due to his near life-threatening injuries sustained in an accident in practice for that year’s Indianapolis 500. A rapid and welcome recovery followed throughout the second half of 2015 before his comeback to action in 2016, with an Indianapolis 500 pole and a couple near-misses on wins that followed. In 2017, he won Round 2 at Long Beach but faltered in the second half of the year through a litany of mechanical woes and bad luck.

Wickens, meanwhile, faced an uncertain future when Mercedes-Benz announced earlier this year it would withdraw from DTM at the end of 2018. One of Hinchcliffe’s long-time friends, Wickens hasn’t raced full-time in North America in more than a decade since they were both in Formula Atlantic in 2007, at separate teams (Wickens at Red Bull Forsythe Racing and Hinchcliffe at Sierra Sierra Enterprises). As he pursued his Formula 1 dream and had a wealth of success in the junior series, he never got a proper shot, and has since gone onto several successful years with Mercedes in DTM.

A ride-swap between the two of them came together earlier this year where Wickens sampled Hinchcliffe’s No. 5 Arrow Electronics Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda at Sebring’s short course, while Hinchcliffe then flew to Italy to sample Wickens’ Mercedes-AMG C63 DTM after the St. Petersburg season opener. Hinchcliffe ended 13th in points in IndyCar, Wickens ninth in DTM this year, both with one win each during the year. Wickens also had a Friday to sample the No. 7 Lucas Oil SPM Honda at Road America this year, but had to relinquish the seat once Aleshin returned from a visa issue.

“Not only am I really excited to be able to say I’ll be back with SPM for next year and beyond, but I am also really looking forward to being teammates with one of my oldest friends,” said Hinchcliffe.

“Robbie and I grew up racing against one another, eventually took different paths, me staying in North America in open-wheel cars and him going off to Europe in sports cars, but it’s pretty neat that we both ended up here and we get to live our dream of being professional racing drivers, together on the same team.

“I think 2018 is going to be a great year for the SPM organization, from having Robbie here to the team’s new partnership with Honda and the 2018 aero kit; I just can’t wait to get back on track and bring some good results home for the Arrow Electronics crew.”

Wickens added: “This is an entirely new chapter to add to my racing career, and I am really excited for this opportunity that Schmidt Peterson Motorsports has given me.

“I think everyone knows the story by now that James and I grew up racing against one another in go karts, and to make it to the largest open-wheel racing series in North America together as teammates, it’s crazy to think about.

“I am very thankful for the six years I had with everyone at Mercedes and DTM; those are memories I will cherish forever. I can’t wait to truly see what the Verizon IndyCar Series is all about!”