Hamilton heads Mercedes 1-2 in second practice for Spanish GP

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Lewis Hamilton has once again finished fastest in the second practice session for the Spanish Grand Prix on Friday afternoon in Barcelona.

The British driver posted a fastest lap of 1:25.524 to finish four-tenths of a second quicker than teammate Nico Rosberg, who completed yet another one-two for Mercedes. The rest of the field may have introduced updates to their cars in an attempt to cut the gap, but it appears that the German marque has also made a similar step forwards.

Daniel Ricciardo was the sole Red Bull taking part in FP2 after Sebastian Vettel was sidelined by a problem with the wiring loom on his car. The Australian driver made the most of his on track running, though, and finished as Mercedes’ closest challenger in third place ahead of the Ferrari duo of Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen.

McLaren once again put in an impressive display, suggesting that the British team has finally found its feet upon returning to Europe. Kevin Magnussen finished in sixth place ahead of Jenson Button.

Lotus also showed signs of a revival as Pastor Maldonado finished in ninth place, but Romain Grosjean could not match his pace and finished down in P17. Jules Bianchi and Max Chilton put in some impressive times for Marussia to beat both Caterhams, although both drivers had bodywork problems during the session.

With five minutes to go, Jean-Eric Vergne was forced to pull over at turn three after his right-rear tire was not attached correctly to his car. Toro Rosso could face a penalty for an unsafe release, with the FIA taking a zero tolerance stance to such errors. Max Chilton’s session also ended in the gravel after a mistake at turn four.

Even on the long runs, Mercedes once again laid down a dominant pace, consistently lapping at around one second per lap quicker than the rest of the field. Perhaps any thoughts that Red Bull could end Mercedes’ streak were a little premature…

Join us tomorrow on NBCSN and Live Extra from 8am ET for qualifying for the Spanish Grand Prix.

Ferrari, Mercedes launch 2018 F1 cars

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The title combatants from the 2017 FIA Formula 1 World Championship season both launched their 2018 challengers earlier on Thursday, with Scuderia Ferrari revealing the SF71H and Mercedes AMG Petronas revealing the W09.

For Ferrari, the SF71H represents an evolution of last year’s SF70H, which helped produce Ferrari’s best season in several years.

They presented a strong challenge to Mercedes for the championship, even leading the way at various points, with Sebastian Vettel recording five wins along the way. But, mechanical failures and crashes hampered their efforts late in the season, and they settled for second in the driver’s championship (with Vettel) and the constructor’s championship.

Entering 2018, the team is emphasizing the importance of building momentum with every race to ultimately secure their first constructor’s crown since 2008 and their first driver’s crown since 2007.

“There are no challenges actually. There are no challenges in the plural. There is just one challenge, which is the final challenge,” asserted team principal Maurizio Arrivabene. So that’s work that you build and you don’t build that work in one or two races. We’ve seen over the last few years, in the last championships, that you work race by race, and you always try to do the best you can.”

Technical director Mattia Binotto detailed some of the updates on the 2018 car, such as an new power unit and new suspension designs in anticipation of new tire constructions.

“We worked a lot on the power unit, we worked on its reliability and performance. We worked on the packaging, on suspensions in the rear axle because there will be new tires the following season, so we also tried to design the car to accommodate the new tires,” he explained.

Binotto added, “In regards to aerodynamics, we maintained our concept of having the inlets on the radiators, and everybody’s copying that, but we tried to make an additional step forward and what we showed today is not the same element of last year, but it is something more developed.”

Mercedes, meanwhile, will look to take it’s fifth consecutive driver’s and constructor’s championships with the W09. The team even took the car to the track for its launch, conducting a filming day at Silverstone Circuit.

“It is always a very exciting time because what has been designed is coming together and coming alive,”  team principal Toto Wolff said during the launch.

Despite facing challenges with last year’s car, the W08, the team elected to follow a similar design concept with the aerodynamics to improve on the car’s strengths while simultaneously addressing its weak points.

“We like some of the character traits from our diva,” Wolf quipped. “The W08 was the fastest car on the grid, scoring the highest number of pole positions and winning the most races last year. So we were careful not to lose the car’s many strengths just to overcome the difficulties.”

Both Ferrari and Mercedes are expected to slug it out again for the 2018 driver’s and constructor’s championships.

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