Lewis Hamilton tops second practice in Spain ahead of Valtteri Bottas; Max Verstappen ninth

F1 Grand Prix of Spain - Practice
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MONTMELO, Spain — Lewis Hamilton, fastest on the speed chart, did what he does best in F1 on Friday, and Max Verstappen, ninth, didn’t.

Hamilton clocked the fastest time in the second practice session for the Spanish Grand Prix, while Verstappen was a distant ninth.

Hamilton, who leads Verstappen by eight points in the Formula One standings, set the best time in the second session with a lap of 1 minute, 18.170 seconds. Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas was 0.139 seconds behind in second after the Finn had set the fastest time in the first practice session.

“It’s been a good start to the weekend, the track is awesome and our balance is similar to what we had in the last race,” Hamilton said. “It looks close, but I think we’ve got good pace.”

Verstappen was 0.615 off the pace. The Red Bull driver missed some time on the track while his team worked on the car, and his last lap was cut short when he damaged the right tip of his front wing.

“How competitive we are going to be tomorrow is always going to be a question mark on a Friday, but from our side we are quite happy,” Verstappen said. “Of course, you always want to improve and do better, so we just have to make sure tomorrow that we are up there. But I’m looking forward to it.”

Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc had the third-best time, followed by Alpine pair Esteban Ocon and Fernando Alonso, who is back in Spain for his first race since 2018.

Hamilton won the season opener in Bahrain and last week’s race in Portugal. Verstappen won the season’s second race in Italy. In all three races, Hamilton and Verstappen have finished 1-2.

Hamilton looks to have the edge for Sunday’s race, too. No driver dominates the curves and straight away of the 4.6-kilometer (2.9-mile) Barcelona-Catalunya Circuit like the British driver, who has won the race for the past four years.

On Saturday, Hamilton will be aiming for his 100th career pole. On Sunday, he will be looking to equal Michael Schumacher’s six wins in Montmelo.

Verstappen, however, is the last driver to win other than Hamilton to win on this track. He became F1’s youngest race winner at the age of 18 when he won the Spanish GP in 2016.

This season, Verstappen could have been even closer – or perhaps ahead of Hamilton – in the standings if he had not run afoul of track limit violations that cost him points in Bahrain and Portugal.

Red Bull’s other driver, Sergio Perez, finished behind Verstappen with the 10th-best time on Friday.

McLaren driver Lando Norris, the surprise of the season in a distant third place, had the 12th best time behind Sebastian Vettel in his Aston Martin.

“It’s amazing to see the progress that McLaren, Ferrari and Alpine are making, not just Red Bull, and that puts pressure on us,” Hamilton said.

The two sessions under sunny skies near Barcelona only saw one red flag when Alfa Romeo reserve driver Robert Kubica spun out on a curve and got stuck in the gravel.

“I paid quite high a price for what I’d say is a small mistake,” Kubica said after his first spin in a F1 car in five months.

New Chip Ganassi driver Marcus Armstrong will team with boyhood idol Scott Dixon

Marcus Armstrong Scott Dixon
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Marcus Armstrong was a Scott Dixon fan his entire life, and when he was 8, the aspiring young racer asked his fellow New Zealander to autograph a helmet visor that he hung on his bedroom wall.

Next year, Armstrong will be Dixon’s teammate.

Armstrong was named Friday as the fourth IndyCar driver in the Chip Ganassi Racing lineup and will pilot the No. 11 next season on road and street courses.

A driver for the five oval races on the 17-race schedule will be named later.

The No. 11 is essentially the No. 48 that seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson drove the last two seasons, with Chip Ganassi making the change to run four cars numbered in sequential order. Indianapolis 500 winner Marcus Ericsson drives the No. 8, six-time champion Dixon drives the No. 9, and 2020 IndyCar champion Alex Palou drives the No. 10.

So just who is the second Kiwi in the Ganassi lineup?

A 22-year-old who spent the past three seasons in Formula One feeder series F2, a Ferrari development driver in 2021, and former roommate of Callum Illot and former teammate of Christian Lundgaard – both of whom just completed their rookie IndyCar seasons.

“I’ve always been attracted to the IndyCar championship because it’s one of those championships that’s been really well televised in New Zealand since I was young, mainly because of Scott and his success,” Armstrong told The Associated Press. “As time progressed, as I got closer to F1 and single-seaters, the attraction to IndyCar grew just because of how competitive the championship is – I like to challenge myself and the level of competition in IndyCar is remarkably high.”

Armstrong, from Christchurch, New Zealand, was set to travel from his current home in London to Indianapolis this weekend to meet his new team. He won’t need an introduction to Dixon, the 42-year-old considered the best IndyCar driver of his generation and Armstrong’s unequivocal childhood hero.

Last season, Dixon earned his 53rd career victory to pass Mario Andretti for second on the all-time list. Dixon has driven for Ganassi in all but 23 of his 345 career starts.

“For a long time I’ve been a Scott Dixon fan. I don’t want to make him cringe with our age difference,” Armstrong told the AP.

Despite the two-decade age difference, Armstrong never considered someday racing with Dixon a fantasy.

He convinced his father after winning five national karting championships to allow him to leave New Zealand for Italy at age 14, where he moved by himself to pursue a racing career. Armstrong said as soon as he’d received parental permission, he’d never look back.

Armstrong was in Formula 4 two years after his move to Italy and won that title in his first season. He won four races and four poles in F3 in the 2018 and 2019 seasons, then collected four wins and eight podiums in three seasons of F2.

“Maybe it’s a strength, or maybe it’s a weakness, but I always thought I was capable of doing great in the sport,” Armstrong told the AP. “I think you probably have to succeed in the sport, you need to believe in yourself. I always pictured myself being in IndyCar.

“As Scott’s teammate? I can’t specifically say I saw that. It’s an extraordinary chain of events.”

Armstrong becomes just the latest driver to leave Europe, where F1 is the pinnacle but has only 20 seats each year. Alexander Rossi began the trend in 2016 when the American left F1 and won the Indianapolis 500 as a rookie. He’s been followed by Ericsson, last season’s Indy 500 winner, Romain Grosjean, Illot, Lundgaard, and on Thursday three-time W Series champion and Williams F1 reserve driver Jamie Chadwick was announced as driver for Andretti Autosport in IndyCar’s second-tier development series.

Armstrong said he could have remained in F2 for a fourth season, but he’d been watching IndyCar for so long, and after conversations with Illot and Lundgaard, he decided to make the move to what he believes is the most balanced racing series in the world. He tested for Dale Coyne Racing at Sebring in October.

He doesn’t know if European racing is done for good, just that he wants to be in IndyCar right now.

“I don’t want to think too far into the future, I’m just grateful for this opportunity that is standing right in front of me,” Armstrong said. “I want to perform as well as I can in the near future and just consolidate myself in the fantastic chance that is IndyCar and just do my best.

“I’m not looking at F1 as a landing spot – I am looking at IndyCar, and that’s exactly why I am here.”