Charles Leclerc leads F1 practices for Spanish GP; Hamilton’s Mercedes improving on speed

Leclerc F1 Mercedes improving
Mark Thompson/Getty Images

MONTMELO, Spain — Formula One points leader Charles Leclerc of Ferrari topped both F1 practices at the Spanish Grand Prix on Friday while Mercedes appeared to be improving.

Leclerc topped the time charts in both hourlong sessions. George Russell and Lewis Hamilton were next in their Mercedes, which have struggled to keep up with Ferrari and Red Bull this season. They were within 0.2 seconds of Leclerc.

Carlos Sainz clocked the fourth-best time in his Ferrari, followed by defending champion Max Verstappen for Red Bull.

Leclerc leads Verstappen by 19 points after five races, but Verstappen has cut the deficit after back-to-back wins in Italy and Miami.

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Teams often roll out major upgrades at the Spanish GP with a handful of races already in the bag and this well-known circuit, where teams also test in winter, is perfect for gauging progress.

Ferrari is hoping that upgrades it has brought to Spain can help it match the race speed that Red Bull has enjoyed in the last two races, when Verstappen beat Leclerc.

“Hopefully (the upgrade) will be a good one and enough to be in front of Red Bull again,” Leclerc said.

Verstappen said his team won’t roll out any surprises but is planning to reduce the weight of the car.

“Our car is a bit fat so we need to slim it down,” Verstappen said before getting behind the wheel on Friday.

It appears that focusing on the car’s reliability is the top priority for Red Bull, after car failures kept Verstappen from finishing in Bahrain and Australia, where Leclerc won.

“(Ferrari) are coming with a few upgrades so it will be interesting to see what that gives them at the end of the day,” Verstappen said. “We just need to focus on our package. We want a clean weekend.”

Hamilton is not used to being an outside contender in Barcelona, where he was won six times and five years in a row. But he was encouraged by the car’s apparent improvements.

Hamilton said he was “super happy with the progress,” and that his engineers had stabilized his Mercedes.

“We are not the quickest yet, but we are on our way. It is the first time I have driven down the straight without bouncing,” Hamilton said. “I am really grateful for those upgrades, we just need to fine-tune them. We can get it in even better shape tomorrow so we can tackle the guys up ahead.”

The best result this season for Hamilton, a 103-time race winner, is third place at the season opener in Bahrain. He is sixth in the standings with 36 points. Leclerc leads with 104.

Russell surprisingly has outperformed the seven-time world champion in his first year with Mercedes, finishing higher than his new teammate in four of five races.

The opening practice featured the F1 weekend debuts of two drivers in testing roles. Juri Vips filled in for Red Bull’s Sergio Perez, while Nyck de Vries drove Alex Albon’s Williams. Veteran Robert Kubica also got a turn for Alfa Romeo in place of Zhou Guanyu.

It was mostly an incident-free day except for a car failure that left Valtteri Bottas out of action. He said “something’s broke” as his Alfa Romeo ground to a stop in the grass. The Finn was whisked back to the paddock on the back of a scooter.

Race officials expect more than 110,000 fans to turn out for each of the event’s three days after two years of racing without the public due to the pandemic. The face mask that Hamilton wore in the pre-practice news conference was one of the few seen at the track.

Spanish fans are eager to see Sainz and Fernando Alonso, the last Spaniard to win the Spanish GP back in 2013.

The Barcelona-Catalunya track is notorious for being tough on tires. And the hot temperatures forecast for this weekend should make tire management key. Leclerc confirmed that when he told his team by radio that “my tires are going to pieces” near the end of practice.

Qualifying is on Saturday following a third practice. The 66-lap race is Sunday.

Hunter Lawrence defends Haiden Deegan after controversial block pass at Detroit


Media and fan attention focused on a controversial run-in between Haiden Deegan and his Monster Energy Yamaha Star Racing teammate Jordon Smith during Round 10 of the Monster Energy Supercross race at Detroit, after which the 250 East points’ Hunter Lawrence defends the young rider in the postrace news conference.

Deegan took the early lead in Heat 1 of the round, but the mood swiftly changed when he became embroiled in a spirited battle with teammate Smith.

On Lap 3, Smith caught Deegan with a fast pass through the whoops. Smith briefly held the lead heading into a bowl turn but Deegan had the inside line and threw a block pass. In the next few turns, the action heated up until Smith eventually ran into the back of Deegan’s Yamaha and crashed.

One of the highlights of the battle seemed to include a moment when Deegan waited on Smith in order to throw a second block pass, adding fuel to the controversy.

After his initial crash, Smith fell to seventh on the next lap. He would crash twice more during the event, ultimately finishing four laps off the pace in 20th.

The topic was inevitably part of the postrace news conference.

“It was good racing; it was fun,” Deegan said at about the 27-minute mark in the video above. “I just had some fun doing it.”

Smith had more trouble in the Last Chance Qualifier. He stalled his bike in heavy traffic, worked his way into a battle for fourth with the checkers in sight, but crashed a few yards shy of the finish line and was credited with seventh. Smith earned zero points and fell to sixth in the standings.

Lawrence defends Deegan
Jordon Smith failed to make the Detroit Supercross Main and fell to sixth in the points. – Feld Motor Sports

“I think he’s like fifth in points,” Deegan said. “He’s a little out of it. Beside that it was good, I don’t know. I wasn’t really paying attention.”

Deegan jokingly deflected an earlier question with the response that he wasn’t paying attention during the incident.

“He’s my teammate, but he’s a veteran, he’s been in this sport for a while,” Deegan said. “I was up there just battling. I want to win as much as everybody else. It doesn’t matter if it’s a heat race or a main; I just want to win. I was just trying to push that.”

As Deegan and Smith battled, Jeremy Martin took the lead. Deegan finished second in the heat and backed up his performance with a solid third-place showing in the main, which was his second podium finish in a short six-race career. Deegan’s first podium was earned at Daytona, just two rounds ago.

But as Deegan struggled to find something meaningful to say, unsurprisingly for a 17-year-old rider who was not scheduled to run the full 250 schedule this year, it was the championship leader Lawrence who came to his defense.

Lawrence defends Deegan
A block pass by Haiden Deegan led to a series of events that eventually led to Jordon Smith failing to make the Main. – Feld Motor Sports

“I just want to point something out, which kind of amazes me,” Lawrence said during the conference. “So many of the people on social media, where everyone puts their expertise in, are saying the racing back in the ’80s, the early 90s, when me were men. They’re always talking about how gnarly it was and then anytime a block pass or something happens now, everyone cries about it.

“That’s just a little bit interesting. Pick one. You want the gnarly block passes from 10 years ago and then you get it, everyone makes a big song and dance about it.”

Pressed further, Lawrence defended not only the pass but the decision-making process that gets employed lap after lap in a Supercross race.

“It’s easy to point the finger,” Lawrence said. “We’re out there making decisions in a split millisecond. People have all month to pay their phone bill and they still can’t do that on time.

“We’re making decisions at such a fast reaction [time with] adrenaline. … I’m not just saying it for me or Haiden. I speak for all the guys. No one is perfect and we’re under a microscope out there. The media is really quick to point a finger when someone makes a mistake.”

The media is required to hold athletes accountable for their actions. They are also required to tell the complete story.