Max Verstappen splits Mercedes as Valtteri Bottas edges Lewis Hamilton in Barcelona FP1

Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas outpaced team-mate Lewis Hamilton and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen in first practice ahead of the Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona, as the Finn looks to add a new spin to the title fight.

Bottas, who called any suggestion that his seat at Mercedes was under threat as ‘bulls**t’, set a 1:18.504s, with Verstappen dangerously close just 0.033s behind in the opening session of the weekend.

Seven-time world champion Hamilton was a further tenth behind in the second Mercedes.

But it wasn’t a clean session for Bottas, after a close encounter with Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz Jnr, who held up the Finn at the chicane, forcing him wide and onto the grass.

“Nice one. Got properly blocked there,” said Bottas on his radio as he rejoined.

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Speaking ahead of the weekend, Bottas was confident he could start bringing the fight to Hamilton and Verstappen. 

“There are still 20 races to go which is a huge amount of points and I am definitely not giving up on the goal this year,” Bottas said. “I believe the hard work will pay off and keep believing and I know the results will come and pay off.

“Any team orders, I am not worried, not at all. I know there is a bit of a gap now but it is very early days so no point starting to think about that.”

Lando Norris in the McLaren, who achieved his second podium of his Formula 1 career in Imola a few weeks ago, was fourth debuting a new front nose and floor.

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The only red flag of the session came from Alfa Romeo’s reserve driver Robert Kubica, in his first FP1 outing of the year – however he spun off and beached it bringing out the red flag.

Mercedes, who are looking for an eighth consecutive title, come leading the Constructors’ standings and Drivers’ standings, with Hamilton leading the way by eight points.

But it could’ve been more, had Verstappen’s small, but key errors not occurred in the past three races.

“In terms of overall output through the weekend, we’ve done a better job,” Hamilton said. “We have a good package but it has weak areas which we are working on.

Verstappen said: “I always try to get the best possible results out of it. I went twice outside off the track limits where it cost me basically a pole and a fastest lap but it’s also because I don’t settle for second or third.

“It is exciting and I am looking forward to every single battle. We finally have a car which is capable of having good results every weekend, whether that is first or third or second it will depend on the track.

“It is really enjoyable. So far we have had some good results. I am happy, things can always go better but from both sides, from the car or myself. It is never good enough even if I would have won three races so far.”

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