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Motor racing-Hamilton on top in Spanish Grand Prix practice



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Hamilton ends first day in Spain with fastest lap

Sainz a close second at home race

Norris quickest for McLaren in first session

Adds Mercedes, Red Bull quotes

BARCELONA, June 21 (Reuters) -Lewis Hamilton put Mercedes on top of the Friday practice timesheets at the Spanish Grand Prix with Ferrari's Carlos Sainz second fastest in front of his home fans at the Circuit de Catalunya and four teams closely matched.

McLaren's Lando Norris had set the pace in first practice, 0.024 quicker than Red Bull's triple Formula One world champion Max Verstappen, and the Briton was third in the second FP2 session.

Verstappen dropped to fifth in that session, albeit on slower medium tyres compared to others on softs, with Alpine's Pierre Gasly a surprisingly fast fourth and Ferrari's Charles Leclerc sixth.

"Today we just tried a few set ups out there in FP1 and FP2 and we have been trying to fine tune the car a little bit," Verstappen said. "I think the day itself has been positive and a bit more normal without any issues."

Seven times world champion Hamilton set a best time of one minute 13.264 seconds, 0.022 quicker than Sainz, after Norris had led FP1 with a lap of 1:14.228.

"FP1 wasn't the best session for us but we still learned quite a lot. FP2 was a lot better though and the car was feeling great," said Hamilton.

"The track was very hot, so it was tough on the tyres, especially on the long run. Overall, though, it didn't feel like we were too far off being right in the mix at the front.

"Hopefully we can continue the momentum from today into Saturday and get closer to our competitors ahead."

Sainz was third on those first practice timesheets as Formula One prepares for a triple-header of races on successive weekends.

Verstappen's team mate Sergio Perez, who will have a three place grid penalty on Sunday carried over from Canada, was fifth and 13th respectively.

"The lack of overtaking around here means it will be very important to be high up in order to get into a good position on Sunday," said Perez.

Mercedes's George Russell was eighth in session two, just behindMcLaren's Oscar Piastri.

"Our long run pace in FP1 was competitive. In FP2, it seemed that our single lap pace was slightly stronger than our long run speed but overall the car is feeling strong," Russell said.


CLOSE BATTLE

The lap times compared to last year's first free practice best of 1:14.606, when the then-dominant Red Bulls were one-two and Verstappen a mighty 0.768 quicker than Perez,and Verstappen's 1:13.907 in 2023's second session.

The battle at the top has got a lot closer since then and there were five teams in the top five in Friday's second session after four in the top four earlier in the day.

The gap between Hamilton and Sauber's Valtteri Bottas in 10th place in second practice was 0.660, while only 0.683 separated Norris and seventh placed Hamilton in the first.

"All in all a good start to the weekend ... I'm sure it's going to be close again, like it was in Canada," said Norris, looking forward to Saturday's qualifying.

Three teams and four drivers have won already this season and Verstappen, chasing his third Spanish GP win in a row, faces more of a battle despite leading Leclerc by 56 points in the drivers' standings.

"I think you have four teams that are on top of each other and as always it will be about execution," McLaren boss Zak Brown told Sky Sports television.

"Everyone knows this track. We test here a lot, so this weekend will show us how things might look like for the rest of the year."

While McLaren have no significant upgrades on their car, Ferrari have brought seven new items including changes to the floor and diffuser.

Britain's Oliver Bearman, tipped for a race seat next season, replaced Nico Hulkenberg at Haas for the firstsession and completed 29 laps to end up 19th compared to Kevin Magnussen in 17th.

Thatsession was briefly halted with 22 minutes to go when Alonso's car shed part of his front wing at turn nine.

Russell and RB's Yuki Tsunoda also had a near miss, with the Japanese almost hitting the rear of the Mercedes.

"Don't know what Tsunoda was doing there," Russell said over the radio. "I pulled to the right and he just aimed for me."



Writing by Alan Baldwin in London; Editing by Toby Chopra and Ken Ferris

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