MONTMELÓ, Spain (AP) — Formula 1 points leader Charles Leclerc swept all three tries before the Spanish Grand Prix and edged reigning world champion Max Verstappen in the final session before qualifying. Saturday.
The Ferrari driver was just 0.072 seconds quicker than Red Bull’s Verstappen. The Mercedes pair of George Russell and Lewis Hamilton were third and fourth fastest in the Saturday morning session.
Qualifying for Sunday’s race was to follow the final practice session, which took place on a hot and sunny day at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya. Although large parts of Spain were under heatwave alert with some of the hottest May temperatures in two decades, the temperature was a manageable 32C (89F) during morning workouts.
The most heat came from Mick Schumacher’s Haas when his brakes gave out and appeared to catch fire just 15 minutes into the hour-long session.
Schumacher told his team over the radio that “my brakes were burning, my rear brakes were burning” as he overran his stop. Crew members quickly extinguished the flames spouting from the right rear wheel with fire extinguishers.
The team said they were changing gearboxes and were “confident that Mick’s car will be in good shape to take part in qualifying”.
Over 100,000 fans are expected at the first Spanish GP with plenty of spectators since 2019; the public was not allowed to attend in 2020 and only 1,000 fans were allowed inside in 2021 due to pandemic restrictions.
Spanish driver Carlos Sainz, the best shooter to win on home soil, finished fifth on Saturday morning in his Ferrari. A fuel system problem forced Ferrari to change Sainz’s chassis overnight.
His compatriot Fernando Alonso hasn’t had a happy homecoming so far. He was 12th in Saturday morning practice for Alpine, accused the FIA of incompetence in race control and was penalized in one of Friday’s practice.
Spain’s greatest driver has struggled this season and the two-time F1 champion scored just two points, while his Alpine team-mate Esteban Ocon scored 24.
Leclerc holds a 19-point lead over Verstappen after five races, but Verstappen has the momentum and is coming off back-to-back wins at Imola and Miami. The Dutchman has three wins out of Leclerc’s two wins this season.
But Ferrari are one of several teams that have arrived in Spain with upgrades to their 2022 cars and hoped the team could stop Verstappen at the 4.6-kilometre (2.8-mile) circuit.
Qualifying will be important as the poleman for this race has won 23 out of 31 times as the track has few overtaking areas.
The hot temperatures should make tire management essential during the 66-lap race on a track notorious for being tough on the tyres. Leclerc complained about it during practice on Friday.
Ferrari race director Laurent Mekies admitted ahead of qualifying that the Italian team “wasn’t happy with our long runs” due to tire wear.
“We hope to help with the improvements (which we made in Spain) and give the tires an easier time,” Mekies said.
Hamilton has won the Spanish GP six times and for each of the past five years. But the seven-time world champion entered the weekend as an outside challenger to what so far has been a two-way title fight between Verstappen and Leclerc.
Hamilton has been beaten by new teammate Russell in four of five races this year as Mercedes have been slow to get out of the gate with their new car.
Echoing the positive impressions Hamilton got from Friday’s practice, Mercedes technical director Mike Elliot said his team had done a lot to eliminate the rebound effect – known as ‘porpoising’ – that has plagued the team with the new car.
“We’ve definitely settled the car,” Elliot said. He didn’t rule out a rebound that could put Mercedes back in contention.
“We were lucky to be up front for a long time and to find ourselves now as the challengers rise,” he said. “We’re not far behind, if we can get our car into position we have a chance.”
More AP Auto Racing: https://apnews.com/hub/auto-racing and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports