Mercedes sets the pace in practice for Spanish GP

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Mercedes, with Valtteri Bottas again quicker than World Champion Lewis Hamilton, led the way in the first Spanish Grand Prix practice here Friday with Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel the best of the rest.

"It will be close", he said.

A good starting position is crucial in Spain as there are not many overtaking opportunities. But in Spain, both Ferraris, Daniel Ricciardo and Fernando Alonso set their fastest time on the soft compound (the second fastest on offer in Barcelona). Valteri Bottas (Mercedes) - +0,0403.

There were big cheers from the crowd for Hartley, in his first full season in F1, as he climbed from the wreckage of his auto.

"I chipped away at my lap time by a few hundredths but it wasn't enough", Ricciardo said. "It is a little bit disheartening as I don't really know what I could have done more".

"In the end it's hard to say that it was enjoyable because our auto balance was very bad and it was very hard to drive, so it was hard to enjoy", Kubica said.

Romain Grosjean, who crashed under the safety vehicle in Azerbaijan, was the first to face trouble in the afternoon session, losing control of his Haas and getting stuck on the gravel.

Q2 was all about strategy for the front-runners as the majority set their fastest times on the soft compound to ensure they start on that tire. "So that's a positive thing".

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It was also the first time a McLaren, now with Renault engines and with an eye-catching new nose and front wing, had reached the decisive final session this season.

There was a massive scalp when Renault's Nico Hulkenberg was eliminated along with the 2 struggling Williams and Marcus Ericsson.

There was some disquiet with the rear-view mirrors Ferrari mounted on the halos, with motorsport governing body FIA looking into a possible breach of regulations.

New Zealander Brendon Hartley of Toro Rosso was not among the runners following his huge accident at the end of final practice, which left the rear end of his vehicle wrecked after spinning into the barriers at high speed. The new record of 1:16.173 may go unbeaten for several years as 2019's regulation changes are expected to make the cars 1.5s slower.

The rear of his auto was destroyed by the high-speed impact, both rear wheels and the rear of the gearbox were left hanging by their tethers, but Hartley was unhurt, if severely dazed.

Lance Stroll continued to struggle with Williams, going off track in the final minutes of qualifying. He also went into the gravel in practice earlier on Saturday and on Friday.

Updates with quotes by Ricciardo, Magnussen.

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