Max Verstappen sets the pace again but little to cheer for Lewis Hamilton

Max Verstappen sets the pace again but little to cheer for Lewis Hamilton

Max Verstappen completed a practice double for Sunday’s Spanish Grand Prix as Lewis Hamilton finished only 11th on a disheartening day for the seven-time world champion and his Mercedes team.

As Verstappen predictably set the pace for Red Bull at Barcelona’s Circuit de Catalunya, Hamilton, 12th in the day’s first running, ended second practice six tenths off the pace.

Home favourite Fernando Alonso raised hope that he could challenge Verstappen and his all-conquering Red Bull team after he finished second for Aston Martin, just 0.170 seconds back.

Nico Hulkenberg was an impressive third for Haas, with Verstappen’s Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez fourth.

Hamilton admitted on Thursday that Mercedes’ much-anticipated upgrade, which made its debut in Monaco a week ago, had not provided the magic fix he was hoping for.

And on his new machine’s second outing, at a track where the Silver Arrows said they would obtain a greater understanding of their upgrades, the evidence suggests they are no closer to taking on the mighty Red Bull, or indeed, leapfrogging rivals Aston Martin and Ferrari.

Hamilton’s team-mate George Russell finished eighth, half-a-second off the pace.

Russell also came within inches of a nasty accident with Oscar Piastri after he was blocked by the rookie McLaren driver.

Russell was forced to take evasive action, running off the road and into the gravel.

“Who the f*** was that in the McLaren,” said the usually mild-mannered Briton as he limped through the sandtrap.

Verstappen has been in a class of one for the past 18 months and his dominance continued on Friday.

A day after he made the ominous prediction that Red Bull could win all 16 remaining races this year, Verstappen finished seven tenths faster than anyone else in the opening running before returning to the top of the timesheets for the day’s final action.

Alonso’s home race this weekend marks the 10th anniversary of his 32nd and last win in the sport.

However, the Spaniard is enjoying a career resurgence following his transfer from Alpine to Aston Martin, finishing on the podium at five of the first six races, and emerging as a possible threat to Verstappen.

Five days after he finished on the podium in Monaco, Esteban Ocon was fifth for Alpine, three tenths back, with the Ferrari pair of Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz sixth and seventh respectively.

British driver Lando Norris finished 14th for McLaren, two places behind his rookie team-mate Piastri.