Lewis Hamilton headed Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen in a difficult-to-read second practice at the Spanish Grand Prix.
Hamilton and Ricciardo were just two of a number of drivers who set their fastest times on the ‘soft’ tyre rather than the theoretically faster super-soft.
Verstappen and Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel did improve on the super-soft but were only third and fourth quickest.
It meant a clear competitive picture was even harder to discern than usual.
Many drivers were struggling to make the super-soft work at all on one qualifying lap and it looked as if teams would be trying to minimise running on what would before the weekend have been expected to be the qualifying tyre.
The unexpected situation with tyres meant that the headline lap times were potentially not a reflection of real pace.
Hamilton was 0.133secs quicker than Ricciardo, with Verstappen, using the super-soft, 0.141secs behind his team-mate.
Vettel, on the super-soft, was 0.326secs slower than Hamilton and just 0.026secs off the fastest Ferrari.
Ricciardo’s time was particularly impressive after he crashed mid-way through the first session and lost track time.
It indicates a potentially closely matched fight for victory, while Mercedes and Ferrari would be expected to have an advantage in qualifying thanks to their extra engine boost, which is not available to Renault.
Meanwhile, there were apparent engine concerns for Ferrari, with Kimi Raikkonen, sixth quickest, returning slowly to the pits after a puff of smoke from the rear of his car.
When the wind blows…
As with the morning session, there were a number of spins and off-track moments as strong winds disrupted the cars’ aerodynamics on this exposed hill-side track in the Valles region north of Barcelona.
Only one driver went off and was unable to rejoin, Haas’ Romain Grosjean, but once his car was returned to the pits he was able to return to the track and set seventh fastest time to be best of the rest ahead of team-mate Kevin Magnussen.
That position may have been taken by Fernando Alonso’s McLaren, but he set his fastest time on the medium tyre, did not set a lap time on the super-soft, and did not do a qualifying run on the soft.
His team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne was ninth quickest, just behind the Haas drivers.
Force India’s Sergio Perez was 10th ahead of team-mate Esteban Ocon and Renault appeared to be struggling with Nico Hulkenberg and Carlos Sainz 13th and 17th.
Their travails were nothing compared to those of Williams, though, for whom Lance Stroll and Sergey Sirotkin were 19th and 20th, three seconds off the pace, the track brutally exposing the car’s aerodynamic weaknesses.