Spanish GP: Lewis Hamilton fastest as Mercedes step up the pace

Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen was third fastest, almost one second slower than the Mercedes pair, with Vettel in fourth, and the Red Bull duo of Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo next up in the order.

All the teams have new aerodynamic parts, as is traditional at this first European race of the season, and the most striking are on the Mercedes.

A Russian Grand Prix bereft of overtaking after the opening lap has prompted fresh suggestions that the use of DRS be increased, but Vettel thinks such "artificial" methods should be avoided when addressing the issue.

Mercedes rolled out on Friday with a radical slim-line nose on its upgraded auto, while Red Bull appeared to have cut the gap to Ferrari with its own B-spec vehicle in FP2.

With teams turning up their cars for the afternoon practice session, Mercedes' one second advantage was reduced to 0.3 of a second, with Hamilton leading Bottas, Raikkonen and Vettel.

Red Bull's Max Verstappen was fifth, just 0.250secs behind Raikkonen at the Circuit de Catalunya.

Hamilton admitted he had enjoyed the challenge of driving in the changeable conditions, but acknowledged they made a lap more unpredictable - with "gusts of wind" having the potential to prove decisive.

"I didn't get everything together, I wasn't too happy but I can feel the vehicle is quick so that is good".

"The season will start new", he said.

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"We have to wait and see what the updates will bring", Verstappen said.

"This inter-team battle is a totally different situation than what we have seen over the last three years".

But Bottas, who joined Mercedes in January as replacement for 2016 world champion Nico Rosberg, is the best bet to continue the streak of different winners in Spain.

And although tyres have played a role in the outcome, most notably Ferrari's two wins and Bottas' Bahrain Grand Prix struggles, the Finn reckons over time the tyres will have less of an impact on the race results.

"We expected Valtteri to develop through every single race and step up his performance and he's shown that", Wolff said. We have grown from experience, of having won with a fast vehicle and a auto that struggled in so many areas.

Alonso, who will miss the Monaco Grand Prix later this month to participate at the Indianapolis 500, hitched a ride back to the pit lane on the back of a motorbike as his stricken McLaren was towed back to the garage.

"I think Ferrari has, in general, being very good in managing the tyres, so we have been focusing on getting a good long runs' pace to try and do better this weekend". "It's my home race".

Reports have emerged from Italy that Vettel, 29, has already held discussions with Mercedes' non-executive chairman Niki Lauda to partner Hamilton next year.

Bottas said: "It took some time to properly realise I won the race".

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