Published: Sat, May 13, 2017
Medical | By Dorothy Lyons

Hamilton fastest as Mercedes step up the pace

Renault driver Sergey Sirotkin of Russia steers his auto during the first practice session ahead the Formula One Russian Grand Prix at the "Sochi Autodrom" circuit, in Sochi, Russia, Friday, April.

Ferrari and Mercedes may be the front-runners again, but Red Bull expect to be close in pursuit with a heavily-updated auto while local hero Fernando Alonso has more modest hopes.

As the teams begin to prepare for the Circuit de Catalunya, we take a look at the talk in the paddock.

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.

"We are obviously in a much better position, but it is still early", Vettel said.

Red Bull have been helpless as Ferrari and Mercedes battle for supremacy in the early throes of the season. "If it is not the case then I will be more than happy to talk to anyone". "That would already be a good step forward".

But that will surely change, with the flow of upgrades set to speed up now that teams are closer to their factories, and Red Bull have some big chassis modifications in the pipeline and engine improvements still to come.

Mercedes, like all teams, arrive at Barcelona with vehicle upgrades and Bottas reckons the battle with Ferrari will continue to be defined by fine margins.

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

Wolff said Mercedes has to get used to this new scenario after dominating the series for the last three seasons. "You simply need to adapt to the challenge and that's what we are doing, playing the hunter as well as being the hunted".

But by the end of turn two, the first proper corner on the track, it was Bottas who led the race after a flying start saw him overtake both Ferraris.

"As always we will work hard to find any performance". As the McLaren was hoisted into the air, litres of fluid poured out of the back every time it swung backwards, leaving Alonso to watch on in disbelief while he waved apologetically to the his home fans.

Another Bottas win would not be a surprise at a venue that has a habit of producing more different winners than anywhere else - if he is successful, he will be the 11th different victor in as many years.

"Of course Bottas is a credible competitor", the three-times world champion said when asked if he believed the Finn was in the running for the title.

But Hamilton arrives at the fifth race of the season facing new challengers from both within and without.

"So fair play to him and he's going to remain a competitor through the rest of the year so the fight will go on and we've stated our relationship with a really great foundation I think, a respectful foundation and I think that will continue".

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