Motor racing-Norris beats Verstappen in first Spanish GP practice

Formula One F1 - Spanish Grand Prix - Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, Barcelona, Spain - June 21, 2024 McLaren's Lando Norris reacts after practice REUTERS/Albert Gea

BARCELONA (Reuters) - McLaren's Lando Norris set the pace in Friday's first Spanish Grand Prix practice ahead of Red Bull's triple Formula One world champion Max Verstappen.

The Briton, a winner in Miami in May, lapped a sunny Circuit de Catalunya with a best time of one minute 14.228 on the soft tyres and 0.024 quicker than Verstappen, who complained of his clutch going into anti-stall.

Ferrari's Carlos Sainz was third on the timesheets, on the mediums and with a full upgrade package, ahead of his last home race for the Italian team and the first of a triple-header of races on successive weekends.

Verstappen's team mate Sergio Perez, who will have a three place grid penalty on Sunday carried over from Canada, was fifth fastest behind Mercedes's George Russell and with McLaren's Oscar Piastri sixth.

Mercedes' seven times world champion Lewis Hamilton was seventh fastest.

The lap times compared to last year's first free practice best of 1:14.606, when the then-dominant Red Bulls were one-two and Verstappen a mighty 0.768 quicker than Perez.

The battle at the top has got a lot closer since then and there were four teams in the top four on Friday and only 0.683 between Norris and Hamilton.

Three teams and four drivers have won already this season and Verstappen, chasing his third Spanish GP win in a row, faces more of a battle despite leading Ferrari's Charles Leclerc by 56 points in the drivers' standings.

"I think you have four teams that are on top of each other and as always it will be about execution," McLaren boss Zak Brown told Sky Sports television.

"Everyone knows this track. We test here a lot, so this weekend will show us how things might look like for the rest of the year."

While McLaren have no significant upgrades on their car, Ferrari have brought seven new items including changes to the floor and diffuser.

Leclerc was only 11th fastest, and complained of a clutch issue with 10 minutes remaining, behind Alpine's Esteban Ocon, Aston Martin's Fernando Alonso and Williams Alex Albon closing out the top 10.

Britain's Oliver Bearman, tipped for a race seat next season, replaced Nico Hulkenberg at Haas for the session and completed 29 laps to end up 19th compared to Kevin Magnussen in 17th.

The session was briefly halted with 22 minutes to go when Alonso's car shed part of his front wing at turn nine.

Russell and RB's Yuki Tsunoda also had a near miss, with the Japanese almost hitting the rear of the Mercedes.

"Don't know what Tsunoda was doing there," Russell said over the radio. "I pulled to the right and he just aimed for me."

(Writing by Alan Baldwin in London; Editing by Toby Chopra)

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