An update from Free Practice at the Spanish Grand Prix as the Team get their preparations underway for the fifth round of the Formula One season in Barcelona.
With the modern F1 season being so very, very long, human nature splits it into chunks. Opinion is divided as to quite how many chunks there are but general consensus suggests the opening four flyaway rounds are one segment, and arriving in Spain heralds the beginning of Act Two: the European Season.
We've had some pretty good days at the Spanish Grand Prix over the last few years. Mark Webber scored our first win here in 2010 from pole position and Sebastian Vettel doubled down a year later. Daniel Ricciardo had his first official visit to the F1 podium here, with third in 2014, while Max Verstappen exceeded every possible expectation (except, perhaps, his own), winning here last year on his Red Bull Racing debut. Max will cheerfully admit that he's driven much better since then, having got to know the Team and the car, but for composure under the most intense pressure, he's never going to beat the 2016 Spanish Grand Prix.
I think it looks like we have closed the gap a little bit
In Free Practice One the Bulls finished line astern in P5 and P6 as an updated RB13 took to the track for the first time. Max took P5 with a 1:22.706 as he completed 22 laps of the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya while Daniel's 1:23.084 was good enough for P6 from his 17 laps. Topping the time sheet was Lewis Hamilton with a 1:21.521.
Free Practice Two saw much the same result as the Bulls mirrored their FP1 placings with P5 for Max and P6 for Daniel. A 1:21.438 saw Max pip his team mate by a tenth of a second, with Daniel's 1:21.585 his best from the Pirelli soft tyre. Topping the time sheet was Lewis Hamilton with a 1:20.802.
In Saturday's Free Practice Three it was a third consecutive P5 and P6 for the Bulls as Max took P5 once again with a 1:21.025 from his 14 laps. Daniel's 1:21.249 put him P6 after 15 laps. Topping the time sheet was Kimi Raikkonen with a 1:20.214.
Reacting to his day in the upgraded RB13, Max said: "I think it looks like we have closed the gap a little bit to Ferrari so this is a big positive, but it looks like Mercedes have brought a good update package as well so they are still quite far ahead. We are still the third team but the changes are taking us in the right direction and we have found an increase in grip. We still have a lot of work to do to improve the pace of the car and also the performance of the engine so we will keep pushing.
"There was a lot of unexpected wind out there which caused a few issues. I was at full lock in turn 9 and suddenly a gust caught the rear and forced me off the track and through the gravel, luckily there was not much damage. I saw a few guys get caught out by the wind. This circuit is always quite hard on the tires so the last sector is usually quite tricky but the wind definitely did not help."
The car was starting to come alive on the soft tyre
Meanwhile Daniel added: "There were times today where the car felt pretty good but at times we were still trying to find our way with the new package. The car was starting to come alive on the soft tyre this afternoon which was nice, but with the harder compounds we still have some improvements to make.
"I do see a step forward and we aren't looking too bad against Ferrari but I'm sure they will also have more to bring tomorrow. We need to keep evolving with this new package now and fully understand it.
"We didn't come here expecting to be as quick as Mercedes but we are feeling a bit of progress and now we just need to keep fine tuning everything to get a few more tenths out of the car. I think we are in line with what we predicted and tomorrow we will have a much better idea about whether the gap to the leaders has been closed."