Bottas hopes to keep wins coming in Spain

Bottas hopes to keep wins coming in Spain

But F1 fans would be wise not to jump the gun, because at the Spanish Grand Prix Ferrari faces the sternest test of its title mettle to date.

MADRID (AP) - It's been a while since there's been this kind of excitement early on in a Formula One season.

Ricciardo and Verstappen, the latter a sensational maiden victor in Barcelona a year ago, might have to wait a little longer to make a lunge at the race lead, however, with engine supplier Renault delaying its latest power unit specification until July due to reliability concerns.

Hamilton was 0.09 seconds quicker than his team-mate but 0.310secs clear of the Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen, who was 0.118secs ahead of Sebastian Vettel.

Ferrari have won 226 races, McLaren 182, Williams 114, Mercedes 66 and Red Bull 52.

When asked specifically about Mercedes' early pace, he said: "I don't know what Mercedes was up to".

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"If you have another team that is fighting for the championship and you have a driver that is more than 20 points behind, he will need to do the same".

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

They were a second quicker than the Ferraris of Raikkonen and Vettel who were third and fourth.

Red Bull's Max Verstappen, last year's victor in Spain on his team debut, was fifth fastest ahead of Australian team mate Daniel Ricciardo. "But we will see in Barcelona".

Hamilton added to his reputation as one of the most eccentric characters of F1 by bringing Roscoe, one of his two bulldogs, to the packed pre-race news conference on Thursday.

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 with engine improvements still to come.

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The track, located close to the city of Barcelona, is one of the venues used as a pre-season test circuit, so all of the teams already have experience and data of their 2017 specification cars on the track. "It's a good feeling for everyone when these upgrades work".

Wolff said Mercedes had to face this new scenario after dominating for three seasons.

However, McLaren team chief Eric Boullier is adamant all is not lost, saying: "We have to be the best ourselves before we see the global picture. If you look race by race, and overall, they've been dominant and it's hard to beat that, but we're doing our best".

Hamilton arrived in Spain determined to make amends for a poor weekend two weeks ago in Russian Federation, where he finished fourth and Bottas won.

"We expected Valtteri to develop through every single race and step up his performance and he's shown that", Wolff said.

"I'm really excited about returning to Barcelona", said Alonso, who last week spent time in the United States testing for the Indy 500.

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