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Bottas and Hamilton maintain stranglehold in Barcelona

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Barcelona (AFP)

Championship leader Valtteri Bottas oozed satisfaction Friday after completing a double for Mercedes when he headed team-mate Lewis Hamilton in second free practice for this weekend's Spanish Grand Prix.

The reinvigorated Finn, who is one point ahead of defending five-time champion after the pair's record four successive season-opening one-twos, topped the morning session and then set the pace again in the afternoon when he was 0.049 seconds quicker than the Briton.

After a winless struggle in 2018, Bottas has relished the challenge of competing with Hamilton this year and continued to show his speed and vim with another strong showing on a warm, windy and dry day at the Circuit de Catalunya.

"It's always an interesting day when you bring new parts for the car to get a feel for it and see if they deliver the performance," he said. "Today, the car felt really good.

"It was completely different to how it was in winter testing and it seems like our cornering performance has improved. The balance around the lap is also better, so it looks like we've taken the right direction since the winter."

Bottas and Hamilton were quickest ahead of the two Ferraris led by Charles Leclerc and four-time champion Sebastian Vettel, the Italian team unable to produce the speed needed with their updates package to overhaul dominant Mercedes.

"Today was good," continued an increasingly confident Bottas. "But, of course, it is only Friday and Ferrari are very close. It feels like we have made a good step forward, but we should wait and see what tomorrow holds for us."

Hamilton showed no signs of anxiety at falling behind Bottas, but was reticent to extol any progress made.

"It was quite windy and it was a bit tricky with the grip levels on the three different tyres," he said.

"But we got through our programme and now we have lots of data to analyse to fine-tune the car for tomorrow. A huge amount of effort has gone into our new package ? it seems like it is working, but it is hard to feel because this track is so different to driving on the streets of Baku."

Max Verstappen was fifth for Red Bull, complete with their own upgrades, ahead of Romain Grosjean of Haas, Pierre Gasly in the second Red Bull and Dane Kevin Magnussen in the second Haas.

"We are happy, engine-wise," said Vettel, unfussed at trailing Mercedes again.

"Obviously, it's Friday so it's difficult to know what we are doing compared to the others yet. Car-wise we put everything on the car that we expected and I think it's fair (to say) that we haven't been the quickest."

Leclerc agreed with Vettel that the team were losing time in the final sector of the lap.

"We are going to put our main focus on trying to improve in this sector. We are trying to give everything, try and to make the balance right for tomorrow and then hopefully improve for qualifying."

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