Charles Leclerc pulls off practice clean sweep as Mercedes duo close the gap at Spanish Grand Prix

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 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Charles Leclerc made it a clean sweep of all three practice sessions as he again topped the timesheets on the eve of the Spanish Grand Prix.

But the indicators were that both qualifying and the race could turn into a three-team battle for the first time this season as Mercedes backed up their strong showing from Friday.

While it was the same front two as it has been for much of the season – with Max Verstappen in second after the hour session – George Russell and Lewis Hamilton were in third and fourth respectively. And both were within a quarter of a second of the pacesetting Ferrari.

Mercedes have had some false dawns in the past but their upgrades have clearly made a notable improvement with their driver duo barely porpoising down the main straights as they have at high speed at any point this season.

Hamilton has understandably cut a happier figure this week amid the car improvements but he was still tetchy to his race engineer Peter Bonnington after he compared his driver’s less favourable lap times to those of Russell.

The seven-time world champion had endured an earlier DRS issue, which briefly curtailed his track time but was quickly rectified.

Mercedes’ increased speed paves the way for arguably the best qualifying session of the season at a track where it has been traditionally difficult to overtake prior to this season.

Red Bull will be looking to rectify their weaker middle sector where the were consistently losing four tenths of a second to the Ferrari before making it back elsewhere on the track.

Speaking during the session, Verstappen, who ran just 11 laps in comparison to Leclerc’s 22, said: “The car just doesn’t turn at low speed.”

There was drama further down the grid when Mick Schumacher’s right rear brakes caught on fire. He couldn’t stop coming into the garage and took out one of his pitcrew before extinguishers were used to put out the flames.

That ended his track outing after just four laps while Pierre Gasly managed to just one before smoke started emerging from the back of his car.

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