Formula 1 returned to action after its summer break with Ferrari’s Kimi Räikkönen lapping quickest in the opening practice session of the Belgian Grand Prix at the Spa-Francorchamps circuit.

The Finn, a four-time Grand Prix winner at the Ardennes circuit, edged out Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton by just five-hundredths of a second, but his performance was something of a false dawn given the Englishman’s fastest lap was posted on the Soft-compound Pirelli tyres. Räikkönen’s best lap came on the Ultra Soft rubber.

Tyre strategy will undoubtedly play a major role here if it remains dry in qualifying and the race. With the Soft, Super Soft and Ultra Soft compounds on offer this weekend, the range selected between the drivers has been the most varied this season.

Clearly confident in his car’s superiority at the circuit, Hamilton has opted for four sets of the Soft compound tyres. By contrast the Red Bull Racing and Williams drivers – whose cars are not expected to be as competitive here – have claimed just one set of the hardest compound on offer.

The opening 90-minute practice session saw a variety of tyre programs being trialed up and down the field, with all three dry-weather compounds making an appearance.

Red Bull Racing’s Daniel Ricciardo put his Ultra Soft shod RB13 to the top of the timesheets early on, before Hamilton ominously moved to the top on the considerably harder Soft compound after initially being unhappy with high tyre temperatures while running Super Softs. The Englishman would later be toppled by a late run from Räikkönen, and found himself sandwiched by the second Ferrari of championship leader Sebastian Vettel.

Hamilton was one of three drivers – the others being McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne and Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson – to give the ‘Halo’ cockpit protection system its first track outing at a 2017 Grand Prix weekend on early installation laps.

The Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Ricciardo finished the session fourth- and fifth-fastest. Despite running with little rear wing to compensate for the Renault-powered cars’ relative lack of horsepower, the RB13s were still well down on straight-line speed through the speed trap.

The second Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas should have featured inside the top-four, but the Finn made a rare mistake by sliding into the gravel trap and brushing the wall at Fagnes. Bottas was trying to get out of the way of a faster car approaching him from behind, but dropped half a wheel onto the grass through the right-left complex and slid haplessly into the wall. His car suffered minor damage to its front wing, and he lost time in the garage while his mechanics inspected his F1W08 for further damage.

Another driver to come to grief – albeit more spectacularly – was Williams’ Felipe Massa, seemingly recovered from the bout of vertigo that sidelined him from the previous Grand Prix in Hungary. Be it a combination of rustiness, slow reflexes or cold tyres, but the end result was a hefty accident at the exit of Malmedy after he caught too much kerb and failed to catch the slide in time.

The session was briefly red-flagged while Massa’s battered FW40 was removed from the circuit and returned to the pits; at the time of writing it is unknown whether he will participate in FP2. At worst, he will have to swap to the team’s spare chassis and take a near-certain grid penalty if any power unit or gearbox components require replacement.

Carlos Sainz Jr headed the ‘best of the rest’ charge in his Toro Rosso, with the Spaniard lapping seventh-fastest. He and teammate Daniil Kvyat sandwiched Force India’s Esteban Ocon on the timesheets as the Frenchman celebrates a year since he made his Grand Prix debut with the Manor Racing team. The Frenchman – along with teammate Sergio Pérez, who was 14th-fastest – posted his fastest lap on the Soft compound tyres.

Tenth-fastest was local driver Stoffel Vandoorne in the McLaren, running Honda’s new Spec 3.6 power unit – the Belgian will take a 35-place grid penalty for swapping to the upgraded engine, but will take some confidence in his pace early in the weekend. Teammate Fernando Alonso finished thirteenth-fastest and four-tenths of a second slower than Vandoorne after struggling with a faulty DRS.

The pair sandwiched the two Renaults, with Jolyon Palmer edging out teammate Nico Hülkenberg by barely 0.1 seconds.

Following Massa’s crash on his first attempt at a timed lap, Lance Stroll took the sole remaining Williams to 15th-fastest. The Canadian had lapped inside the top-ten despite a few wild oversteer moments, but slipped down the order in the final fifteen minutes of the session as other midfield runners made late improvements.

The timesheets were brought up by the Ferrari-powered Haas and Sauber entries. The former, running Ferrari’s Silverstone-spec power units for the first time, showcased the VF-17’s narrow set-up window, with Kevin Magnussen narrowly outpacing teammate Romain Grosjean.

At the bottom came the Saubers, which were not surprisingly some margin off the pace. Marcus Ericsson outpaced teammate Pascal Wehrlein, although the German lost valuable track time while his mechanics repaired an apparent ERS power unit drama. The German managed to return to the track late in the session.

Friday’s second practice session at Spa-Francorchamps will begin at 14:00 local time.

Driver Team / Entry Time Tyre Laps
1. Kimi Räikkönen fi Scuderia Ferrari SF70H 1:45.502 Pirelli Ultra Soft 13
2. Lewis Hamilton uk Mercedes AMG Petronas F1W08 1:45.555 Pirelli Soft 19
3. Sebastian Vettel de Scuderia Ferrari SF70H 1:45.647 Pirelli Ultra Soft 13
4. Max Verstappen nl Red Bull Racing Tag Heuer RB13 1:46.302 Pirelli Ultra Soft 18
5. Daniel Ricciardo au Red Bull Racing Tag Heuer RB13 1:46.352 Pirelli Ultra Soft 22
6. Valtteri Bottas fi Mercedes AMG Petronas F1W08 1:46.424 Pirelli Soft 20
7. Carlos Sainz Jr es Scuderia Toro Rosso Renault STR12 1:47.446 Pirelli Ultra Soft 22
8. Esteban Ocon fr Sahara Force India Mercedes VJM10 1:47.670 Pirelli Soft 27
9. Daniil Kvyat ru Scuderia Toro Rosso Renault STR12 1:47.851 Pirelli Ultra Soft 20
10. Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren-Honda MCL32 1:47.865 Pirelli Ultra Soft 18
11. Jolyon Palmer Renault Sport F1 Team RS17 1:47.930 Pirelli Ultra Soft 14
12. Nico Hulkenberg de Renault Sport F1 Team RS17 1:48.037 Pirelli Ultra Soft 15
13. Fernando Alonso es McLaren-Honda MCL32 1:48.252 Pirelli Ultra Soft 18
14. Sergio Pérez Sahara Force India Mercedes VJM10 1:48.452 Pirelli Soft 19
15. Lance Stroll ca Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW40 1:48.541 Pirelli Super Soft 24
16. Kevin Magnussen dk Haas F1 Team Ferrari VF-17 1:48.615 Pirelli Super Soft 20
17. Romain Grosjean fr Haas F1 Team Ferrari VF-17 1:48.626 Pirelli Super Soft 20
18. Marcus Ericsson se Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C36 1:50.160 Pirelli Super Soft 21
19. Pascal Wehrlein de Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C36 1:51.263 Pirelli Super Soft 13
20. Felipe Massa br Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW40 no time Pirelli Super Soft 3

Image via Scuderia Ferrari

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Richard Bailey

Founder & Chief Editor at MotorsportM8
Hasn't missed a Grand Prix since 1989. Has a soft spot for Minardi. Tattooed with 35+ Grand Prix circuits.