Lewis Hamilton ended Friday practice for the Belgian Formula 1 Grand Prix on top of the timesheets, lapping quickest in the second session at the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps. Ferrari’s Kimi Räikkönen, who was quickest in the morning session, finished second-fastest.
With lap times proving to be over four seconds faster than last year’s Friday times, the Mercedes driver wound up just over a quarter of a second clear of Räikkönen, who again overshadowed teammate Sebastian Vettel.
Vettel set the early pace and posted a 1:46.405 just ten minutes into the session on Pirelli’s Super Soft tyres, before Valtteri Bottas took his Mercedes seven-hundredths of a second quicker on the same compound to move to the top of the timesheets.
Bottas’ lap came with a lock-up on approach to La Source, indicating his time would be beaten, and his teammate Hamilton did just that with a lap that was over 0.7 seconds quicker.
With heavy clouds steadily approaching the circuit, many runners switched to qualifying-style runs at the half-hour mark. Vettel bolted on a set of Ultra Soft tyres and returned to the top of the timesheets with a 1:45.235, which Bottas once again beat by a scant five-hundredths of a second.
Räikkönen then moved to the top with a 1:45.015 before Hamilton returned to P1 with a rapid 1:44.753 effort that proved untouchable, despite a later attempt by Vettel.
The German was bumped from fourth on the timesheets by a quick lap from Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen. The Dutchman was running a rear wing with considerably more downforce than teammate Daniel Ricciardo, who proved rapid on Spa-Francorchamp’s straight-line speed dependent first and third timing sectors but well off the pace through the twistier middle sector of the lap. The Australian was almost a second slower than his Dutch teammate as a result, finishing sixth-fastest in the session.
With the weather steadily closing in, the field switched to longer, heavy-fuel runs to fine-tune their race set-ups – Vettel showed particularly strong pace that suggested Mercedes might indeed face a tougher challenge in Sunday’s race.
Light rain started to fall with 25 minutes of the session to run, but conditions rapidly deteriorated and within a few minutes everyone peeled into the pits.
Ricciardo and McLaren’s Fernando Alonso were the only two drivers who ventured out again, but quickly regretted their decision to fit Intermediate tyres and tiptoed back to the pits after a single exploratory lap.
Renault’s Nico Hülkenberg claimed ‘best of the rest’ honours behind the top-six, finishing ahead of Force India’s Esteban Ocon who once again outshone teammate Sergio Pérez. In a positive day for Renault, Hülkenberg’s teammate Jolyon Palmer finished tenth-fastest behind Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz Jr.
Aside from the odd driver locking up and running wide, the session had little major drama. The only incident of note was an argument over track real estate between Pérez and the grid’s serial blocker, Haas’ Kevin Magnussen, who had a near coming-together on the run down to Pouhon.
Pérez had slowed to allow Magnussen past at the exit of Rivage, but the Dane slid wide and appeared to take revenge on the Mexican by weaving into his path on the following straight.
Following his heavy crash in FP1, Felipe Massa failed to take part in the session as Williams elected to build its spare chassis for the Brazilian. The team indicated it intended to have the veteran take part in the session, but appeared not to have read the FIA rulebook stating that it could not do so until its newly-built car had been cleared through scrutineering – the soonest that could take place is on Saturday morning before final practice.
Image via LAT Images