After 26 painful days without Formula 1, the drivers made its way back onto the track after a well-deserved mid-season break for the opening practice session of the Belgian Grand Prix at the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps.

Rain lingered around the 7.004-kilometre circuit, but nothing looked threatening as spots of rain briefly fell around Eau Rouge, Radillion and the Kemmel Straight.

Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari took first blood by storming to the top of the timesheets as the top-three teams resumed battle, visibly showing strong low-downforce set-ups around the power-hungry circuit in the Ardennes forest.

Ferrari already looked to be holding an advantage over its rivals, outpacing Mercedes despite the Silver Arrows’ newly upgraded power units fitted to both Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas’ cars. plus Red Bull’s skinny rear wing.

Red Bull Racing sought to offset its relative lack of horsepower with skinny rear wing planes and Max Verstappen was only just over one-tenth off the pace, putting in a comprehensive practice program for the team with 20 laps under his belt as his teammate Daniel Ricciardo reported a loss of power on his initial installation lap.

The Australian was confined to the garage for almost the entire 90 minutes’ duration with what seemed to be a fuel injection issue according to Red Bull Racing Team Principal Christian Horner. The Renault-bound driver managed to grab a small window at the end of the session to turn a handful of laps and finish sixth-fastest on the timesheets.

Meanwhile, Lando Norris stepped in for two-time world champion Fernando Alonso at McLaren, showing some outstanding early pace as his teammate Stoffel Vandoorne encountered braking issues that left him stranded in the pitlane for most of the opening start of the session. The 18-year-old finished his debut session in 18th place, running the Medium Pirelli tyres for the whole session and outpacing the Belgian at his home Grand Prix.

Only one yellow flag appeared during the session as Williams’ Sergey Sirotken caught himself up in a spin at the cambered right-hander of Rivage. The Russian accidentally explored too much of the track limits on the exit sending him into a half spin before continuing on undamaged.

Additionally, it was confirmed by both Renault and Mercedes that their respective drivers in Nico Hülkenberg and Valtteri Bottas will start at the back of the grid for Sunday’s race as both elected to take new power unit elements into the second half of the season. Bottas will start behind the 31-year old German as the Finn chose to take one of every power unit element available.

Friday’s second practice session occurs at 15:00 local time (GMT +2).

Driver Team / Entry Time Gap Laps
1. Sebastian Vettel Scuderia Ferrari SF71H 1:44.358 19
2. Max Verstappen Red Bull Racing Tag Heuer RB14 1:44.509 + 0.151 20
3. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport F1W09 1:44.676 + 0.318 22
4. Kimi Räikkönen Scuderia Ferrari SF71H 1:44.718 + 0.360 17
5. Valtteri Bottas Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport F1W09 1:44.724 + 0.366 25
6. Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull Racing Tag Heuer RB14 1:45.558 + 1.200 4
7. Esteban Ocon Force India F1 Team Mercedes VJM11 1:45.786 + 1.428 22
8. Nico Hülkenberg Renault Sport F1 Team RS18 1:45.951 + 1.593 19
9. Sergio Pérez Force India F1 Team Mercedes VJM11 1:46.169 + 1.811 21
10. Carlos Sainz Jr Renault Sport F1 Team RS18 1:46.210 + 1.852 19
11. Pierre Gasly Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda STR13 1:46.300 + 1.942 25
12. Romain Grosjean Haas F1 Team Ferrari VF-18 1:46.387 + 2.029 20
13. Charles Leclerc Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C37 1:46.554 + 2.196 20
14. Marcus Ericsson Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C37 1:46.557 + 2.199 19
15. Brendon Hartley Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda STR13 1:46.932 + 2.574 23
16. Lance Stroll Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW41 1:46.965 + 2.607 25
17. Kevin Magnussen Haas F1 Team Ferrari VF-18 1:47.012 + 2.654 21
18. Landon Norris McLaren F1 Team Renault MCL33 1:47.364 + 3.006 26
19. Sergey Sirotkin Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW41 1:47.367 + 3.009 23
20. Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren F1 Team Renault MCL33 1:47.452 + 3.094 13

Image via Scuderia Ferrari

Image via LAT

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Luke McCullough

Melbourne Based - 17 Grand Prix attendances and counting in Australia, Singapore, Canada, France, Austria and Great Britain.