Sebastian Vettel pipped teammate Kimi Räikkonen in final practice for the Belgian Formula 1 Grand Prix to continue Ferrari’s dominance at the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps this weekend.
With Saturday’s one-hour hit-out a final opportunity for the field to prepare for this afternoon’s all-important qualifying session, Räikkonen set the early pace on Supersoft tyres just before the quarter-hour mark to edge ahead of championship leader Lewis Hamilton.
A later run on fresh tyres helped the Finn lower his early benchmark time of 1:43.425 by a full seven-tenths of a second to consolidate top spot, while Vettel threatened in his wake with a time just 0.033 seconds slower and Hamilton a similar margin further back in a tight fight at the top of the time sheets.
Both Ferrari drivers had another crack on the same set of tyres, with Räikkonen knocking a further one-hundredth of a second off his previous best. Seconds later, Vettel completed his lap and posted a 1:42.661 to edge the four-time Belgian Grand Prix winner by just 0.06 seconds.
The field’s final attempts at a qualifying-style lap were thrwarted by a late red flag as the final 10 minutes of the session beckoned, caused by Stoffel Vandoorne crashing his McLaren on the Kemmel Straight.
The Belgian, whose home Grand Prix has been beset by problems, was trying to stay in teammate Fernando Alonso’s tow on the long run from La Source to Les Combes when he came across Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas exiting Raidillon.
As the pair went through the right-hand kink at Kemmel, Bottas stuck to the traditional racing line and drifted towards the left-hand side of the straight at the same time that Vandoorne tried to pass the Finn on his left. Vandoorne ran onto the grass on the edge of the circuit and instantly lost traction, spinning across the circuit before nudging the barriers with the rear of his car.
Bottas admitted to not seeing the faster-approaching Vandoorne in his mirrors, with the FIA Stewards opting to investigate the incident in more detail after the session. Few expect that Bottas – who will already start Sunday’s race from the back of the grid due to multiple power unit element changes – will be penalised.
The session was restarted with only two minutes remaining and a number of drivers already queueing at pit exit in the hope of managing a quick out-lap to attempt one final flying lap. In his haste to get out of the pits quickly, Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly provided some levity with a comical spin as he exited the pits.
Those at the front of the pit exit queue managed to cross the finish line in time for one final hot lap, with the two Red Bull Racing drivers of Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo both able to improve their times – but not their positions – to claim fifth and sixth respectively on the time sheets behind the two Mercedes’.
Sauber rookie Charles Leclerc claimed ‘best of the rest’ honours and claimed a superb seventh – albeit 2.3 seconds off the ultimate pace – while teammate Marcus Ericsson highlighted the Swiss team’s competitiveness by placing eleventh.
Between them came the two Force Indias of Sergio Pérez (8th) and Esteban Ocon (10th) and Renault’s Nico Hülkenberg (9th), although the German will also start at the back of the grid with his own power unit element change penalties.
Hülkenberg’s teammate Carlos Sainz Jr. sported a new floor on his Renault and finished an unrepresentative 13th-fastest after being unable to get a clear lap. The Spaniard finished between the two Ferrari-powered Haas entries of Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen.
Despite his spin, Gasly shaded teammate Brendon Hartley by less than one-tenth of a second, while the Williams and McLaren pairings continued the Noah’s Ark formation by locking out the bottom four places on the timing screens.
Lance Stroll struggled with overheating tyres and locking brakes but still managed to outpace teammate Sergey Sirotkin by a little over a tenth of a second.
The McLaren chassis’ high-drag characteristics were laid bare with Fernando Alonso and Vandoorne slowest of all, despite repeated attempts by its drivers to give each other a slipstream over various runs.
Qualifying gets underway at 15:00 local time (GMT +2).
|FORMULA 1 2018 JOHNNIE WALKER BELGIAN GRAND PRIX – FREE PRACTICE SESSION 3 TIMES|
|Driver||Team / Entry||Time||Gap||Laps|
|1.||Sebastian Vettel||Scuderia Ferrari SF71H||1:42.661||13|
|2.||Kimi Räikkönen||Scuderia Ferrari SF71H||1:42.724||+ 0.063||15|
|3.||Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport F1W09||1:42.798||+ 0.137||10|
|4.||Valtteri Bottas||Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport F1W09||1:43.464||+ 0.803||13|
|5.||Max Verstappen||Red Bull Racing Tag Heuer RB14||1:44.048||+ 1.317||10|
|6.||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull Racing Tag Heuer RB14||1:44.479||+ 1.818||13|
|7.||Charles Leclerc||Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C37||1:44.963||+ 2.302||12|
|8.||Sergio Pérez||Force India F1 Team Mercedes VJM11||1:45.341||+ 2.680||10|
|9.||Nico Hülkenberg||Renault Sport F1 Team RS18||1:45.464||+ 2.803||17|
|10.||Esteban Ocon||Force India F1 Team Mercedes VJM11||1:45.485||+ 2.824||13|
|11.||Marcus Ericsson||Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C37||1:45.536||+ 2.875||11|
|12.||Romain Grosjean||Haas F1 Team Ferrari VF-18||1:45.814||+ 3.153||12|
|13.||Carlos Sainz Jr||Renault Sport F1 Team RS18||1:45.925||+ 3.264||13|
|14.||Kevin Magnussen||Haas F1 Team Ferrari VF-18||1:46.087||+ 3.426||12|
|15.||Pierre Gasly||Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda STR13||1:46.182||+ 3.521||16|
|16.||Brendon Hartley||Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda STR13||1:46.259||+ 3.598||17|
|17.||Lance Stroll||Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW41||1:46.502||+ 3.841||10|
|18.||Sergey Sirotkin||Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW41||1:46.630||+ 3.969||11|
|19.||Fernando Alonso||McLaren F1 Team Renault MCL33||1:46.942||+ 4.281||16|
|20.||Stoffel Vandoorne||McLaren F1 Team Renault MCL33||1:47.061||+4.400||14|
Image via Scuderia Ferrari