As the cars made their way back out again for Friday’s afternoon practice session for the Belgian Formula 1 Grand Prix, long-distance pace was on the minds of all teams in preparation for Sunday’s big race after its summer return.

The ‘big three’ teams – Ferrari, Mercedes and Red Bull Racing – once again filled the top six positions at the end of the final 90 minutes with four-time Belgian Grand Prix winner Kimi Räikkönen this time leading the Ferraris with a fastest time of 1:43.355, just over one second faster than teammate Sebastian Vettel’s top time during the morning session.

Car set-ups were tweaked as plenty of drivers approached, and went over, the limit in key areas throughout the Spa-Francorchamps circuit. Championship leader Lewis Hamilton had plenty of excursions, locking up into both La Source and the fast-approaching Bus Stop Chicane. In the latter incident, he looked to dive for the pit lane but changed his mind at the last second and continued for another lap.

Meanwhile, Vettel had a mid-corner moment at Stavelot, narrowly avoiding the gravel as he battled minor car balance issues. He finished the session a disappointing fifth-fastest, unable to repeat his strong performance in the morning. The Ferrari team still expressed satisfaction with its Friday showing, with pundits reckoning that the red cars have the edge over the rest of the field.

Mercedes had a stronger overall presence in Free Practice 2 with both Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas lapping second and third fastest respectively. Hamilton managed a time just 0.168 seconds off the pace, with Bottas a further three-tenths of a second down.

At Red Bull Racing, Daniel Ricciardo had to make up for lost FP1 time when he was sidelined with a suspected fuel injection issue. The 2014 Belgian Grand Prix winner successfully completed 31 laps around Formula 1’s longest circuit on the calendar.

As for the rest of the field, Sergio Pérez finished ‘best of the rest’ in the newly renamed Racing Point Force India team. The pace still looks to be there for the Silverstone based team ahead of this weekend following a stressful last 48 hours sorting out its continued presence on the grid.

Fernando Alonso also started his farewell tour since announcing his upcoming departure from F1, returning to the MCL33 after giving his seat up in FP1 to McLaren reserve driver Lando Norris. He only could manage a lowly sixteenth-fastest, running 2.7 seconds off the pace.

Brendon Hartley plugged in plenty of mileage and ran an extensive practice program, notching up 35 laps by the chequered flag in his Toro Rosso. He and Williams’ Sergey Sirotken both completed the most laps of anyone in the field to take away some serious data for Sunday’s main event.

Williams’ chassis shortcomings were clear for all to see at a circuit where its Mercedes power units should give it a significant boost. The Grove team was mired at the bottom of the time sheets once again and could only beat McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne – whose own struggles continue – with Lance Stroll the quicker of its driver pairing.

Free Practice 3 will kick off Saturday’s action at 12:00 local time (GMT +2) in preparation for the afternoon’s all-important qualifying showdown.

Driver Team / Entry Time Gap Laps
1. Kimi Räikkönen Scuderia Ferrari SF71H 1:43.355 29
2. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport F1W09 1:43.523 + 0.168 28
3. Valtteri Bottas Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport F1W09 1:43.803 + 0.448 29
4. Max Verstappen Red Bull Racing Tag Heuer RB14 1:44.046 + 0.691 25
5. Sebastian Vettel Scuderia Ferrari SF71H 1:44.129 + 0.774 31
6. Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull Racing Tag Heuer RB14 1:44.250 + 0.895 31
7. Sergio Pérez Force India F1 Team Mercedes VJM11 1:44.662 + 1.307 27
8. Carlos Sainz Jr Renault Sport F1 Team RS18 1:45.481 + 2.126 29
9. Marcus Ericsson Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C37 1:45.537 + 2.182 24
10. Charles Leclerc Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C37 1:45.622 + 2.267 25
11. Nico Hülkenberg Renault Sport F1 Team RS18 1:45.753 + 2.398 28
12. Romain Grosjean Haas F1 Team Ferrari VF-18 1:45.817 + 2.462 29
13. Esteban Ocon Force India F1 Team Mercedes VJM11 1:45.935 + 2.580 24
14. Kevin Magnussen Haas F1 Team Ferrari VF-18 1:46.078 + 2.723 29
15. Pierre Gasly Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda STR13 1:46.080 + 2.725 33
16. Fernando Alonso McLaren F1 Team Renault MCL33 1:46.153 + 2.798 28
17. Brendon Hartley Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda STR13 1:46.337 + 2.982 35
18. Sergey Sirotkin Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW41 1:46.451 + 3.096 35
19. Lance Stroll Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW41 1:46.470 + 3.115 34
20. Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren F1 Team Renault MCL33 1:46.496 + 3.141 25

Image via Scuderia Ferrari

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Luke McCullough

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