Valtteri Bottas gave himself a birthday present by posting the fastest time in the first practice session of the Belgian Formula 1 Grand Prix, narrowly shading Mercedes-AMG teammate Lewis Hamilton by just 0.069 seconds. Max Verstappen was third-fastest in the Red Bull Racing Honda.
The Finn turned 31 years old on Friday and looked set to start another orbit around the sun in positive fashion, even if conditions were decidedly overcast at the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps. His best time, a 1:44.493, came on the soft tyres, which proved to be the compound of choice for all of the top-10 runners. Hamilton was hot on his heels, with a mistake in Sector 3 perhaps denying the current championship leader the top spot on the time sheets.
Bottas didn’t have everything go his way, however, with a lock-up at the Bus Stop Chicane preceding a front tyre puncture with five minutes of the session remaining.
“I’m getting used to these punctures – I had one last week on my road car as well,” Bottas quipped, perhaps also reflecting on the tyre failure that cost him a podium at the British Grand Prix.
Unlike last weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix where a huge gap separated the factory Mercedes’ from everyone else, the tussle at the top of the timesheets was much closer with the fastest eleven drivers covered by less than a second.
An obvious threat came from the Red Bull Racing and Racing Point Mercedes camps, with their respective drivers rounding out the top six. Verstappen led the quartet with a time just 0.012 seconds slower than Hamilton; once again the Dutch driver was almost half a second quicker than teammate Alexander Albon who was marking his one-year anniversary driving for the senior Red Bull squad.
The pair was separated by Racing Point duo Sergio Pérez and Lance Stroll, who were fourth- and fifth-fastest – the former was just 0.13 seconds off Bottas’ time, with Stroll a further two-tenths of a second adrift.
An ultra-tight midfield saw the Renaults and McLarens complete the top ten, with Esteban Ocon (P7) and Daniel Ricciardo (P9) mixing it with Carlos Sainz Jr (P8, despite a DRS issue) and Lando Norris (P10). The two AlphaTauris of Daniil Kvyat and Pierre Gasly were eleventh- and twelfth-fastest.
There was not a single Ferrari-powered car in the top half-dozen, highlighting just how much competitiveness the Prancing Horse has lost in the wake of the FIA secretly settling with it to ban the canny fuel flow manipulation technology it had developed with such success last year.
The quickest car with a Ferrari power unit was Kimi Räikkönen’s Alfa Romeo in thirteenth, with Ferrari’s last World Champion finishing ahead of both factory cars of Charles Leclerc (P14) and Sebastian Vettel (P15).
The two Ferraris looked ill-handling and off the pace, highlighting that its power unit struggles are as much to blame as a poor SF1000 chassis. Leclerc was the quicker of the pairing, albeit 1.2 seconds off Bottas’ best time, while Vettel was a further four-tenths of a second slower.
They finished only ahead of the Williams Mercedes’ of Nicholas Latifi and George Russell among the cars to have set a representative time.
Neither Haas driver set a time in the session after Romain Grosjean encountered a Ferrari power unit issue early on, which kept he and teammate Kevin Magnussen confined to their garages for much of the session.
Also missing in action was Räikkönen’s teammate Antonio Giovinazzi, who didn’t set a time either.
|FORMULA 1 ROLEX BELGIAN GRAND PRIX 2020 – FREE PRACTICE SESSION 1|
|Driver||Team / Entry||Time||Gap||Laps|
|1.||Valtteri Bottas||Mercedes-AMG F1 Team W11||1:44.493||18|
|2.||Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes-AMG F1 Team W11||1:44.562||+ 0.069||17|
|3.||Max Verstappen||Red Bull Racing RB16||1:44.574||+ 0.081||20|
|4.||Sergio Pérez||Racing Point F1 Team RP20||1:44.629||+ 0.136||22|
|5.||Lance Stroll||Racing Point F1 Team RP20||1:44.868||+ 0.375||22|
|6.||Alexander Albon||Red Bull Racing RB16||1:45.049||+ 0.556||22|
|7.||Esteban Ocon||Renault F1 Team R.S.20||1:45.099||+ 0.606||20|
|8.||Carlos Sainz Jr.||McLaren F1 Team MCL35||1:45.222||+ 0.729||24|
|9.||Daniel Ricciardo||Renault F1 Team R.S.20||1:45.225||+ 0.732||21|
|10.||Lando Norris||McLaren F1 Team MCL35||1:45.274||+ 0.781||28|
|11.||Daniil Kvyat||Scuderia AlfaTauri AT01||1:45.447||+ 0.954||25|
|12.||Pierre Gasly||Scuderia AlfaTauri AT01||1:45.503||+ 1.010||17|
|13.||Kimi Räikkönen||Alfa Romeo Racing C39||1:45.704||+ 1.211||19|
|14.||Charles Leclerc||Scuderia Ferrari SF1000||1:45.759||+ 1.266||18|
|15.||Sebastian Vettel||Scuderia Ferrari SF1000||1:46.179||+ 1.686||15|
|16.||Nicholas Latifi||Williams Racing FW43||1:46.488||+ 1.995||19|
|17.||George Russell||Williams Racing FW43||1:46.570||+ 2.077||21|
|18.||Kevin Magnussen||Haas F1 Team VF-20||no time||1|
|19.||Romain Grosjean||Haas F1 Team VF-20||no time||2|
|20.||Antonio Giovinazzi||Alfa Romeo Racing C39||no time||2|
Image via Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 Team