Valtteri Bottas and Max Verstappen have ended the opening day of the Belgian Grand Prix fastest just hours before heavy rain lashed over the Spa-Francorchamps circuit.
In a weekend where Mercedes were expected to dominate proceedings with their unmatchable top-end performance, Verstappen was a surprise front runner as Red Bull look to take the challenge to the defending world champions.
However, despite ending the final session fastest ahead of a jubilant Daniel Ricciardo, Verstappen conceded his ultimate pace will likely be unable to topple the Mercedes duo come qualifying trim given their rival’s ability to increase engine power over one lap.
“The car seems to be handling well,” Verstappen said. “Overall, I’m pretty happy. Personally, I think Mercedes are still struggling a bit with the balance and I expect them to be stronger tomorrow. I don’t think I will be fighting them for pole because we can’t really follow when they turn it up in qualifying.”
Mercedes pairing Bottas and Lewis Hamilton shared time at the top of the standings in FP1, with the Finn edging home his teammate by 0.069s as he celebrates his 31st birthday.
While Spa is not overly known for its punishment on rubber, teams were given a soft allocation of tyre compounds for the weekend and several drivers were spied running indecently slow across the 7km circuit on their outlap to keep their tyres in check for a qualifying sim.
However, there also emerged a sizable time difference between the soft and medium tyre meaning it could prove difficult for teams to squeeze into Q3 on a more durable compound setting up a likely two-stop race.
Racing Point should be in podium contention this weekend with their race pace after ending both practice sessions only two-tenths down on the average speed of the Red Bulls, while Renault had a strong session highlighted by a sublime effort from Ricciardo in the second session to finish second.
However, joys were quickly abated as the Australian parked up his R.S.20 along the Kemmel Straight with a hydraulic issue only twenty minutes from the end of FP2 which the team were unable to rectify in time to resume running.
A loose advertising panel which found a new home on the circuit just after Ricciardo’s incident yielded the only stoppage of the day.
Meanwhile, Ferrari’s nightmare of a season continues as the team slumped to 15th and 17th in the second session after qualifying sims played themselves out. The works Scuderia outfit were 1.3s behind Mercedes in one-lap pace and over 1.4s slower in race trim.
Ferrari topped every practice session at Spa last year and locked out the front row in qualifying before Charles Leclerc triumphed in the race. Both Leclerc and teammate Vettel finished less than one-tenth above the ailing Williams duo in a horror day for the Italian squad.
A very difficult day,” said a puzzled Leclerc. “I think it’s probably a surprise to be so far back, especially in FP2. We tried quite a lot of things in FP2.
“At the beginning I tried something quite aggressive in downforce levels but it didn’t really work out so we came back on that, and we are just lacking pace at the moment so we need to work hard to catch back.
“But I don’t expect miracles for this weekend.”
|8||Carlos Sainz Jr.||0.729s|
|9||Carlos Sainz Jr.||0.730s|