Belgian GP - Friday - Practice Session 1 Report

Spa's Slippery Start

Fernando Alonso, Belgian GP 2013

Fernando Alonso, Belgian GP 2013 

 © Active Pictures

After Formula One's mid-summer break the teams reassembled at the magnificent Spa-Francorchamps circuit to kick off the second half of the season. Many members of the F1 fraternity had spent their holidays in sunny climes. But things got off to damp and slippery start in Free Practice 1.

The session ended with Fernando Alonso having posted the fastest lap with a 1:55.198 in his Ferrari while Force India teammates Paul di Resta (1:55.224) and Adrian Sutil (1:55.373) rounded out the top three.

After two days of glorious sunshine the weather turned more Spa-like with drizzles and light showers on Friday morning. It had stopped raining as FP1 began but the track was still slick enough for the cars to be fitted with Pirelli's intermediate wet weather tire.

The ambient air temperature at the start of the 90-minute session was 61 degrees Fahrenheit (16 degrees Celsius), and the track temperature was also 61 degrees Fahrenheit (16 degrees Celsius).

Kimi Raikkonen, who was the center of all sorts of rumors that he's going to Ferrari or Red Bull or maybe staying at Lotus in 2014, was first out on the track in his Lotus.

With the long 4.352-mile (7.004-km) lap it was 10 minutes into the session and everybody had completed just one installation lap except Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull) who had done two.

Jules Bianchi (Marussia) set the first flying lap at 2:07.578.

Caterham had drafted in its experienced reserve driver Heikki Kovalainen to replace Charles Pic for the session. The team needs Kovy's knowledge to help set up the car.

16 minutes into the session, Jenson Button cut seven seconds off of that with a 2:00.510 in his McLaren. His team radioed him that there was light rain falling in the pitlane and more rain was forecast. He replied that if he did another lap he would damage the rear tires.

This was one of those tricky intermediate track conditions – too wet for slicks and too dry for rain tires. Many drivers elected to stay in the pits. Raikkonen was not one of them, and he had 5 laps in plus the third fastest time – 2:04.028 – 24 minutes into the session. Sergio Perez, meanwhile, had clocked a 2:01.088 in his McLaren.

33 minutes into the session, and only half the drivers had set a lap time, and nobody had topped Button's 2:00.510. Those in the pits with no time included Red Bull teammates Vettel and Mark Webber, Ferrari teammates Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa, Mercedes teammates Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, and the Force India duo of Adrian Sutil and Paul di Resta.

Mid way through FP1 the top six were: Button, Perez, Jean-Eric Vergne (Toro Rosso), Daniel Ricciardo (Toro Rosso), Esteban Gutierrez (Sauber) and Romain Grosjean (Lotus.)

But that order was about to change as the track was finally drying enough for the drivers to consider switching to slicks.

With 44 minutes remaining in the session, Webber went out on Pirelli's hard compound slick with the orange sidewalls. But while he was quickest in sector 2 he was slower in sectors 1 and 3 and thus only seventh with a 2:03.956. Only 12 drivers had set a time by this stage.

Vettel, Button and Perez were the next out on slicks.

With 34 minutes remaining in the session, Perez went quickest with a 2:00.439 and Button improved to a 2:00.460. Perez then turned a 1:59.004 and Button beat that with a 1:58.940.

With 31 minutes remaining in the session, Rosberg topped the charts with 1:58.412, only to have Button turn a 1:58.395 while Vergne set a 1:58.400.

With 29 minutes remaining in the session, Ricciardo set a 1:58.350. The track was drying and the times were dropping. Button got into the 1:57s with a 1:57.337. Most of the drivers were now on track including Perez who got down to a 1:56.371.

With 25 minutes remaining in the session, Alonso ran a 1:56.077, but went from first to third as Perez and Rosberg got below the 1:55 mark with times of 1:55.518 and 1:55.614 respectively. Then di Resta set the bar to 1:55.224. Alonso answered with a 1:55.198.

With 20 minutes remaining in the session, it began to rain at the other side of the circuit and then it began to rain in the pits.

The top 10 at this time were: Alonso, di Resta, Sutil, Perez, Rosberg, Vettel, Gutierrez, Nico Hulkenberg (Sauber), Ricciardo and Valtteri Bottas (Williams.) The slowest two were Lotus teammates Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean.

With 13 minutes remaining in the session, Grosjean was the only driver on track, and after a very slow lap he pulled into the pits.

In the last 10 minutes several drivers including Alonso and di Resta headed out on the drying but still slippery track. But the top 10 remained unchanged at the end FP1: Alonso, di Resta, Sutil, Perez, Rosberg, Vettel, Gutierrez, Hulkenberg, Ricciardo and Bottas.

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