Red Bull Racing have entered the second half of the 2013 Formula One season with their tails firmly up, as they completed a dominant one-two on the first day of practice at the Belgian Grand Prix. Sebastian Vettel set a fastest time, 6/100ths of a second faster than team mate Mark Webber.
Although the team were quick to point out that Friday times mean little, with varying fuel loads making a big difference to lap times, the Red Bull cars looked well balanced and fast in both single lap and long run pace.
With the Ardennes forest offering up its expected rain shower in this morning’s Free Practice 1 session, the afternoon gave the only meaningful running, in bright sunshine and allowed for the teams to gather some dry data ahead of what is expected to be a weekend of sunshine and showers at Spa-Francorchamps.
However, the question of reliability regarding Pirelli tyres was once again thrust in to the limelight when Vettel suffered a right rear puncture eleven laps into a long run. The right rear tyre is the one which gets the highest loading at Spa.
Following the session Fernando Alonso confirmed that he too had suffered a right rear puncture – a slow puncture – on his final lap in the session.
“On the Red Bull it looks like something had been rubbing the surface and then cut through it,” explained Pirelli boss Paul Hembery, who said that the damage was from something external, rubbing between the floor of the car and the tyre. “On the Ferrari there are two clear holes through the tread. What could cause that? We have seen some cuts on other tyres, so there’s something out there that’s causing it and we need to go out on the track and see what’s out there between Turns 13 and 15.”
Hembery said that the problems were “completely different” from Silverstone where a series of failures led the Italian firm to bring in a change of specification for the remainder of the season.
Alonso’s tyres had done seven laps, Vettel’s had done 11. Vettel was on a medium tyre, Alonso on the hard.
The drivers expressed concern about this latest tyre issue in the drivers’ briefing on Friday evening and asked the FIA to look into it and offer them some reassurances as to what would happen in the race if there were problems. They want to avoid a repeat ofnSilverstone where they were obliged to continue with some recommendations on changing tyre pressures.
There is sure to be much discussion in the next twenty-four hours as to why this problem has occurred and whether it was a case of a simple puncture or something more serious.
Sebastian Vettel, using a lower-downforce configuration in relation to his team mate, topped the session by a small margin to Mark Webber. Illustrated by their individual sector times, in which Vettel held the upper hand over Webber in the first and third sectors, where straight line speed is of pivotal importance, the Milton Keynes squad were able to gain useful knowledge from each side of the downforce spectrum.
“We don’t know what happened when I got the puncture in P2,” said Vettel. “We lost the rear right, very suddenly, so we need to have a look – Pirelli is working on finding out why it happened. Other than that, it was a positive day.”
Webber, running a higher level of rake on his RB9 found himself 7/10ths of a second quicker through the the fast sweeping turns of the fourty-nine second long Sector 2, but due to the superior straight line speed of Vettel ended the session just 6/100ths of a second adrift.
Interestingly, Vettel was 4kph quicker through the speed trap than the next quickest car.
Beyond the top two there was a large gap to those behind, headed by Lotus’ Romain Grosjean. The Frenchman was over 8/10ths slower than Vettel, a small gap compared to some of the usual pacesetters.
Nico Rosberg, 9th, and Lewis Hamilton, 12th, failed to end the day within a second of Vettel as they focused on evaluating new aerodynamic developments with heavy fuel runs in preparation for the GP. Hamilton didn’t get a clean lap on fresh medium tyres. The pair completed almost two race distances during the three hours of running today.
Kimi Raikkonen, under much media pressure this weekend also had a low-key session with a sixth place finish at the session close. Lotus’ ability to heat up its tyres quickly should aid them in qualifying tomorrow as Mercedes struggled with this particular aspect. However Raikkonen is keen for the weather to stay warm as Lotus has struggled to heat the tyres up to perform in the wet. He had some problems with the front wheels in the morning session.
The Lotus race pace was also strong, on par with Red Bull and as ever this year in a strong position for the GP.
The Ferrari pair were fourth and seventh respectively, with Felipe Massa being the pacesetter for the Italian squad.
Fernando Alonso, after topping FP1, did not set a qualifying simulation time on the medium tyre until late in the session, as he chopped and changed the rear wing and downforce configurations.
There were a lot of development parts on show today, with teams doing comparison work across their two cars to evaluate them. The loss of most of the FP1 session to rain, cut the available time. This has pushed Lotus and Sauber to not continue this weekend with their passive DRS systems, due to lack of information.
Vettel’s tyre problem aside, the only major incident of the session was a high speed accident for Guido van der Garde, who lost the Caterham at the 150mph Paul Frere corner and smashed into the barriers.
BELGIAN GRAND PRIX, Spa-Francorchamps, Practice
1. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1m49.331s 22
2. Mark Webber Red Bull 1m49.390s +0.059s 34
3. Romain Grosjean Lotus 1m50.149s +0.818s 34
4. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m50.164s +0.833s 27
5. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1m50.253s +0.922s 28
6. Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 1m50.318s +0.987s 33
7. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m50.510s +1.179s 21
8. Sergio Perez McLaren 1m50.536s +1.205s 27
9. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m50.601s +1.270s 33
10. Paul di Resta Force India 1m50.611s +1.280s 27
11. Adrian Sutil Force India 1m50.629s +1.298s 30
12. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m50.751s +1.420s 27
13. Nico Hulkenberg Sauber 1m50.972s +1.641s 33
14. Pastor Maldonado Williams 1m50.991s +1.660s 28
15. Jenson Button McLaren 1m51.195s +1.864s 28
16. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1m51.447s +2.116s 26
17. Valtteri Bottas Williams 1m51.568s +2.237s 28
18. Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1m51.644s +2.313s 26
19. Giedo van der Garde Caterham 1m53.157s +3.826s 21
20. Charles Pic Caterham 1m53.251s +3.920s 29
21. Jules Bianchi Marussia 1m53.482s +4.151s 28
22. Max Chilton Marussia 1m54.418s +5.087s 12