Lewis Hamilton came out on top in his battle with Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg as the Formula One World Championship got back under way after the summer break with Friday practice for the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa Francorchamps.
The Briton finished an impressive 0.604 seconds ahead of Rosberg, who made a couple of small mistakes on his option tyre run, in the afternoon session, with Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso also impressing with the third fastest time, a tenth of a second further back.
It reversed the positions of the first session, where Rosberg – who leads Hamilton by 11 points in the championship – finished fastest by just 0.097 seconds with Alonso again in third.
Hamilton had a big moment in the morning session, catching a slide at the high-speed Eau Rouge, but it was a smoother affair in the afternoon as he outpaced his team-mate in all three sectors, taking nearly half a second out of the German in the middle sector alone.
On the long runs in the later part of the session, Hamilton was again slightly faster, but not as consistent has his team mate. Nevertheless it looked as though Mercedes again has a healthy margin over the others in both qualifying and race conditions.
It was a disappointing day for reigning world champion and last year’s Spa winner Sebastian Vettel, who managed just 11 laps in the morning before missing the whole of the second session after the team were forced into changing the power unit following an electrical issue.
Pastor Maldonado didn’t have much time on track in the afternoon either, the Lotus driver causing one of two red flags in the afternoon when he crashed heavily, early in the session on the approach to Pouhon. The Venezuelan got his wheels on the grass, lost the rear end and flew across the track, hitting the barriers hard.
Sauber’s Esteban Gutierrez was responsible for the second red flag, the Mexican spinning at Blanchimont and then stopping out on circuit, reporting a gearbox issue to his team before beginning the long walk back to the pits.
Alonso, who finished second last time out in Hungary, briefly stopped at Eau Rouge in the morning session because of a concern over his power unit but soon rejoined. He maintained his place as the third fastest driver behind the Mercedes across both sessions.
Williams’ Felipe Massa was fourth, ahead of McLaren’s Jenson Button and the other Williams of Valtteri Bottas. Daniil Kvyat was seventh in the Toro Rosso, one place clear of Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo, who completed his option tyre run later than the rest as he was delayed while his team tinkered with his Red Bull’s brakes.
McLaren’s Kevin Magnussen and Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg completed the top 10. Kimi Raikkonen had a disappointing day, spending a long time in the pits in the second session and ending up 15th, 2.3 seconds off his team-mate Alonso’s pace.
Andre Lotterer, stepping in for Kamui Kobayashi at Caterham this weekend, was impressive across both sessions, and ended the second just half a tenth behind team-mate and regular race driver Marcus Ericsson in 19th and 20th respectively. Caterham had some upgrades here, including a new nose.
“I got used to the car quite quickly and now I just need to optimise everything in terms of driving style,” said Lotterer. “Considering it was my first time out, it all went according to plan and I was able to get a good feel of what it’s like to drive the car.”
However, they couldn’t finish ahead of rivals Marussia, with Jules Bianchi 16th and Max Chilton, who claimed his seat back from Alexander Rossi after sitting on the sidelines in FP1 due to contractual reasons, ending up 18th.
The difference in performance and durability between the two type compounds looks like it will make for an interesting race strategically on Sunday. The soft is up to a second per lap faster in single lap pace, less in race conditions over a stint. It does have some degradation which will be the key to decision making on Sunday with regards to strategy.
We are likely to see two stops for most runners, unless there is a long safety car or multiple safety cars, which might tempt some to gamble on one stop.
But the use of the tyres will be interesting and should make for a race with plenty of movement through the field. The threat of rain in qualifying tomorrow could add to that movement.
2014 Belgian Grand Prix – Free Practice 2
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:49.189 26
2 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:49.793 +0.604 28
3 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:49.930 +0.741 19
4 Felipe Massa Williams 1:50.327 +1.138 24
5 Jenson Button McLaren 1:50.659 +1.470 31
6 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:50.677 +1.488 26
7 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso 1:50.725 +1.536 25
8 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull Racing 1:50.977 +1.788 16
9 Kevin Magnussen McLaren 1:51.074 +1.885 31
10 Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1:51.077 +1.888 26
11 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1:51.383 +2.194 26
12 Adrian Sutil Sauber 1:51.450 +2.261 29
13 Sergio Perez Force India 1:51.573 +2.384 28
14 Romain Grosjean Lotus 1:52.196 +3.007 25
15 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1:52.234 +3.045 18
16 Jules Bianchi Marussia 1:52.776 +3.587s 23
17 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1:53.955 +4.766s 7
18 Max Chilton Marussia 1:54.040 +4.851s 18
19 Marcus Ericsson Caterham 1:54.050 +4.861s 30
20 Andre Lotterer Caterham 1:54.093 +4.904s 24
21 Pastor Maldonado Lotus no time 2
22 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull Racing no time 0