As always in Spa-Francorchamps, the weather played a prominent role in the first free practice session for the Belgian Grand Prix. Both McLaren drivers had to make up for lost ground during the second free practice and despite ending the afternoon on top of the timesheets, with Lewis Hamilton, the team still has a lot of work to do for tomorrow's qualifying session.
4 laps No time (20th)
29 laps 1m47.201s (1st)
Lewis and his engineers opted to sit out the majority of this morning’s wet session, instead completing a series of installation laps to evaluate a number of minor new components for this weekend’s race. As a result, he finished the session at the bottom of the timesheets without setting a laptime.
The morning’s curtailed running placed greater emphasis onto the afternoon session, and the team quickly worked through its morning set-up work before beginning a tyre analysis programme. With a large number of variables to assess – and a few minor niggles, such as a broken component within the cockpit hampering running – Lewis and his engineers will spend the evening properly examining the full potential of MP4-24’s performance ahead of P3 and qualifying tomorrow.
Nonetheless, Lewis was pleased with the overall pace of the car today – the first proper test of the upgraded package at a high-speed circuit – and finished the day fastest overall.
“I’m happier today than I expected,” he said. “We don’t have as much downforce as some of the other teams, so we’re not as quick as we’d like to be, especially in the middle sector. Fortunately, however, we have KERS and can use it to our advantage in the first and third sectors.
“The car didn’t feel fantastic today – but we only really had one session to find a set-up so we’ve got some changes to make overnight. Still, this is a massive improvement compared with Turkey or Silverstone, and we look competitive, which is important, so we’re not unhappy.”
11 laps 1m53.838s (8th)
33 laps 1m47.743s (12th)
Heikki waited until the track was properly damp before beginning his morning programme on Bridgestone wet-compound tyres. He completed limited running, briefly running wide onto the Turn Eight gravel, but set the eighth-fastest time of the morning session.
Like his team-mate, Heikki crammed two sessions’ worth of work into this afternoon, busily working through set-up changes before beginning a lengthy long-run programme to evaluate the tyres. He completed two long runs this afternoon: nine laps on Primes (1m48.321s best), nine laps on Options (1m47.974s).
“I think slower speed corners suit our car better than high-speed stuff,” Heikki said. “So I guess we are still losing a bit of time in the high-speed corners compared to the fastest cars. But we’ve definitely made some good improvements in this area and the car feels positive to drive and seems to be working quite well around here.
“We’re in the hunt again, which is encouraging, and we’re working on a strong strategy for the race. We should be able to fight for a good starting position in qualifying tomorrow.”
Martin Whitmarsh, Team principal, Vodafone McLaren Mercedes: “As always at Spa, the weather played a prominent role in our preparations for the race – but the local micro-climate is one of the idiosyncrasies of the place, and the reason why it so often throws up an unusual result. As an example, this morning’s rainfall initially looked like a passing shower but ended up rendering much of P1 useless for practical evaluation.
“Into this afternoon’s practice, the blue skies enabled us to complete some more meaningful running as we crammed a busy set-up evaluation and a tyre analysis programme into a single session. The lack of running means there’s still scope for further improvement, and there’s plenty of work to be done overnight, but we end the first day reasonably encouraged by the speed of our overall package.”
Norbert Haug, Vice-president, Mercedes-Benz Motorsport: “Today was a positive start to our weekend. Having said that, the top 10 is only separated by 0.4s and there are 18 cars – including the top two in the world championship in 17th and 18th spots – within less than a second of each other. This shows just how mega-competitive Formula 1 is these days and today was probably the Friday with the closest lap times in the history of this demanding traditional 7km circuit.
“However, things will probably look different tomorrow. I’m definitely not expecting the four guys fighting for the world championship to be in positions four, 10, 17 and 18 on the grid.
“Neither Lewis nor Heikki have been completely happy with the set-ups of their cars so there will be some work to be done before tomorrow. But, all in all, Spa has started off better than I would have expected, and everybody in the team has been working flat out to make sure we are continuing in that direction.”