FP1: Vettel leads the way

on
F1 Grand Prix, GP Belgium, Circuit De Spa-Francorchampsbe

After the annual summer break, the F1 circus lands on the circuit of Spa Francorchamp, a medium downforce track with 70% of the lap on the throttle. And thus free practice one is going to be important to get the set up right. Track temperatures are at the low side, being 16°C at the start.

FP1 starts off rather slow in the first few minutes, but soon afterwards teams launch their cars onto the track. Fernando Alonso, being replaced by Lando Norris for the first practice, sits on the pit wall, helping out the McLaren track management. Norris seems to be nervous, almost stalling the car at pitbox exit. Meanwhile home driver Stoffel Vandoorne has to come back into the pits after just an installation lap, possible with an engine issue or long brake pedal as blue smoke rises from his car. At the same time several drivers make practice starts at the pitlane exit.
Most people limit their outings to installation runs in the very early stages of free practice one. The first person to set a timed run, 11 minutes into the session, is Verstappen, although it can still be considered an installation lap with a 1m46.916s. Lap times are surely set to tumble from here!

15 minutes into the session, some very light rain starts to drop. However, the rain is way too light and too local to initially bother the teams, only provoking a question from Raikkonen what to do with the rain, while first matching and afterwards beating Verstappen’s time.

Ricciardo seems to join Vandoorne in the technical issues club. Not exactly a good way to start off the race weekend. It later got confirmed he has a fuel injector issue and will not be seen for almost the remainder of the session on track.

Half an hour into the session Bottas, doing runs on the Super Softs, is leading the time charts, with most of the drivers having set a time and doing long stints on the Soft compound. Absent are Vandoorne, Stroll and Ricciardo, although Stroll does not seems to have technical issues as the team looks busy with set up. The absence of Ricciardo on track attracts the cameras to his pitbox. On the footage it is shown how shallow of a rear wing the red bull has.

Halfway the session Vandoorne is back on track. The pressure is definitely on him as he will be compared this session to Lando Norris, possibly deciding who runs next to Carlos Sainz next year. Vandoorne’s lap times look awful, suggesting Vandoorne has more issues or has a different program. Later in the session, he got a “scenario one, scenario one” radio message, suggesting there are indeed more problems like he had early on. He would not be seen any more this session. McLaren crew looking at the front suspension suggests a hydraulic issue at the suspension.

Sirotkin is the first driver to make an off track excursion at turn nine. He kept the car away from harm and was able to continue his stint.
One hour into the session, Vettel has parked his name on top of the time sheets, followed by Verstappen and Hamilton on respectively 0.1s and 0.3s off Vettel’s time. Both Renault and the newly formed Racing Point Force India seem to be fighting for the notorious “best of the rest” title. It’s a mix of a softs and super softs stints up and down the field, without anybody seeming to commit to a qualifying lap. Bottas even switched to the medium compound late in the session, trying to get a feel how the tyre reacts in these colder conditions. He even improves his own super soft time with the medium tyre, suggesting the harder tyre does react well.

In the last 10 minutes, Gasly tried to do a fast lap, but Lance Stroll got in the way and Gasly has to back off. Teammate Brendon Hardley meanwhile went off at the end of the Kemmel Straight, jumping over the speed bumps in Les Combes to add insult to injury. Not a lot changes at the front, with the front teams busy with their long runs, lapping well off their fastest times. A few minutes before time, Ricciardo makes his return to the race track for a couple of laps running, putting him on spot 6 and back with the Great 6. In the end, it’s Vettel in front of Verstappen, Hamilton, Raikkonen, Bottas and Ricciardo. We still have to see the true pace of especially Ferrari and Mercedes. Practice ends with teams doing practice pit stops.

Results

Pos.No.DriverCarTimeGapLaps
15Sebastian VettelFERRARI1:44.358-19
233Max VerstappenRED BULL RACING TAG HEUER1:44.509+0.151s20
344Lewis HamiltonMERCEDES1:44.676+0.318s22
47Kimi RäikkönenFERRARI1:44.718+0.360s17
577Valtteri BottasMERCEDES1:44.724+0.366s25
63Daniel RicciardoRED BULL RACING TAG HEUER1:45.558+1.200s4
731Esteban OconFORCE INDIA MERCEDES1:45.786+1.428s22
827Nico HulkenbergRENAULT1:45.951+1.593s19
911Sergio PerezFORCE INDIA MERCEDES1:46.169+1.811s21
1055Carlos SainzRENAULT1:46.210+1.852s19
1110Pierre GaslySCUDERIA TORO ROSSO HONDA1:46.300+1.942s25
128Romain GrosjeanHAAS FERRARI1:46.387+2.029s20
1316Charles LeclercSAUBER FERRARI1:46.554+2.196s20
149Marcus EricssonSAUBER FERRARI1:46.557+2.199s19
1528Brendon HartleySCUDERIA TORO ROSSO HONDA1:46.932+2.574s23
1618Lance StrollWILLIAMS MERCEDES1:46.965+2.607s25
1720Kevin MagnussenHAAS FERRARI1:47.012+2.654s21
1847Lando NorrisMCLAREN RENAULT1:47.364+3.006s26
1935Sergey SirotkinWILLIAMS MERCEDES1:47.367+3.009s23
202Stoffel VandoorneMCLAREN RENAULT1:47.452+3.094s13