LEWIS Hamilton completed an impressive return to action after F1’s summer holidays by setting the Practice Two pace at the Belgian GP.
Having declared on Thursday he was fired up to start reeling in Sebastian Vettel in the battle for 2017’s world title, Hamilton was in imperious form at Spa-Francorchamps on Friday.
After running Kimi Raikkonen close in the morning session despite using Pirelli’s slowest compound, Hamilton outpaced the Ferrari by 0.2s in the afternoon when the whole field ran the ultrasofts.
Hamilton said it “felt like one of our strongest Fridays so far this season” after he ended second practice on top of the timesheet.
“The car felt great and a good start for a Friday,” he told Sky Sports F1. “The set-up has been feeling good and feeling good on all tyres.”
By contrast, Vettel was only fifth and finished nearly half a second adrift of the lead Mercedes’ pace. But Toto Wolff suggested that the real competitive picture was not quite so clear cut.
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“It’s very close,” the Mercedes boss told Sky Sports F1. “I think it’s closer than you can see. Vettel did a fantastic long run, which was much faster than everyone else.”
Raikkonen, the faster of the two Ferrari drivers on Friday, agreed: “I think we’re closer than many other people think. For sure we can go faster, and then on Saturday afternoon we will see.”
Hamilton agreed: “Ferrari never really show their hand on the Friday, they are always generally a little bit slower, and then the next day they start to turn their engine up. Today they looked quite close and they were very quick on the long run, they are faster on the long run.”
The notoriously fickle weather of the Ardennes region also had its say in second practice with a heavy downpour effectively washing out the final 20 minutes of running.
That meant teams’ long-run simulations ahead of Sunday’s race were curtailed, although forecasts for two days’ time suggest there could be more wet weather on the way for the Grand Prix itself.
With Red Bull’s drivers running different levels of rear wing, Max Verstappen’s RB13 proved the quicker of the two and he was fourth behind Valtteri Bottas, who struggled to match Mercedes teammate Hamilton throughout Friday.
Teammate Daniel Ricciardo was 0.9s slower in sixth place despite being the fastest of all in sectors one and three. But his ‘skinny’ Monza-spec rear wing was a handicap throughout Spa’s twisty, aerodynamically-demanding middle sector and the Australian suggested his mechanics would have to find a compromise, or use the same wing as Verstappen, from Saturday onwards.
Renault enjoyed a strong opening day, with Nico Hulkenberg and Jolyon Palmer both in the top 10, while Fernando Alonso rebounded from a troubled morning to finish 11th for McLaren.
But Felipe Massa completed no running in second practice after the Williams chassis change required after his morning crash meant he was unable to return to action until Saturday.
BELGIAN GP PRACTICE 2 TIMESHEET
1. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:44.753
2. Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari +0.262
3. Valtteri Bottas Mercedes +0.427
4. Max Verstappen Red Bull +0.472
5. Sebastian Vettel Ferrari +0.482
6. Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull +1.319
7. Nico Hulkenberg Renault +1.688
8. Esteban Ocon Force India +1.720
9. Carlos Sainz Toro Rosso +1.808
10. Jolyon Palmer Renault +1.917
11. Fernando Alonso McLaren +1.990
12. Sergio Perez Force India +2.231
13. Romain Grosjean Haas +2.532
14. Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren +2.550
15. Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso +2.697
16. Kevin Magnussen Haas +2.803
17. Lance Stroll Williams +3.108
18. Marcus Ericsson Sauber +4.461
19. Pascal Wehrlein Sauber +4.972
20. Felipe Massa Williams No time
All times set on ultrasofts
Originally published as Red Bull give fast Ricciardo Spa problem
Source: sports dailytelegraph