Free Practice sessions don’t normally bring much fanfare but Spa-Francorchamps’ Free Practice 1 had already seen excitement at fever pitch. Alexander Albon in an Aston Martin Red Bull Racing Formula 1 car for the first time. Finishing 4th in FP1 and less than a tenth of a second behind his teammate, ensured all eyes would still be on Albon for FP2…despite the fact that engine penalties would put the rookie at the back of the grid come race day. The main FP2 headlines though were written by Ferrari as the Scuderia once again dominated proceedings but on this occasion Sebastian Vettel had to settle for second place due to the blisteringly quick Charles Leclerc.
Having seen Kevin Magnussen record the first time of FP2 (1:48.560), Sebastian Vettel wasted no time running a first timed lap on a first set of mediums for the first time today and unsurprisingly took…an early first place (1:46.069). The 4 time F1 World Champion is looking very fast and having already spoken out about the ‘disrespectful media’ he would be delighted to continue Friday’s form throughout the weekend. Whilst the rest of the grid do not seem to be challenging Vettel at Spa, the same could not be said of his teammate Charles Leclerc.
The Monegasque racer is aware that Spa-Francorchamps provides Ferrari with a very realistic chance of claiming their first victory of 2019 due to the low downforce philosophy of the team. Vettel set the pace in FP1 but after the first head to head between the teammates, it was first blood to Leclerc with a blistering time of 1:45.3. FP1’s best time had been 1:44.574 – that was certain to be beaten this session.
During FP1, Lewis Hamilton had missed the first hour of the session due to a throttle pedal issue. When Mercedes headed out on track for the first time, Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas succeeded in breaking between the pair of Scuderia Ferrari drivers but Hamilton (currently in 2nd) was still 2 tenths down on early pace setter Leclerc. Soon after, the grandstand erupted at the sight of Max Verstappen recording his first time - falling just 0.017 of a second behind Leclerc at one stage. Sadly, that was the best it got for Verstappen as he told the team he was ‘Losing power’, he soon fell off the pace FINISHING the session in 6th place thanks to a change on to mediums with 10 minutes of the session remaining.
At the midway mark, lap times had been falling due to the soft compound being the desired tyre. Haas made some early headway with Romain Grosjean breaking into the top six at one point but did not stay there for long as the Frenchman had to settle for 12th whilst his teammate Kevin Magnussen was further back in 18th. Not a great day for Haas!
Back in the battle at the top, Charles Leclerc was at it again, this time setting a time of 1:44.123 – the fastest time of the day – now 6 tenths quicker than Vettel and so it remained. A 1-2 for Scuderia Ferrari.
Elsewhere on the grid, Alexander Albon (having impressed in FP1) did not set the same pace in FP2 finishing 10th overall – a mixed day for the British born racer driving under the flag of Thailand. Albon was just behind Daniel Ricciardo who ended proceedings 9th and will hope the second half of the season sees an upward trend for Renault.
Lance Stroll was 7th by the end of FP1 and was keen to show it was no fluke and that he could ‘blow away’ the midfield having had the right side of his engine blown off down the Kemmel Straight in the opening practice session of the day. Early on though it was his teammate Sergio Perez making the headlines by claiming 5th position at the midway stage. Could he stay there throughout the session? Yes! Unfortunately though, with 4 minutes remaining, fire came from the back of the Racing Point of Perez – followed by a Virtual Safety Car. The Mexican racer will be delighted with 5th but are any penalties on the way? Lance Stroll meanwhile, concluded the session in 8th - impress work by the pair of Racing Point drivers.
FP1 had concluded with Formula 2 title contender Nicholas Latifi finishing ahead of Robert Kubica and in doing so made more people question how long the returning Polish driver will remain with Williams. For FP2 George Russell returned to the seat he has already declared will still be his in 2020 so it was little surprise to see him one of the first out on track. The British rookie had a successful session edging his teammate Kubica once again and at one stage was just half a second away from Pierre Gasly. The Frenchman struggled in FP1 and had just as little success in FP2 finishing in 17th by the end of running.
Formula 1 is a fast-changing sport as Gasly would surely testify. Ferrari will hope their form continues but in F1 anything can happen and it usually does. Bring on FP3 tomorrow – F1 is back!
The top ten is as follows: Leclerc, Vettel, Bottas, Hamilton, Perez, Verstappen, Raikkonen, Stroll, Ricciardo and Albon.
Followed by: Sainz, Grosjean, Hulkenberg, Kvyat, Norris, Giovinazzi, Gasly, Magnussen, Russell and Kubica.