Valtteri Bottas toppeed the first free practice session in Spa - Francorchamps, but failed to set the fastest time of the day. The Finn was faster than Max Verstappen in the morning, but the Dutchman set the faastest time overall in FP2, being 0.041s faster than the Mercedes driver.
The weather conditions have been very tricky in Belgium and the weather forecast is expected to be as unpredictable on Saturday and Sunday as well: because of this, and the variable conditions of the tarmac, it has been very difficult for both Bottas and Lewis Hamilton to find the right balance for the W12.
Despite this, qualifying will be very important for Bottas, who has a five-place grid penalty after the Hungarian Grand Prix strike on the first lap.
"Everything felt pretty good out there today. As we saw from the timesheets, it’s going to be very close with Red Bull once again so we’ll look into the detail tonight and see what marginal gains we can find," said the Finn.
"The pace on both the short and the long runs was pretty decent. It’s always tricky to compare in detail from the practice sessions, but at least the feeling is good, so that is a positive start to the weekend - Bottas said - we looked quite fast on the straights with the wing level we ran and in the race, it’ll be important for me to be quick in sectors one and three, to make the overtakes. But then, if it rains, you want more downforce. So, session by session, we need to see how it is going to look. That decision will be key for Qualifying."
It has been a difficult day for Lewis Hamilton, who just sat in 18th place at the end of FP1. The seven-time world champion struggled to find the right balance, but was also held up in the final chicane by Nicholas Latifi during his fast lap attempt. Things got better in the adfternoon, as Sir Lewis put himself in third, 0.072s behind leader Max Verstappen. The Dutchman is currently second in the driver standings, as there are only eight points between the title contenders.
"Finding the right balance here is a big challenge. In FP1, we tried one way, and then we changed it this afternoon. The pace was quite similar - you try one option, and you are faster in the first and third sectors, but slower in the middle. And then you try the other option and it’s the opposite. So, figuring out the right balance is really tricky" said the seven-time world champion.
"It’s also tough to gain knowledge in these short sessions but we’re navigating it the best we can and at least it was dry for most of the running. Overall, it was an okay day, but I didn’t quite have the car underneath me, so we’ve got some work to do tonight to figure that out. The weather is also going to play a big role. If it does rain, you obviously want more downforce, but then if it doesn’t rain, you are a sitting duck on the straights. So we have to be very careful with the changes we make."