The Arden forest once again is echoing to the sound of V6 engines. Which can only mean one thing. F1 is back from Summer break, and back at one of the most challenging circuits, Spa Francorchamps in Belgium.
Free Practice 1 got going under bright blue skies, with Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg picking up where Mercedes left off before summer break, going fastest in FP1 on a 1:48.348. Interestingly, Rosberg set the fastest time while he was trialling the Halo head protection device. Daniel Ricciardo, Nico Hulkenberg, Carlos Sainz and Rosberg were all selected to trial the Halo head device as the FIA look to continue the trial ahead of its planned 2018 introduction. The Mercedes was the only car to complete a fully timed run with it attached.
Fellow Mercedes team mate Lewis Hamilton was just seven tenths of a second behind Rosberg in the first session. He went into the weekend knowing his race would be compromised by a 25 place grid penalty for changing several parts of his engine. The plan is for Hamilton to take the hit here with the penalties so that he can have more penalty free engines for later in the season when he needs them.
It was a positive first session for the King of Spa Kimi Raikkonen, who managed to set a time within a second of the Mercedes duo, as well as outpace his team mate Sebastian Vettel. Vettel trailed home 5th after losing valuable running time with a break disk issue, which saw him in the pits for a while. The Ferrari’s were split by the Force India of Sergio Perez, who once again looks set to try to score some much needed points.
The Red Bull duo of Daniel Riccardo and Max Verstappen were able to set the 6th and 7th fastest times respectively. While the other Force India of Nico Hulkenberg was only as high as 8th, critically ahead of the Williams of Valtteri Bottas in 9th though as the two teams look set to carry on their constructor’s battle. Esteban Gutierrez rounds out the top 10 in what looks like a promising performance from the Haas team.
Making his debut in FP1 as an official member of the 2016 grid was Manor driver Esteban Ocon. Following his arrival at Manor over the summer break in place of Rio Haryanto, Ocon impressed on his debut for the team, promptly outpaced fellow Mercedes young Pascal Wehrlein by a full second, finishing 16th.
However Free Practice didn’t run as smoothly for everyone. The McLaren of Fernando Alonso was unable to set a lap time due to a water leak. McLaren worked to change his Honda power unit, which had only been newly installed for P1 following an upgrade by the Japanese suppliers. He will now take a grid penalty and start at the back of the grid with Hamilton.
Free Practice Two saw a shock change in the standings. As the Red Bull of Verstappen went fastest on a 1:48.085. While team mate Riccardo made it a Red Bull 1-2 by getting to within two tenths of his team mate. The crowd were delighted by the result for Verstappen, especially the legions of Dutch fans who have crossed the border this weekend to watch their hero.
Hulkenberg carried on the run of good form for Force India by getting setting the 3rd fastest time ahead of his team mate Perez who managed 5th in FP2. The Force India’s where split by Vettel in 4th, on what was another troublesome session for reliability for the Ferrari team.
Rosberg was the highest place Mercedes in just 6th place. With the Ferrari of Raikkonen 7th, Romain Grosjean 8th in the Haas, Jenson Button 9th in the McLaren, while the Haas of Esteban Gutierrez rounded out the top ten.
It was an even worse session for Rosberg’s team mate Hamilton, who could only manage to set the 13th fastest time. In Hamilton’s defence his fastest time was set on the unmarked prototype tyres Pirelli are testing this week. The lack of pace from Mercedes lead many to believe they were opting against running the supersoft tyres during the afternoon session and are believed to be planning to only use the soft and medium compounds on race day. Ferrari have selected seven sets of supersoft tyres for this weekend, and just one set of mediums. Unfortunately for them it may be a decision which may hurt them. The durability of the supersoft tyre is estimated to only last a couple of laps due to the unexpectedly hot temperatures at Spa.
Meanwhile the battle at Manor appears to be heating up. After being beaten by Ocon in FP1, Wehrlein bounced back in FP2 to finish a second ahead of Ocon. Wehrlein then delivered the lap of the day in the afternoon to take P11 for Manor with Ocon just 21st.
Free Practice One Results
1. Nico Rosberg, Mercedes, 1:48.348
2. Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, 1:49.078
3. Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari, 1:49.147
4. Sergio Perez, Force India, 1:49.274
5. Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari, 1:49.768
6. Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull, 1:49.782
7. Max Verstappen, Red Bull, 1:49.865
8. Nico Hulkenberg, Force India, 1:50.088
9. Valtteri Bottas, Williams, 1:50.394
10. Esteban Gutierrez, Haas, 1:50.583
11. Romain Grosjean, Haas, 1:50.899
12. Felipe Massa, Williams, 1:51.122
13. Marcus Ericsson, Sauber, 1:51.125
14. Carlos Sainz, Toro Rosso, 1:51.424
15. Felipe Nasr, Sauber, 1:51.768
16. Esteban Ocon, Manor, 1:51.787
17. Daniil Kvyat, Toro Rosso, 1:52.308
18. Jenson Button, McLaren, 1:52.407
19. Pascal Wehrlein, Manor, 1:52.837
20. Kevin Magnussen, Renault, 1:53.053
21. Jolyon Palmer, Renault, 1:53.089
22. Fernando Alonso, McLaren, No time
Free Practice Two Results
1. Max Verstappen, Red Bull, 1:48.085
2. Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull, 1:48.341
3. Nico Hulkenberg, Force India, 1:48.657
4. Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari, 1:49.023
5. Sergio Perez, Force India, 1:19.100
6. Nico Rosberg, Mercedes, 1:49.161
7. Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari, 1:49.244
8. Romain Grosjean, Haas, 1:49.419
9. Jenson Button, McLaren, 1:49.419
10. Esteban Gutierrez, Haas, 1:49.648
11. Pascal Wehrlein, Manor, 1:49.716
12: Fernando Alonso, McLaren, 1:49.772
13. Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, 1:49.782
14. Daniil Kvyat, Toro Rosso, 1:49.916
15. Marcus Ericsson, Sauber, 1:50.083
16. Valtteri Bottas, Williams, 1:50.151
17. Felipe Massa, Williams, 1:50.157
18. Carlos Sainz, Toro Rosso, 1:50.194
19. Kevin Magnussen, Renault, 1:50.375
20. Jolyon Palmer, Renault, 1:50.562
21. Esteban Ocon, Manor, 1:50.659
22. Felipe Nasr, Sauber, 1:50.719
Feature Image Credit: Red Bull Racing Press Release