Bottas leads first Belgian GP practice

Mark Sutton/Motorsport Images

Bottas leads first Belgian GP practice

Formula 1

Bottas leads first Belgian GP practice

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Valtteri Bottas topped the first practice time sheet for Mercedes at a chilly Spa-Francorchamps at the Belgian Grand Prix.

Bottas, who turns 31 years old today, was 0.069s quicker than teammate and championship leader Lewis Hamilton, who was set to wrest the fastest time from the Finn’s grasp until a minor moment of oversteer in the final sector left him fractionally off the pace.

Both were running brand-new power units, their second of the season.

Ferrari, winner of this race in 2019, languished near the back of the field, with Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel 14th and 15th. Ferrari-powered cars made up six of the slowest eight runners, their engines clearly underpowered relative to the rest.

The circuit’s power demands make this natural Mercedes territory, but Max Verstappen ran the German marque close for Red Bull Racing, ending the morning just 0.012s slower than Hamilton and 0.081s down overall.

The Dutchman appeared to be running his RB16 in a notably higher downforce configuration than his rivals on his soft-tire run — he was some way off the pace in the full-throttle first and last sectors but fastest of all in the slow middle split.

It was a particularly visible example of teams spending the opening session trying to find the right downforce compromise for the historic circuit, with most others trialing skinnier rear wings to maximize top speed rather than performance in the middle sector.

It’s a challenge made more difficult by the weekend’s variable forecast. FP1 was run at just 60 degrees F, with wind increasing throughout the 90-minute session. Similarly cool weather is predicted for the rest of the weekend along with a persistent threat of rain.

A wet weekend ahead to add to Spa’s challenges? Andy Hone/ Motorsport Images

Racing Point duo Sergio Perez and Lance Stroll slotted into fourth and fifth, the Mexican notably just 0.055s behind Verstappen but more than 0.2s quicker than the Canadian, with Alex Albon completing the top six for Red Bull Racing more than half a second off the pace.

Esteban Ocon followed in seventh and headed a tight scrap between his Renault team and McLaren. The Frenchman is equipped with a new motor after complaining in recent races of being down on power and was more than 0.12s quicker than McLaren’s Carlos Sainz in eighth.

Daniel Ricciardo was just 0.003s back in ninth in the sister Renault car and led Lando Norris in by 0.049s, the Englishman also with the benefit of a new Renault engine in the back of his 10th-placed McLaren.

AlphaTauri teammates Daniil Kvyat and Pierre Gasly were just outside the top 10 and ahead of Alfa Romeo’s Kimi Raikkonen.

Raikkonen’s Alfa Romeo was the fastest Ferrari-powered car of the session and quicker than both works Ferrari machines. Leclerc, the 2019 race winner, was 14th quickest and 1.2s off the pace. Vettel was a further 0.4s adrift in 15th.

Williams duo Nicholas Latifi and George Russell were 16th and 17th and the last of the timed runners.

Both Haas drivers failed to set a timed lap after both Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean developed problems in their brand-new Ferrari engines, and Antonio Giovinazzi’s Alfa Romeo developed a technical problem after only two installation laps.

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