Bottas sets pace in first Belgian GP practice

Mark Sutton/Motorsport Images

Bottas sets pace in first Belgian GP practice

Formula 1

Bottas sets pace in first Belgian GP practice


Valtteri Bottas put Mercedes on top in first practice for the Belgian Grand Prix ahead of Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen.

The Finn was 0.164s quicker than the Dutchman, while title leader Lewis Hamilton languished in 18th after abandoning his flying lap in traffic.

The Briton had set a Verstappen-matching time up to the Bus Stop chicane, where he encountered Nicholas Latifi’s Williams. He attempted to pass around the outside assuming the Canadian would make way, but Latifi took the outside line apparently unaware of the other car, forcing Hamilton to back out and ruining the lap.

Bottas had no trouble flying the flag for Mercedes in the Briton’s absence, albeit beating Verstappen to the quickest time via different means. The Mercedes driver was quickest in the high-speed first and last sectors, whereas the Red Bull man was best in the slower middle split, reflecting divergent approaches to the required downforce level at Spa-Francorchamps.

It also enabled Bottas to stretch the legs on his new power unit, the third and final of his allocation. Hamilton likewise took his last motor of the year for the power-sensitive Belgian circuit.

Finding the right setup was the order of the hour, but the teams’ programs were made more difficult by the inclement weather. The session started with an ambient temperature of just 55 degrees F and having been doused in rain minutes before the pit lane opened.

Most cars set an exploratory lap on intermediates, but the track dried quickly once the drizzle abated, with the sun even breaking through the clouds in the first 10 minutes.

A return to the pits for slicks was in order for those who had ventured out, but it took another five minutes for a driver to attempt a timed lap.

Grip was still low though, with Kimi Raikkonen’s first attempt at a flying lap on the hard compound sending him spinning 180 degrees exiting the first turn. Yuki Tsunoda made an almost identical mistake minutes later for AlphaTauri, momentarily blocking the pit exit as he attempted to correct tack.

Raikkonen’s troubles weren’t done with there, however; later in the session the Finn lost control entering the narrow pit lane, smacking his left-rear corner against the barrier. Some time in the pits cleared him of serious damage, and he was able to rejoin running.

Grip ramped up through the hour, and in the final 20 minutes drivers took advantage of the stable conditions to set flying laps on the soft compound. Bottas and Verstappen led the way from AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly and Ferrari duo Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz after the Monegasque risked a crash running wide and onto the gravel at Turn 7.

Sergio Perez was sixth for Red Bull Racing and 0.928s off the pace. Sebastian Vettel followed ahead of McLaren’s Lando Norris and Alpine teammates Esteban Ocon and Fernando Alonso.

Lance Stroll was 11th ahead of Daniel Ricciardo and Antonio Giovinazzi. George Russel was the quickest Williams, beating Yuki Tsunoda and teammate Nicholas Latifi.

The waylaid Raikkonen was 17th ahead of Hamilton and Haas duo Nikita Mazepin and Mick Schumacher.

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