It was another dominant day for the Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS team as the Belgian Grand Prix weekend got underway at Spa-Francorchamps. The team finished first and second in both Friday free practice sessions, with Nico Rosberg ahead of Lewis Hamilton in the morning session, and Hamilton ahead of Rosberg in the afternoon.
Hamilton was happy to be back driving after the four-week mid-season break, and felt his day’s work was positive, even if he insists there is still work to be done with regards to set-up. He is expecting wet weather during Saturday, but he insists he looks forward to the changeable conditions at this circuit.
“It’s great to be back in the car and it was feeling good out there today,” said Hamilton. “The morning wasn’t as strong, but it definitely improved in the afternoon. As always, we still have work to do tonight, but overall today was ok.
“It stayed dry throughout both sessions but the forecast is wet for tomorrow, so it was important to maximise track time as this may be our last dry running before the race. We’ve seen rain so often here in the past and that can really mix things up – particularly when it’s wet in places and dry in others. Your visor is almost level with the ground, so it’s not like looking from above where you can see the different patches. That makes it really hard to pick out the areas where you can find grip, but it’s also a lot of fun.”
Team-mate Rosberg was quickest in the first session but a small mistake in on his fastest lap in the second session meant the gap to Hamilton was over six tenths of a second. He feels Eau Rouge is once again a challenge with the reduced downforce levels, and is hoping to have a productive Saturday so he can find the perfect blend of speed for both qualifying and the race.
“It’s really great to be back at Spa,” said Rosberg. “It’s a fantastic track, the flow of the circuit is great and driving Eau Rouge is tricky this year with less downforce. You need to be really precise, and with worn tyres it was tough to take this unique corner flat out.
“It looks like we have the quickest car again, but its a bit different here than at some other tracks. It seems that some of the other teams are closer and we need to work a bit on our speed down the straights. As normal, it will be a long night analysing everything that we learned today to really nail it tomorrow. The interesting challenge for this weekend is to find the right compromise between being quick over one lap and over a long distance in the race – especially if it’s wet tomorrow, with the predictions currently saying we will have mixed conditions.”
Head of Mercedes-Benz Motorsport Toto Wolff acknowledged the drivers worked hard to rectify the issues they faced during Friday, but feels there is still pace to be found from the car, especially over the longer runs.
“Spa is always a tough circuit for both the drivers and the cars, and it usually takes a little while for everything to come together during practice,” said Wolff. “The drivers were not completely happy at the start of the day and worked hard to improve the balance for the long runs this afternoon. The headline times looked good but we still need to make some progress to convert that into a good advantage in race conditions. That will be our focus overnight ahead of qualifying.”