For the first time since Bahrain, Kimi Räikkönen topped a Free Practice 2 session, returning to form at the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps.
Räikkönen’s time of a 1 minute 43.355 seconds was over a tenth faster than Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport‘s Lewis Hamilton and four-tenths ahead of the Brit’s team-mate, Valtteri Bottas.
Max Verstappen took fourth for Aston Martin Red Bull Racing, with Sebastian Vettel enduring a troubled qualifying simulation and only managing fifth, seven-tenths off of the ultimate pace.
After a shaky start to their weekend, Red Bull and Daniel Ricciardo emerged from the garage first. The Australian managed just four laps in Free Practice 1, beating that number within the first ten minutes of the day’s second session. Ricciardo’s former team-mate Vettel and his Scuderia Ferrari colleague Räikkönen continued where they left off in the morning. Vettel’s opening time on mediums was thrashed by the Finn on soft tyres by nearly two seconds, despite Räikkönen complaining of more power steering irregularities.
Hamilton followed Vettel in starting on medium tyres, managing to eclipse Räikkönen’s time by a tenth of a second and getting within touching distance of Vettel’s FP1 benchmark. Valtteri Bottas slotted into third whilst Red Bull lagged. On soft tyres, Verstappen was three-tenths ahead of Ricciardo but nearly a second away from Hamilton.
As attentions turned to qualifying runs a third of the way through the session, Räikkönen returned to the front. Vettel was forced to abandon his first hotlap after a suffering with oversteer at the entry of Stavelot and his second following a lock-up at La Source, but his team-mate managed to best Hamilton’s time by just over a second.
Mercedes fell short with their response. Bottas stood four-tenths away from his countryman, Hamilton came close – setting a fastest second sector of all – but the straightline performance and setup of the Ferrari proved to be superior in the first and final sectors.
Although informing the team about gear-sync issues with sixth gear, Ricciardo moved briefly ahead of Verstappen and Vettel before being relegated to sixth as the aforementioned duo improved their efforts. The worry for Red Bull comes in an alarming lack of Friday performance, a day where they usually match Ferrari and Mercedes.
That marked the end of the fast running, Ferrari and Räikkönen looking strong on low and high fuel runs, with Mercedes trailing.
Sergio Pérez was in a class of his own in seventh, half-a-second away from Ricciardo, but over a second better than eighth-placed Carlos Sainz Jr. The newly re-branded Racing Point Force India F1 Team face an uphill battle to move back up the grid after losing all their points from the first half of 2018.
Marcus Ericsson and Charles Leclerc rounded out the top ten in a superb session for the Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team, separated by less than a tenth in Ericsson’s favour.
Nico Hülkenberg could not make the top half of the standings after losing the new-spec floor to Renault Sport Formula 1 Team team-mate Sainz Jr. for the afternoon.
Both Haas F1 Team cars sandwiched Esteban Ocon. Romain Grosjean took twelfth, nearly three-tenths ahead of fourteenth-placed man Kevin Magnussen. Ocon’s afternoon was punctuated by a left-rear puncture.
Red Bull-bound Pierre Gasly managed fifteenth, ahead of the firmly not Red Bull-bound Fernando Alonso – who set his fastest time late in the session. Gasly’s Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda team-mate, Brendon Hartley, took seventeenth ahead of both Williams Martini Racing drivers – Sergey Sirotkin and Lance Stroll – with Stoffel Vandoorne propping up the field in twentieth for the McLaren F1 Team.
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