Charles Leclerc led a Scuderia Ferrari one-two at Spa-Francorchamps as the Maranello outfit look to be the early favourites as the FIA Formula 1 World Championship heads to the power-hungry circuit of Spa as Mercedes AMG Petronas and Aston Martin Red Bull Racing trailed the Scarlet cars.
It was Leclerc’s Ferrari that set the sessions early pace, just ahead of fellow 21-year-old Max Verstappen by the slim margin of 0.017 of a second. Mercedes AMG Petronas played the supporting role in third and fourth respectively, with Lewis Hamilton a tenth clear of teammate Valtteri Bottas. Behind them, Free Practice One pace-setter Sebastian Vettel rounded out the top five as Alex Albon was a lowly eighth for Aston Martin Red Bull Racing Honda.
Their was then an early scare for the Austrian energy drinks company, as Verstappen reported a loss of power over the team radio, ultimately bringing an end to his early running.
Rich Energy Haas F1 Team were the first team to sample Pirelli’s softer compounds for this weekend’s action, as under-pressure Frenchman Romain Grosjean utilised them to catapult himself to sixth provisionally.
The big teams then began to trade times, with Vettel going fastest of all, setting a lap time of 1:44.753s to lead Bottas’ Mercedes by 0.216s. Hamilton then moved into the top three, just behind his newly resigned team-mate, as the Finn impressed in Belgium. However, this was all in vein as Leclerc went over six tenths quicker than his more-experienced team-mate to truly throw down the gauntlet at Spa-Francorchamps.
Verstappen then returned to the circuit following his loss of power, however, after improving through the middle sector an error into the bus stop chicane put paid to any chance of an improvement for the young Dutchman as he remained sixth. Ahead of Verstappen was the session’s surprise package, as Sergio Pérez was a surprise fifth for SportPesa Racing Point to continue their history of strong results are the legendary circuit.
The magnitude of Kimi Räikkönen‘s ailments prior to this weekend was such that Alfa Romeo Racing deemed it fit to disturb Marcus Ericsson’s IndyCar commitments. However, instead of replacing his fellow Scandinavian, Ericsson watched from the side-lines as the Finn was a brilliant seventh.
Lance Stroll backed up his team-mate’s strong form in the session to round out the top eight, but his session was marred slightly by overheating on the cockpit, as the Racing Point mechanics kept their fire-extinguishers at close quarters.
Daniel Ricciardo led Red Bull’s newest incumbent Alex Albon in ninth and tenth respectively, as both were braced for grid penalties tomorrow. The London-born Thai driver seemed to focus more on longer runs as his adaption to the RB15 continued.
Carlos Sainz Jr. was eleventh as the McLaren F1 Team experienced a low-key Friday as Formula 1 returned at Spa. The Woking-squad were also seen practicing creating a slipstream for each-other, as they aimed to maximise their package.
Romain Grosjean ended the session twelfth for Haas, ironically just ahead of Formula 1’s newest free agent, Nico Hülkenberg, with the German tipped by many as a potential replacement for the Frenchman, should Haas choose not to renew his contract.
Daniil Kvyat was fourteenth for Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda, as the Russian aims to put his disappointment at being overlooked by the senior Red Bull team behind him. Lando Norris was fifteenth for McLaren, in one of his worst Friday’s of his fledgling Formula 1 career. Antonio Giovinazzi also struggled down in sixteenth, and the sight of Marcus Ericsson as well as fact that Hülkenberg is now out of a seat will surely bring added pressure to the Italian’s plight.
Out-of-favour Frenchman Pierre Gasly was seventeenth as his litany of struggles continued as he was once again outperformed by a team-mate. Kevin Magnussen was eighteenth for Haas, ahead of the ROKit Williams Racing pairing of George Russell and Robert Kubica as the Grove pairing took up their almost customary spots at the back of the order.
The session was then cut short by a handful of minutes as Pérez’s Racing Point stopped on track with an apparent failure of his new ‘spec 3’ Mercedes power unit befalling the Mexican driver.