Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel sandwiched Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes with their Ferraris in Friday morning’s opening practice for the 2017 Formula 1 Pirelli Belgian Grand Prix, which featured an early red-flag period after Felipe Massa put his Williams into the Spa-Francorchamps barriers. But the lap times did not tell the whole truth.
Where both Ferrari drivers used Pirelli’s softest compound, the ultrasofts, Hamilton, and his sixth-fastest team mate Valtteri Bottas, used the hardest, the soft.
Hamilton set the pace throughout and still held all three fastest sector times, albeit set on different laps. There was a brief spell after he had gone fastest with 1m 46.439s on supersofts, when Bottas went ahead with 1m 46.424s when the team switched to softs. The Finn then had a needless off after Fagnes (Turn 13), when he slowed for a faster car, got a wheel up the kerb on the outside of the left-hander, and got pulled into the gravel. He brushed the tyre wall, damaging his front wing.
On his set of softs, Hamilton quickly redefined the ante with a lap of 1m 45.555s.
This remained fastest until Raikkonen put on the ultrasofts and lapped in 1m 45.502s. Vettel’s best on the softs was a sixth fastest 1m 47.856s, and he improved to 1m 45.647s on the ultras.
Red Bull were still a second off by the end of the session, using their plentiful supplies of ultrasofts to help Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo to fourth and fifth places on 1m 46.302s and 1m 46.352s respectively.
There was a big gap behind Bottas with Carlos Sainz seventh for Toro Rosso on ultras and team mate Daniil Kvyat ninth on 1m 47.851s on similar rubber, but in between them Esteban Ocon was a promising eighth for Force India on 1m 47.670s – on softs. Team mate Sergio Perez also used them, but was down in 14th, separated from Ocon by McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne, an improved Jolyon Palmer, and the Briton’s Renault partner Nico Hulkenberg, and Fernando Alonso who was troubled initially by engine and DRS glitches on his McLaren.
Pascal Wehrlein also had technical problems on his Sauber for much of the session, which began with a bang when Massa lost his Williams in the final part of Les Combes, the right-handed Turn 7, and clobbered the left rear suspension against the tyre wall.
The Brazilian, who missed the last round in Hungary through injury, was unhurt, but his car sustained significant damage, leaving his crew with plenty of repair work to do ahead of FP2.