In the blistering heat at Spa, Max Verstappen headed a Red Bull 1-2 in Second Practice for the Belgian Grand Prix, as times suggest three or four teams could be in contention come Sunday afternoon.
The Dutchman, actually born in Hasselt, Belgium, fastest lap of the 27 he completed was a 1:48.085, 0.256 clear of the best teammate Daniel Ricciardo could manage in the sister RB12.
Behind them, Force India followed up a strong FP1 session in the morning by, this time, having both cars in the top five, Nico Hulkenberg third, and Sergio Perez fifth, split by the Ferrari of Sebastain Vettel.
Nico Rosberg, Kimi Raikkonen, Romain Grosjean, Jenson Button and Esteban Gutierrez rounded out the top 10.
During the session, Mercedes announced that Lewis Hamilton had taken another new MGU-H and Turbo, handing him another 15 place penalty, to consign him to, a current, grid drop of 30 places. Another engine change is expected after FP3 tomorrow.
Elsewehere, Fernando Alonso was hit with a 35 place penalty, for taking a whole new Power Unit, after the morning’s water leak led to it being changed.
Mercedes will be forced to work for it
Having won 43 out of 50 races since 2014, Mercedes are the benchmark and come into every weekend with a sizeable advantage. However, Verstappen’s best time, was 0.243 clear of the 1:48.328 Rosberg managed in the morning.
It was the Ferrari’s who set the early pace, with Raikkonen’s fastest time being a 1:49.815, which was soon bettered by Hamilton on the prototype Pirelli rubber. The Brit was focusing on race-pace throughout the 90 minutes, which accounts for the 13th place finish in the session.
After, that followed a period where the two Force India’s spent time at the top of the timing screens before Ricciardo topped them, followed moments later by Verstappen, with the fastest time.
Mercedes ran the SuperSoft in the morning, which accounted for their 0.7 gap to the Ferrari of Raikkonen. In the afternoon, the opposition ran that tyre, which is why the team were only sixth and 13th.
Kimi Raikkonen was consistent on his long-run, with the race expected to be three-stopper, with SuperSoft-Soft-Soft-Soft the most likely strategy for the field.
Running brings problems
As the teams tried to understand how the tyres would react in the blistering Ardennes heat, there was a high amount of running, which brought some incidents.
Firstly, after a gearbox change after FP1, Renault’s Jolyon Palmer ground to a halt at the corner with no name, reporting vibrations as he did so. Moments later, whilst the VSC was deployed to cover the stricken Renault, the team gave him instructions to, in effect Control-Alt-Delete and restart the car. This he did, and he crawled back to the pits.
Despite the track being 7.004km long, or 4.352 miles, Verstappen and Vettel both hit traffic, with Raikkonen and Carlos Sainz being the culprits respectively. The Dutchman was unsympathetic toward the Finn, despite him “struggling to stay on the circuit”, as his Soft tyres gradually lost grip.
Vettel, in his now familiar manner, threw a hand up at Sainz, after the Toro Rosso didn’t move quickly enough out of the way at La Source for the German’s liking. Later in the session, the Quadruple world champion gesticulated to the Manor in front of him to move, so he could do a practice start.
There were also some brief off’s for Hamilton, whilst Romain Grosjean’s American dream is slowly turning into an American nightmare, describing his Haas’s balance as “the rear end is a disaster, just no grip”, although it was soon sorted.
All square at Manor
In the battle for a future Mercedes seat at Manor, Pascal Wehrlein comfortably levelled the score against new teammate Esteban Ocon to 1-1, after the Frenchman comprehensively out-performed him in the morning. Wehrlein ended up an encouraging P11.
Belgian Grand Prix – Second Practice times
1. Max Verstappen – Red Bull – 1:48.085
2. Daniel Ricciardo – Red Bull +0.256
3. Nico Hulkenberg – Force India +0.572
4. Sebastian Vettel – Ferrari +0.938
5. Sergio Perez – Force India +1.015
6. Nico Rosberg – Mercedes +1.076
7. Kimi Raikkonen – Ferrari +1.159
8. Romain Grosjean – Haas +1.334
9. Jenson Button – McLaren +1.334
10. Esteban Gutierrez – Haas +1.563
11. Pascal Wehrlein – Manor +1.631
12. Fernando Alonso – McLaren +1.687
13. Lewis Hamilton – Mercedes +1.697
14. Danill Kvyat – Toro Rosso +1.831
15. Marcus Ericsson – Sauber +1.998
16. Valtteri Bottas – Williams +2.066
17. Felipe Massa – Williams +2.072
18. Carlos Sainz – Toro Rosso +2.109
19. Kevin Magnussen – Renault +2.290
20. Jolyon Palmer – Renault +2.477
21. Esteban Ocon – Manor +2.574
22. Felipe Nasr – Sauber +2.634