Nico Rosberg set the pace on the opening day in Spa for the Belgium Grand Prix. The Mercedes driver was fastest in the morning Practice session from Lewis Hamilton and Daniel Ricciardo.
It wasn’t a smooth day for Rosberg though, as he started off with drive issues in his Mercedes in the morning session after suddenly losing acceleration power coming onto Blanchimont. The team advised him not to select any gears and to coast into the pits in seventh. Once the issue was resolved, about 30 minutes later Rosberg went back out to set the quickest time on a 1:51.082, two and a half tenths faster than Hamilton.
His teammate was initially the fastest man heading into the halfway point on a 1:51.340, just a couple of hundredths ahead of Kimi Raikkonen who posted a time of 1:51.478. After a lull in action as the teams gave their free set of tyres back to Pirelli, the cars went back out on track briefly before a red flag for Maldonado’s crashed Lotus brought a temporary end to track time.
The team had broken the curfew last night, however they were later handed back due to ‘extraneous circumstances’ according to the FIA. It looked like the Lotus mechanics would be working through lunch now though to get Maldonado’s car ready for the next session, after he sustained damage at the rear, the front, and potentially to the gearbox of his E23.
Elsewhere Williams’ Felipe Massa was reporting a lack of power balance in his car, finishing the session in 14th after completing 22 laps. Despite the updates brought by Honda this weekend, McLaren were still at the bottom end of the timesheet, with Button and Alonso finishing in 18th and 16th respectively. The car was not far off Mercedes in the speed trap, however they are still at a significant horsepower deficit.
In the second Practice session, Rosberg was fastest again from Hamilton and Ricciardo after we saw the teams switch to the Soft tyre in what was an eventful afternoon session. In the first half hour Rosberg emerged as the fastest from Ricciardo and Kvyat, however Vettel soon went quicker after switching to the Softs by a tenth of a second.
That prompted others to switch, and we soon saw a battle at the top of the timesheets as Ericsson went fastest, before being usurped by Raikkonen, followed by Rosberg who cleared the Ferrari by a full second, comfortably getting into the 1:49s. Hamilton went second quickest on his run, getting within a tenth of his teammate on the same set of tyres.
Meanwhile it kicked off in the pits between Kvyat and Nasr, when the Sauber driver entered fast lane and nearly hit the Red Bull who was pulling out of his box. The pair were under investigation by the stewards, likely for an unsafe release which usually results in a reprimand in Practice. In this time Hulkenberg managed to set an identical time to Raikkonen, 1:50.461 on the Soft. But because the Ferrari driver set it first, he was ahead on the time sheet.
The story of the session however came with about 20 minutes left, when Rosberg’s tyre failed coming out of the fast Blanchimont corner. The Mercedes driver spun to the inside of the circuit before collecting it on the target run-off, and switching off the car. That brought out the red flag, as the marshals recovered the car and cleaned the circuit. On closer inspection it appears the failure started much early on in the lap, with the inside of the tyre fraying on the Kimmel Straight before it blistered, overheated, and eventually failed.
Once the session got back underway, it was only for a brief moment before the Sauber of Marcus Ericsson caused yet another stoppage when he went off at Pouhon. It appears he ran over the high kerbing midway through the corner, overcorrecting his slide before being sent straight to the scene of the accident.
After more clearing up the marshals, we got back underway with five minutes of the session left before the Lotus of Romain Grosjean closed us off into the chequered flag as he stopped out on track with electrical problems.