Belgian GP: Ferrari impresses in Friday practice – Perez also quick before trouble

Ferrari dominated both sessions of free practice on Friday as Formula One returned to action after the long mid-season break.

With Sebastian Vettel heading teammate Charles Leclerc at the end of the morning’s first practice session, the roles were reversed in the afternoon as the temperature rose and the lap times increased. But it was again the nature of Leclerc’s dominance that caught the eye, his blistering 1m44.123s mark, set on the medium tyre, 0.630 seconds quicker than Vettel and a staggering 0.846secs faster than Bottas.

Interestingly, as was the case at Spa-Francorchamps last year, Ferrari had the pace on their main rivals, Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton initially behind the Red Bulls of crowd favourite Max Verstappen and the impressive Alexander Albon in his first outing since joining from Toro Rosso.

As expected, the Mercedes duo improved in the afternoon, Bottas third fastest, again ahead of Hamilton having been confirmed at the team for another season on Thursday. And there is a caveat here that supposes it will still be a close race come Sunday. Data supplied by the FIA confirms Ferrari were quickest on the straights, but that Mercedes has the edge in the middle sectors, comprising the majority of the tighter corners.

Tyre choice and strategy will, of course, also play a crucial role come Sunday and Mercedes also appeared to have the edge in terms of pace and degradation on the longer race simulation runs.

For Acronis partner team SportPesa Racing Point, the team will be very pleased with its Friday pace, both drivers comfortably lapping in the top ten in both sessions, Perez fifth fastest behind the ‘big three’ at the end of the day’s running. It wasn’t all good news, however, as the Mexican was forced to stop after running 25 laps of the circuit with what appeared to be an engine issue.

“We are still investigating the problem at the end of second practice, but it looks like a drop in oil pressure which killed the engine,” said Perez afterward. “Hopefully it won’t impact on the rest of the weekend too much, but we need to wait and see if anything is damaged and needs to be changed. Up until that point, things were looking good. The car was strong in both sessions and the new parts we introduced here made an immediate difference. There are still lots of areas to improve before tomorrow, but I’m feeling positive.”

Perez’s positive mood was no doubt enhanced by the knowledge that he had been rewarded for his efforts over the years with another contract extension, binding him to SportPesa Racing point for a further three years.

“I’m very excited to extend my partnership with the team for the next three years,” added the Mexican. “I’ve been working together with this group of people for a long time now and they have become my second family. Together we have enjoyed a tremendous amount of success and we share the same passion for racing. I have been impressed with the direction the team has taken over the last twelve months and that gives me confidence for the future. I believe the best times are still to come and I look forward to celebrating plenty of podiums in the years ahead.”

Fraser Masefield

Sports news and features writer, web editor and author.