With the F1 Summer Break now out of the way, the sport roared back into life in Spa and that brought some surprises.
It was a straightforward first session for Mercedes, leading at the top of the standings as they normally do with Nico Rosberg the faster of the two drivers, with Lewis Hamilton already on the back foot for taking a sixth engine this season. The German on the other hand had his first taste of the ‘halo’ device, the first driver to have set a timed lap with the introduction expected now to be in 2018 as many of the teams have already designed it thinking that it would be introduced next year before being dropped.
Rosberg with the ‘halo’ was on the new development tyre, introduced to reduce the chance of cuts causing punctures, with Hamilton testing a different configuration of rear wing to aid his overtaking from the back of the field. Not taking the supersoft tyre in the afternoon there was a surprise at who would be leading the times at the end of the day. Mercedes ended the second session in 6th and 13th, leaving Red Bull at the top of the field in a surprising one-two.
Although he complained a couple of times about a loss of power, Max Verstappen was a quarter of a second faster than his teammate Daniel Ricciardo, on what is technically home soil for the ‘Dutchman’. Red Bull with the Renault engine, the less favoured and less powerful engine still beat the Mercedes power unit, with the customer Force India team the nearest rivals. Nico Hulkenberg just half a second back on the leading pace, on the same tyres as the Red Bull drivers and a further half second ahead of his Mexican teammate Sergio Perez who was in fifth. They were split by Sebastian Vettel in the Ferrari.
Haas enjoyed a good afternoon, helped with the Ferrari engine to get both cars into the top ten, on which looks like could be a promising weekend for the new American team. It is a year since Romain Grosjean made the miraculous podium in the difficult to drive Lotus, suffering from a lack of funding. Pascal Wehrlein also had a very good day in the Manor, making his way up to 11th place, while new driver Esteban Ocon got acclimatised at the back of the field.
There wasn’t such good news at McLaren though, on the back of a robust defence of improvements being made to the Honda engine, it was the very upgraded power unit which let Fernando Alonso down, severely impacting his running on Friday and giving him a grid penalty along with Lewis Hamilton. Jenson Button made his way into the top ten, the usual position for McLaren on a Friday afternoon now.