Fernando Alonso went fastest of all as Formula One returned to the tracks after its summer hiatus, but it was the weather that stole the headlines as the Ardennes did its best to dampen spirits at the Belgian Grand Prix.

With the track wet from the start, the rain intensified to the point where it was heavy enough for the teams to suspend their activities with just over half an hour remaining, but conditions then improved just enough for the hardy to begin lowering their times. Alonso eventually ended up on top of the pile, with a best lap fully seven-tenths ahead of next best man, Lewis Hamilton, with the majority of the field over a second and more in arrears.

Alonso's benchmark ahead of session two stands at 2min 00.797secs and, with the rain forecast to continue throughout the weekend, provides a valid starting point for the teams to work from.

Robert Kubica, running the first F-duct-equipped Renault, stole third overall from Sebastian Vettel with just minutes remaining in the session, leaving the German to settle for fourth, ahead of Force India's Adrian Sutil - again impressive in the wet - and the second McLaren of Jenson Button. Mark Webber, on his 34th birthday, was just 0.013secs shy of the world champion in the second Red Bull, with Sauber's Kamui Kobayashi, Rubens Barrichello and erstwhile regenmeister Michael Schumacher rounding out the top ten.

Felipe Massa, one of the more regular visitors to the slippery Spa kerbs and beyond, was fully 2.8secs adrift of Ferrari team-mate Alonso, but claimed eleventh ahead of Nico Hulkenberg (Williams), Nico Rosberg (Mercedes), Pedro de la Rosa (Sauber) and Tonio Liuzzi (Force India), with Toro Rosso duo Jaime Alguersuari and Sebastian Buemi sandwiching the second Renault of Vitaly Petrov before the newcomer teams again filled the final six positions.

With the FIA poised to reveal which applicant will be next to join the ranks of F1 rookies, Virgin Racing stole a march on season-long rivals Lotus by putting both Timo Glock and Lucas di Grassi ahead of Jarno Trulli. Bruno Senna also gave HRT a fillip, beating Lotus' Heikki Kovalainen, with Sakon Yamamoto bringing up the rear.