Fernando Alonso laid down an early marker ahead of the Belgian Grand Prix, particularly if the weekend remains wet, by posting the fastest time of both Friday free practice sessions.
The Spaniard had already emerged comfortably on top in the opening 90-minute practice, but continued to hold sway after an interrupted second outing, where the track continued to dry, allowing a vast improvement in times. Although his cushion was much reduced, Alonso still managed to record a time, 1min 49.032secs, faster than anyone else, with Force India's Adrian Sutil
- on the track where former team-mate Giancarlo Fisichella
took pole and second overall last season - closest to the Ferrari
on 1min 49.157secs.
Lewis Hamilton was third fastest, a further tenth adrift, while Robert Kubica, for Renault, and Alonso's Ferrari
team-mate, Felipe Massa, completed the top five. Championship contenders Sebastian Vettel
and Jenson Button
were next up, six and seven tenths shy of Alonso respectively, but points leader Mark Webber
languished down in 18th overall, the victim of traffic on his last flying lap.
The Australian, celebrating his 34th birthday, was already a frustrated man, having complained that the session clock continued to run during a red flag interruption brought on by the suggestion that fans may have broken into a restricted area. In all, ten minutes were lost while the organisers sent out a safety car to check the situation, leaving drivers to cool their heels before a single flying lap to end the session in the best conditions of the day. Ironically, then began to rain again as the final cars returned to pit-lane.
The only driver not to participate in the last-minute shoot-out was Virgin's Timo Glock
who, having impressively headed the newcomer contingent in FP1, lost control of the rear of his VR-01 on the white line bordering the track at Liege and made hefty sideways contact with the barriers. As a result, the German was relegated to the bottom of the day's timesheets, while Lotus' Heikki Kovalainen
seized the class 'lead'.
Force India's Tonio Liuzzi also went off at the same time as Glock, 19 minutes into the session, but was able to reverse his way out of the gravel trap after making light left-corner contact with the tyre wall. The Italian crawled back to the pits as the rain intensified briefly, but returned to the track to claim 16th fastest time of the afternoon. HRT's Sakon Yamamoto
was the only notable casualty of the session, stopping on track during his flying lap as the chequered flag fell.
Behind Button, Pedro de la Rosa
and Sauber team-mate Kamui Kobayashi
sandwiched Williams' Rubens Barrichello
- making his 300th GP appearance this weekend - to round out the top ten, with Spa master Michael Schumacher back in twelfth, behind the second Renault
of Vitaly Petrov. The German faces a ten-place penalty on Sunday's grid, and will hope for better the twelfth during qualifying tomorrow, but at least had the consolation of narrowly out-pacing Mercedes colleague Nico Rosberg