Adrian Sutil's performance in Friday's free practice at the Belgian Grand Prix defied Force India team boss Vijay Mallya's claims that he did not expect a repeat of last year's pole position at the classic Spa-Francorchamps circuit.

Twelve months ago, Giancarlo Fisichella stunned the F1 paddock by claiming top spot in qualifying and, if anyone had doubted the validity of the Italian's achievement, then proceeded to harry Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen all the way to the chequered flag, having only been outwitted by the Finn's ability to use KERS power after an early safety car.

Mallya, however, began the build-up to this year's Belgian round by claiming that he did not anticipate a repeat, with the VJM03 a better all-round car, rather than the Spa/Monza 'specialist' that its predecessor appeared to be. Sutil, though, showed on Friday that the latest machine clearly inherited some of the traits that made last year's so successful at Spa, posting the second fastest time of the day at Spa, and ending the day just over a tenth shy of pacesetter Fernando Alonso's best lap on a day where rain dominated

"With the weather, it was quite difficult, but I enjoyed it a lot and we had a good balance straightaway," the German reported, "I was very comfortable and, every run I went out, I was one of the quickest, so a very positive start to the day.

"In the dry, the car was just getting better as grip improved. In the second session, I did a run on the hard tyre and then had time for one single lap on the soft right at the end, but there was so much traffic out on the track that getting a time was always going to be hard. At least we have an idea about the tyres and how the car will perform on the different compounds - we know it's going to be difficult to replicate this form tomorrow, when we expect conditions to be drier, but overall I'm feeling good, the car is fast and I am in good shape."

Team-mate Tonio Liuzzi, running on a different programme to Sutil, put in some productive development work on the team's new blown diffuser and finished in 15th and 16th positions respectively, recovering from an early off in the afternoon session that saw him reverse out of the expansive gravel trap before returning to the pits..

"Overall, it was a difficult day, not just because of the weather, but because of the programme we were running," the Italian admitted, "We had a different programme from Adrian, running with some newer development parts.

"We have really good speed into the corners and the car is very balanced. The blown diffuser does the work we expect it to and is performing quite well, but we tried a few things that we still need to define before tomorrow. We are down on top speed and are losing a bit of time on the straights - and, of course, that's not what you want when you're at a place like Spa that has such long straights. I'm positive for tomorrow though and looking forward to getting a complete package."

Chief race engineer Dominic Harlow confirmed that the team would be looking closely at the set-up of Liuzzi's car, puzzled by the difference between the two drivers.

"The morning conditions permitted only running on the wet tyre, as we compared different car configurations with Adrian and Tonio," he confirmed, "The car was quite well balanced in the wet, but we occasionally suffered from a bit of understeer.

"During the afternoon, the circuit became dry enough for us to use prime and option tyres, but it wasn't really an evaluation because of the evolving circuit. All the same, it allowed us to collect more data on the blown diffuser that seems to be working as we expected, but we will be investigating the F-duct performance on Tonio's car this evening as there is a top speed differential between the two cars.

"Overall, however, our performance seems reasonable and, if we follow the conditions sensibly, should be able to achieve our twin objectives of Q3 and scoring more points this weekend."

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