23 August 2013
Belgian Grand Prix: Alonso sets early pace at damp Spa
Fernando Alonso fastest as drizzle prevents any meaningful running on opening morning of Belgian Grand Prix weekend.
Spa-Francorchamps served up a traditional welcome for the F1 crowd as track action resumed after a month-long summer break, and Fernando Alonso's fastest time will be duly taken with a pinch of salt ahead of the rest of the weekend.
With the forecast sunshine replaced by drizzle over the Ardennes, the Ferrari driver posted a late lap to snatch top spot away from Force India, but the Scuderia's pace is not expected to be a match for the likes of Red Bull and Mercedes, whatever the conditions over the weekend.
With light rain falling before the scheduled 10am start, the track was already greasy when the first cars ventured out. Any meaningful wet weather running was denied by the clouds refusal to dump anything more than sporadic misty showers, leaving the teams to run a mix of intermediates – which quickly began to degrade – and slicks, which only came into their own late in the morning, before further rain arrived to curtail activities a few minutes short of the scheduled 90-minute duration.
Alonso thus emerged on top of the pile, with a 1min 55.198secs effort set in the closing stages putting him fractionally clear of the Force Indias of Paul di Resta and Adrian Sutil, who both lapped within two-tenths of the Spaniard.
Sergio Perez was fourth fastest for McLaren, the Woking team having led the way with the Mexican and Jenson Button for much of the opening part of the session. While Perez remained within 0.32secs of Alonso, however, Button slipped back down the order, eventually coming to rest in 14th spot – just ahead of countryman Lewis Hamilton – and the first man two seconds off 'the pace'.
While Hamilton filled P15, Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg rounded out the top five on a circuit many expect to favour cars, like Force India, powered by the Three-Pointed Star. World champion Sebastian Vettel was sixth, before the conditions allowed Esteban Gutierrez, Nico Hulkenberg, Daniel Ricciardo and Valtteri Bottas to claim top ten spots.
No-one was immune to a moment or two, with Vettel enduring a half-spin at La Source as he tried to push on in the tricky conditions, and both Lotus cars looking particularly wayward on their way to filling the final two places on the timesheets. Kimi Raikkonen, still in the frame to partner Vettel next season, slowed dramatically with a suspected wheel issue midway through the session, while Romain Grosjean was the only driver not to break two minutes after remaining on intermediates throughout.
Red Bull's Mark Webber was the first to try full slicks, only to find sectors one and three still too wet to make an immediate impact, but the track gradually dried to the point where times came down below 120 seconds.
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