Britain's Lewis Hamilton set the pace for McLaren-Mercedes at the legendary Spa Francorchamps track on Tuesday, as Formula 1 descended on the venue for a three-day test.

This is the first time Formula 1 has been to Belgium since 2005 and since then the circuit has been revised with a new final chicane, pit entry and start-finish straight to bring it up to the standards required by F1 ringmaster, Bernie Ecclestone.

Hamilton completed 83 laps in total in the McLaren MP4-22 - and despite overnight rain, conditions were sunny and dry for most of the day, a stark contrast to the gloomy weather forecast. His quickest time was a 1 minute 46.613 seconds, four tenths up on Robert Kubica, who was 'best of the rest' for BMW Sauber.

Lewis spent the first part of the day conducting a series of aerodynamic tests to establish the effect of a range of downforce settings for the N?rburgring, the next round on the calandar - and Spa. The balance of the day was spent concentrating on long runs using each of the tyre choices available for the circuit. Hamilton will hand over his MP4-22 to team-mate, Fernando Alonso on Wednesday.

Kubica meanwhile, like Lewis, also managed 80-odd laps and although this was his first time at Spa it didn't take him long to get familiar with the track. The Pole worked mainly on the set-up in preparation for the Belgian Grand Prix in September, trying different mechanical and aerodynamic settings. In addition, he tested new mechanical components which apparently revealed some 'promising results'. He had a trouble-free day and will continue driving on Wednesday and Thursday.

Next up was Felipe Massa and the Brazilian was focusing on finding the best set-up for his Ferrari F2007. He also worked on the development of new components that will allow the Scuderia, they hope, to continue to win, like they have done in the last two events in Britain and France.

Toyota's Ralf Schumacher and Renault test driver, Nelson Piquet Jr came in fourth and fifth, split by less than a tenth of a second.

Ralf kicked off the weeks programme by working on set-up and tyres for the race at Spa, as well as carrying out comparisons of dampers and other systems. He will continue the test on Wednesday.

"I'm one of the many drivers who rate Spa as the best circuit on the calendar so it makes for a nice change to come here for a test," noted the German. "It is always enjoyable to drive this track because it is a 'real' circuit and it has so many special corners.

"They have made some slight changes to the circuit for this year's race, including a new tarmac and an amended Bus Stop, and they seem to have done a good job. The other major factor at Spa is the weather. Today we were lucky and the sun shone for most of the day but the Belgian Ardennes seem to have a climate all their own and you can never be sure what you are going to get. Today went well, we had no problems and the car felt good so we'll hope for more of the same tomorrow."

"It is good to have the chance to test here before the race because it enables us to have a preview of the new track layout," added Toyota test team manager, Gerd Pfeiffer. "There have been changes made around the start-finish area of the lap and there is also a new tarmac around that area. So this week we will concentrate on set-up for the race here in two months.

"The drivers can get used to the circuit and we can work on tyre comparisons with the new surface as well as race start simulations. This gives everyone a useful head start for the Belgian Grand Prix. We are also preparing for the coming races and we put some work on dampers and other systems today. We completed our programme without major issues so this has been a positive day."

Of the rest, David Coulthard was sixth for Red Bull Racing, having managed a 1m 48.243s lap in his RB3 while doing aero work.

James Rossiter and Tonio Liuzzi came in seventh and eighth respectively.

Rossiter spent the morning running through an electronic systems control evaluation with the Super Aguri-Honda SA07. He then completed a general set-up programme during the afternoon and ended the day having done 65 laps.

Liuzzi also got in plenty of laps, despite a transmission problem. He was however, quite a bit slower for Toro Rosso, nearly a second off DC and Rossiter. He was working on tyre comparison, set-up work and the evaluation of the downforce levels required for this track. Sebastien Bourdais takes over testing duties with STR on Wednesday.

Williams' Nico Rosberg and Honda third driver, Christian Klien rounded out the top ten, while Spyker F1 tester, Giedo van der Garde was slowest on a 1m 49.712s.

"We spent the morning completing set-up runs and then in the afternoon we carried out a race simulation," explained Williams test team manager, Dickie Stanford. "Unfortunately a problem slowed our progress mid afternoon. Nevertheless, we still completed a considerable number of laps today. Tomorrow, Nico will be driving again and we will carry on with our set-up work for the forthcoming races."

Testing now continues on Wednesday and while rain is anticipated overnight again, conditions are expected to dry out before the start of the second day's session.

Testing times (10 July) - Spa:

1. Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1m 46.613s 83 laps
2. Robert Kubica BMW Sauber 1m 47.059s 81 laps
3. Felipe Massa Ferrari-Ferrari 1m 47.469s 65 laps
4. Ralf Schumacher Toyota-Toyota 1m 47.878s 70 laps
5. Nelson Piquet Renault-Renault 1m 47.996s 52 laps
6. David Coulthard Red Bull-Renault 1m 48.243s 55 laps
7. James Rossiter Super Aguri-Honda 1m 48.287s 65 laps
8. Tonio Liuzzi Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m 49.179s 63 laps
9. Nico Rosberg Williams-Toyota 1m 49.288s 60 laps
10. Christian Klien Honda-Honda 1m 49.419s 64 laps
11. Giedo van der Garde Spyker-Ferrari 1m 49.712s 53 laps

all times unofficial - courtesy McLaren-Mercedes

Track/weather conditions: Overnight rain but a dry start - sunny and cloudy all day. Track temperature, 15-40?C / Ambient temperature, 10-15?C.



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