Inclement and inconsistent weather conditions may have hampered day two of testing at Spa-Francorchamps ahead of the European Grand Prix, but they did little to disguise the fact that once again Ferrari seemed to have arch-rivals McLaren on the ropes.

Red Bull Racing's press release pointed out: 'Spa is definitely the place to go if you like to experience all sorts of weather in a short period of time.' On a day marred by persistent showers, it was a succinct and accurate appraisal.

Felipe Massa ended proceedings just over three tenths of a second clear of reigning double world champion Fernando Alonso, with the Brazilian concentrating on set-up work for September's Belgian Grand Prix and development of new components before team-mate and British Grand Prix winner Kimi Raikkonen takes over on Thursday. Alonso - trying out Spa's revised layout for the first time - looked at systems, set-up, damper and aerodynamic work and will remain behind the wheel for the third and final day of the test.

Heikki Kovalainen was third-fastest for Renault, albeit a further seven tenths adrift. The Finn - who has come on increasingly strong in recent races following a shaky start to his maiden campaign in the top flight - certainly seemed to enjoy his first taste of the legendary Ardennes track in a Formula 1 machine.

"I raced here in GP2 a couple of years ago," the 25-year-old explained, "but the first time in an F1 car is always a bit different, no matter which circuit it is. The car balance was good straightaway, and I think we have a good baseline to work from over the grand prix weekend.

"We tried to get the most out of the changing track conditions by working on tuning the set-up for the wet, particularly focusing on the control systems. That was a good programme, and we found some interesting things. In spite of the changeable weather I think we got the most out of the day, and the results were encouraging."

"The poor conditions certainly cost us track time today," added chief test engineer Christian Silk, "but it was important to prepare for the possibility of rain during the race weekend in September. We did different length runs on different tyres and in different conditions to learn as much as possible.

"Heikki got to grips with the circuit revisions very quickly and was quite pleased with the car balance and handling. We will be looking to complete a busy day of work with Giancarlo (Fisichella) tomorrow - our last day of this test - as we try and make up some of the time we lost today."

Ralf Schumacher wound up fourth-quickest for Toyota for the second day in succession - despite completing the fewest laps of any driver present - as the Japanese squad bids to erase the memory of a disastrous British Grand Prix that had promised so much, with a much more encouraging performance in its home race at the N?rburgring next time out. The German focused on work on the engine, coolers and other systems, practice starts and some wet running. He professed himself pleased with the improvements made.

"When it rains here like it did today it can be dry in one part of the circuit and wet in another," the 32-year-old stated, "making it difficult to draw comparisons. Still, over these two days we've completed some positive work despite the weather.

"The car performed well overall so we can look forward to the race here with confidence. We were quick at Silverstone and this track has similar characteristics with a lot of high-speed corners, so it should suit us when we come here in September.

"The next race is at a completely different type of track, but we will obviously push as hard as we can to achieve a good result there too. Over the last few races I've become increasingly comfortable with my set-up and the whole team is working hard as we chase a successful second half of the year."

"It was a bit much to expect two rain-free days around Spa," added Toyota test team manager Gerd Pfeifer, "so today's weather came as no surprise. The track was damp in the morning, so we delayed going out until the racing line was dry so as not to waste mileage. We eventually put in about 20 laps of work on systems in the morning before the rain arrived over lunch.

"As the afternoon progressed it became clear the conditions would not improve so we decided to do some wet testing. Before long the track was wet in some areas and dry in others, and that made it difficult to do any more productive work. On a day like this no one will have achieved a lot, but we hope for better conditions tomorrow when Jarno (Trulli) will complete the test for us."

Adrian Sutil was a surprise fifth-fastest for Spyker just over two seconds off the leading pace, as the young German demonstrated his undoubted talent both in the challenging conditions and around what is widely-accepted as the greatest drivers' circuit in the world. Honda test and reserve driver Christian Klien will take over the reins for the Silverstone-based outfit on day three (see separate story - click here).

"It was not an easy day with the changes of the weather," 24-year-old Sutil acknowledged. "The morning session was ok; at first it was a little bit damp then in the end we got a dry run. The car was already set-up well from the day before. We made some changes on the aero side and some mechanical tweaks, but then the rain came in and interrupted the programme slightly.

"In the rain we are quite competitive, perhaps moreso than in the dry. The rain tyres are a bit soft so they drop off quite quickly, but I think everyone has the same problem. I really like the circuit from F3 and today was fun too. I think we now have a good set-up for the race."

In finishing where he did on the timesheets, Sutil outpaced Red Bull Racing's David Coulthard, who spent his time on aerodynamic work, wet weather tyre choice and testing new mechanical components on the RB3 before he hands over to team-mate Mark Webber for the final day.

Fellow Brit Jenson Button in the Honda was next up in seventh spot, ahead of S?bastien Bourdais once more trying out the Scuderia Toro Rosso for size. The Frenchman - hotly-tipped to join the team in 2008 - focused on aero, brake and tyre work but found his efforts somewhat stymied by an afternoon mechanical failure that stopped the STR-02 out on-track. He nevertheless wound up half a second clear of the next-best driver, Williams ace Nico Rosberg in ninth.

"The whole session was severely hampered by rain today," commented Williams test team manager Dickie Stanford. "We spent most of the day carrying out our usual set-up preparations, just waiting for dry spells and the opportunity to send the car out. As a result, we lost a lot of track time. Alex (Wurz) will take over from Nico tomorrow, so we will spend the evening converting the car and praying for better weather for our last day at Spa!"

Super Aguri star Anthony Davidson was tenth-quickest, concentrating on electronic system analysis when the conditions allowed, with BMW-Sauber's Robert Kubica bringing up the rear. The Pole worked on wet weather tyre choice and starts, but his progress was compromised by a gearbox problem in the afternoon.

The test concludes tomorrow (Thursday).

Testing times (11 July) - Spa:

1. Felipe Massa Ferrari-Ferrari 1m 46.698s 54 laps
2. Fernando Alonso McLaren-Mercedes 1m 47.012s 68 laps
3. Heikki Kovalainen Renault-Renault 1m 47.754s 44 laps
4. Ralf Schumacher Toyota-Toyota 1m 48.534s 29 laps
5. Adrian Sutil Spyker-Ferrari 1m 48.873s 49 laps
6. David Coulthard Red Bull-Renault 1m 48.915s 40 laps
7. Jenson Button Honda-Honda 1m 49.526s 50 laps
8. Sebastien Bourdais Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m 49.732s 53 laps
9. Nico Rosberg Williams-Toyota 1m 50.295s 52 laps
10. Anthony Davidson Super Aguri-Honda 1m 52.438s 54 laps
11. Robert Kubica BMW-Sauber 1m 55.155s 29 laps

All times unofficial - courtesy of McLaren-Mercedes

Track/weather conditions: Wet to start, drying out during the morning. Rain in the afternoon. Track temperature, 26.1?C / Ambient temperature, 14.3?C.

 

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