Belgian Grand Prix – day one


It was a moment of purest Spa. Little more than an hour before first practice, with Williams putting the final touches to its traditional Friday morning media fry-up, the circuit was bathed in glorious sunlight. And at the same time, it was also absolutely tipping down…

No surprise, then, that the meeting should begin fairly quietly, drivers alternating between intermediates and slicks in the persistently fickle climate. Even by the standards of Friday mornings, this was a session of particular insignificance. The punters appreciated it, though. The terraces might not have looked particularly cramped, with fans spread out around the circuit’s 4.35 miles, but Spa is rarely quiet and there was ample evidence of industry around its perimeter. At some points, spectators fetched stones from the forest and used them to build temporary (and wobbly) photographic towers, so that they could shoot over the top of the security fencing.

Kimi Räikkönen was soon in their viewfinders. The Finn did not turn up at the track on Thursday, allegedly because he was feeling unwell. By popular consensus, he was sick only of questions about his future plans and didn’t fancy another grilling. Lotus issued a statement that made it plain Räikkönen would be back on duty by Friday, which was either a triumph for medical foresight or else confirmation of everybody’s suspicions.

The weather had stabilised by the second session – and there are few better places on the planet than a sun-baked Spa. The Red Bulls set the pace in the afternoon, Sebastian Vettel six hundredths clear of team-mate Mark Webber and the pair of them the best part of eight tenths clear of Romain Grosjean’s Lotus. Vettel stopped running earlier than scheduled, the consequence of a right-rear puncture, but prior to that his long-run pace looked ominous. Webber and Grosjean were also quick and consistent during race simulations – as was Jean-Eric Vergne, an encouraging fifth fastest for Toro Rosso. Felipe Massa and Kimi Räikkönen were fourth and sixth, with Fernando Alonso seventh. After the session, the Spaniard revealed that he, too, had suffered a puncture at the session’s end – also to the right rear. In Germany, of course, the drivers threatened strike action if there were any repeat of the tyre failures that blighted the British GP weekend.

Today’s incidents were less spectacular than those at Silverstone and Pirelli motorsport chief Paul Hembery remains sanguine. “On the Red Bull,” he said, “something seems to have rubbed on the surface and then cut straight through. On the Ferrari there are two clear holes through the top of the tread. We’ll have to take a look at the track later to see what we can find. It’s completely different to what we saw at Silverstone, though. We have seen cuts on other tyres, too, mostly right rears, so something is clearly causing it. It might be a sharp kerb edge, but to be honest it could be anything. I mean Alonso had separate holes in the top of his tyre, so how on earth did that happen?”

There is no guarantee that Vergne will maintain today’s form for the balance of the weekend, but his cameo coincided with heightened speculation that Toro Rosso team-mate Daniel Ricciardo will replace Mark Webber at Red Bull next season. As yet there is no firm news about any of 2014’s most interesting vacancies, but Red Bull sources imply that a deal to take the Australian is all but done, pending the fine-tuning of a few details.

One certainty, however, is that the Japanese Grand Prix will remain at Suzuka until at least the end of 2018 – a five-year contract extension having just been signed. While we savour the spectacle at one of the world’s finest circuits, that’s an uplifting bit of news for another.

More Grand Prix coverage

More from Simon Arron

racing history  The long shadow of the 1960s

You may also like