Michael Schumacher marked the 20th anniversary of his first F1 race by heading the times in the first practice session.
The Mercedes pair were the only drivers to set a time before heavy rain hit the track. Schumacher, wearing a special gold helmet, headed the times with a 1’54.355, Rosberg managing a 1’54.829.
A little over five minutes into the session morning sunshine was replaced by heavy rain. The cars remained in the pits for half an hour as the traditional Spa rain doused the circuit.
Once the rain had blown away Sebastian Vettel was the first driver to return to the circuit. Surprisingly, he chose a set of intermediates.
Lewis Hamilton did likewise when he came out shortly afterwards. Like Vettel, he did one installation lap and returned to the pits. His McLaren twitched wildly as he tried to put the power down.
The next drivers preferred wet weather tyres as they took to the track for more extended runs.
But inevitably the trick conditions caught a few drivers out and the first of them was Bruno Senna, taking over from Nick Heidfeld at Renault. He spun backwards into the barrier at turn nine, damaging the back of the R31.
He wasn’t the only driver to do so. With 15 minutes left to go Paul di Resta skidded his Force India sideways into the same barrier. It caused less damage, but the session had to be red-flagged while the car was recovered.
Other drivers had less damaging moments: Schumacher ran wide at Pouhon and Jarno Trulli had a couple of spins in his Lotus.
It resumed with seven minutes left and most of the remaining drivers returned to the track to set times in the best conditions the track had been in since the beginning of the session.
Hamilton’s first full lap put him third but he was pegged back by Jenson Button, who set a 2’02.740 with his final effort.
Vettel also edged Hamilton with a 2’04.301, while Adrian Sutil put Force India sixth with a 2’04.663.
Felipe Massa was the fastest Ferrari on a 2’04.728. Rubens Barrichello, with the last lap of thesesssion, put his Williams eighth in front of Jaime Alguersuari and Kamui Kobayashi.
2011 Belgian Grand Prix
Image © Daimler