Carlos Sainz Jnr set the fastest time in the practice session for the Belgian Grand Prix in a heavily wet hour of running.Max Verstappen being one of five drivers who did not set a time. Logan Sargeant crashed his Williams midway through the session, bringing out the red flags.
The anticipated rain arrived well before the start of the sole practice session for the weekend, leaving the track soaked by the time the green light appeared at the end of the pit lane to begin the hour. Alexander Albon was the first driver to take to the soggy circuit on intermediate tyres, but he was soon joined by Lewis Hamilton who played it safer with full wet tyres.
While those on intermediates were able to keep their cars on track, with Albon setting the quickest time of a 2’08.394, the rain began falling in increased intensity. After 10 minutes, the track fell silent as all 11 drivers who had ventured out of the pit lane returned to the safety of the pit lane.
It took over five minutes before Sainz headed out in his Ferrari on full wets, quickly joined by the two McLarens of Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri, the two Alpine drivers Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez’s Red Bull. It quickly became apparent that despite the rain, the water levels on the track allowed for intermediates to be viable. That was demonstrated when the two McLarens of Piastri and Norris moved to the top of the times over four seconds quicker than the previous best times from before the earlier downfall.
The low-grip conditions were still posing challenges for drivers. Gasly ran off the track under braking for the former Bus Stop chicane, while Zhou Guanyu did the same at Bruxelles, making slight contact with the wall after travelling through the gravel. But as Zhou managed to recover back on track, the same could not be said for Sargeant who aquaplaned clean off the track on the Kemmel Straight on the approach to Les Combes, crashing helplessly into the outside barrier at a thankfully reduced speed.
With the Williams laying stranded at Les Combes, the session was red flagged almost exactly half way into the practice hour. After a delay of 10 minutes, the pit lane reopened. However, the rain had increased once again with none of the 19 remaining drivers appearing eager to return to the track.
Eventually, with under 15 minutes of run time remaining, the two Red Bulls ventured out on intermediate tyres, Verstappen having only completed a single reconnaissance lap up to that point in the session. But he was again straight back into the pits at the end of the lap, clearly having no interest in setting a time. Both Aston Martins of Fernando Alonso and Lance Stroll also completed exploratory tours of the track before bailing out back to the pits.
There were no improvements in the latter stages of the session, with only a handful of cars heading out in the final minutes to conduct practice starts. That left Sainz on top of the times, half a second quicker than Piastri and Norris in third. Charles Leclerc was fourth fastest in the second Ferrari, with Perez fifth in the Red Bull. Albon was sixth for Williams with Yuki Tsunoda seventh, Kevin Magnussen eighth, Daniel Ricciardo ninth and Nico Hulkenberg completing the top 10.
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2023 Belgian Grand Prix first practice result
|1||55||Carlos Sainz Jnr||Ferrari||SF-23||2’03.207||9|
|5||11||Sergio Perez||Red Bull-Honda RBPT||RB19||2’08.240||5.033||5|
|7||22||Yuki Tsunoda||AlphaTauri-Honda RBPT||AT04||2’09.067||5.860||8|
|9||3||Daniel Ricciardo||AlphaTauri-Honda RBPT||AT04||2’09.319||6.112||7|
|11||14||Fernando Alonso||Aston Martin-Mercedes||AMR23||2’10.283||7.076||4|
|14||77||Valtteri Bottas||Alfa Romeo-Ferrari||C43||2’12.085||8.878||9|
|15||24||Zhou Guanyu||Alfa Romeo-Ferrari||C43||2’14.002||10.795||8|
|16||2||Logan Sargeant||Williams-Mercedes||FW45||No time||4|
|17||18||Lance Stroll||Aston Martin-Mercedes||AMR23||No time||5|
|18||10||Pierre Gasly||Alpine-Renault||A523||No time||2|
|19||31||Esteban Ocon||Alpine-Renault||A523||No time||2|
|20||1||Max Verstappen||Red Bull-Honda RBPT||RB19||No time||2|
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2023 Belgian Grand Prix
- Haas drivers fear losing battle for seventh after “grim weekend” in Spa
- Mercedes optimistic they’re “in the right place for winter” with development plan
- Ferrari not convinced by call to equalise engines: ‘Renault is not so far away’
- Ferrari staying “calm” amid swings in performance from race to race
- Pirelli proposes new “super-intermediate” to address wet weather tyre problems