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Formula One

FP1: Vettel heads Leclerc as Ferrari dominate early Spa running

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As the second ‘half’ of the 2019 Formula 1 season got underway beneath bright skies at Belgium’s glorious Spa-Francorchamps circuit, it was Sebastian Vettel who took the early advantage, going fastest in Free Practice 1 ahead of his team mate Charles Leclerc, with Ferrari nearly a second clear of the rest of the field.

Vettel lapped the 7.004km Belgian Grand Prix circuit in 1m 44.574s, a few tenths off his best time from FP1 last year, with Leclerc ending up 0.214s back.

Behind the two Ferraris came the new Red Bull pairing of Max Verstappen and Alex Albon, Verstappen only able to get within 0.933s of Vettel, while Albon impressed as he finished less than a tenth off the Dutchman’s time on his first outing in the RB15.

Valtteri Bottas, recently confirmed at Mercedes for 2020, ended the session in fifth, while Lewis Hamilton overcame a worrying moment where he lost power out on track – an issue that was later found to stem from a problem with his throttle pedal – to finish P6. It’s worth noting, however, that neither Mercedes driver bolted on the soft tyre during the session, meaning that there should be faster times to come from the W10s.

A bizarre incident for Racing Point’s Lance Stroll early on saw the right-hand part of the Canadian’s engine cover blow off at the end of the Kemmel straight, leading to a brief Virtual Safety Car appearance. When the action got back underway, however, Stroll went on to finish a strong P7 for Racing Point, 1.624s off the lead pace.

Daniel Ricciardo was eighth for Renault, ahead of Stroll’s Racing Point team mate Sergio Perez, with McLaren’s Carlos Sainz rounding out the top 10.

Kimi Raikkonen, meanwhile, proved that there was unlikely to be any need for Marcus Ericsson to sub for him, despite the Swede having had to miss an IndyCar appearance this weekend to be on standby in Spa after Raikkonen suffered a leg injury during his summer break. Raikkonen ended up P13 for Alfa Romeo, behind Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg and the second McLaren of Lando Norris.

In his first session back at Toro Rosso after his Red Bull demotion, Pierre Gasly was P18, while at the back of the order came the two Williams of test driver Nicholas Latifi – appearing in FP1 instead of George Russell – and Robert Kubica, with both Kubica and Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat suffering low-speed spins in the session, Kvyat blaming his 180 on a torque spike on his power unit.

However they ran in FP1, meanwhile, Albon, Ricciardo, Hulkenberg, Sainz, Stroll and Kvyat are all set to receive post-qualifying grid penalties as a result of taking on new power unit elements.

So it’s Ferrari with the early advantage in Spa – but will they be able to maintain it after the qualifying simulations in FP2?

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