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Belgian GP Practice Analysis: Rosberg Emerges as the Man to Beat

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Mercedes have picked up where they left as the two practice sessions on Friday had been dealt with pure dominance. It was now or never for the trailing Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg who cannot afford to put a foot wrong if he intends to claim one over team-mate Lewis Hamilton in the championship. Indeed, he hasn’t turned a wheel wrong so far by topping both the 90-minute sessions.

However, apart from setting the fastest benchmark lap the German’s day return to the office was far from ideal as he sat out early stages of FP1 with power issues and gearbox troubles that instigated mechanics to spend more time on his car. In afternoon, Rosberg was lucky enough to walk out unscathed as his right-rear tyre failed dramatically on approach to the notoriously fast Blanchimont sweep an hour into the running.

His optional tyres’ longer stint lasted for 11 laps before it had been curtailed by the accident but it would more likely to do little or no damage to his race pace and performance. Prior to the crash, he had been over half second quicker than his nearest rival Hamilton on medium rubber while holding a three tenths advantage on soft tyres as well with the fastest lap of 1:49.385s. The cause for the sudden tyre outburst is being investigated by Pirelli.

The surprising candidates to be constantly up there were Red Bull. The Milton Keynes-based team expected to struggle with the apparent disadvantage in power of engines supplied by Renault at the high-speed Spa circuit in comparison to Mercedes and Ferrari but it seems they have made quite a significant step overall in their quest of catching the prancing horse.

Despite playing down his qualifying chances Ricciardo finished third in the first practice with only a couple of tenths shy of Hamilton, as Mercedes ran with high fuel on board in the later parts, before replicating the same come afternoon. The Russian Daniil Kvyat wasn’t far off either as he ended up fourth and sixth in respective sessions.

Fresh from renewing his contract, the four-time Spa winner Kimi Raikkonen led the Ferrari charge whilst Vettel could only manage a tenth place on what he described as “not a best day”. Nico Hulkenberg thrived on all odds once again matching the pace of the Iceman on soft rubber as the revised VJMO8B heads in the right direction with swift progress. Force India could stage a double-assault for a spot in Q3 tomorrow.

Both the Toro Rosso rookies continuously learned the nuances of Spa by completing most number of laps than anyone else in the morning. Despite falling down the order to the bottom half of the table in FP2, they could spring up some surprises in qualifying much like Red Bull had done today with their pace. Having to concede his drive for Jolyon Palmer, Lotus’ Romain Grosjean completed 21 laps on his way to seventh before grounding to a halt due to power loss.

While he watched from the pitwall, teammate Pastor Maldonado ended up spinning into the barriers at Malmendy as he pushed too hard on the exit causing a snap of oversteer that severely damaged his E23’s front and rear end. Considering the magnitude of that shunt, Lotus must be credited for mending his car in time for the second practice session.

Over at McLaren, whose engine partner Honda spent three more tokens to bring up a revised engine, Button suffered ERS issues following an overheating complaint on the left-hand portion of the MP4-30. Much to the disappointment of everyone, the veteran pair of Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button often found themselves bettering only the Manors. Williams have had a quiet start to the weekend like they used to. One would imagine that they were building slowly up preparing for the race day without causing any stir on the timingsheets.

Ericsson was not pleased with his updated new specification Ferrari engine as he reported sudden loss of power early on. The Swede did manage to classify eighth behind Brazilian teammate Nasr but a costly driver error at Pouhon meant that he made hefty impact with the wall. Notwithstanding the crash, Sauber have certainly made considerable progress in their fight for fifth in the championship with Force India, Lotus and Toro Rosso. It will be far more interesting to see how the qualifying unfolds between these midfield competitors. (Suren M)

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