MICHAEL Schumacher entered his third decade in Formula One on top of the practice timesheets at his favourite Belgian Grand Prix yesterday before Red Bull’s Mark Webber raised the pace in the afternoon.
Seven–time world champion Schumacher made the most of the changeable conditions in the morning session, setting a time of 1:54.355 in his Mercedes on a dry track before the rain fell.
Webber, who was on pole at Spa last year and celebrates his 35th birthday today, then set the day’s fastest lap of 1:50.321 in another rain–hit session after lunch, with Schumacher fading back to 11th.
Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso and the McLaren pairing of Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton followed the Australian with Red Bull’s runaway leader Sebastian Vettel back on 10th place.
Wearing a special golden helmet to mark the 20th anniversary of his Grand Prix debut at the circuit on Aug 25, 1991, Schumacher and team–mate Nico Rosberg were the only ones to lap in the dry in the morning.
A heavy shower hit the circuit in the Ardennes forests with only 10 minutes gone and drivers completed the session on wet specification tyres with little action for much of it.
Further showers punctuated the afternoon.
Button, winner of the last race in Hungary before the summer break, was third fastest in 2:02.740 behind the Mercedes duo in the morning with Vettel fourth.
Lewis Hamilton, last year’s winner at Spa, was behind Button in both sessions.
Brazilian Bruno Senna made his Renault debut as a replacement for ousted Nick Heidfeld but blotted his copybook by spinning into the tyre wall with just over half an hour to go.
Senna ended the first session in 23rd place, still only one behind Russian team–mate Vitaly Petrov. The Brazilian improved to 17th in the afternoon while Petrov was caught out by the rain and ended up last on the timesheets. – Reuters
Free Practice Times:
1. Mark Webber (Aus) Red Bull 1:50.321, 2. Fernando Alonso (Spa) Ferrari 1:50.461, 3. Jenson Button (Bri) McLaren 1:50.770, 4. Lewis Hamilton (Bri) McLaren 1:50.838, 5. Felipe Massa (Bra) Ferrari 1:51.218, 6. Nico Rosberg (Ger) Mercedes GP 1:51.242, 7. Sergio Perez (Mex) Sauber 1:51.655, 8. Nico Hulkenberg (Ger) Force India 1:51.725, 9. Paul di Resta (Sco) Force India 1:51.751, 10. Sebastian Vettel (Ger) Red Bull 1:51.790, 11. Michael Schumacher (Ger) Mercedes GP 1:51.922, 12. Pastor Maldonado (Ven) Williams 1:52.750, 13. Kamui Kobayashi (Jpn) Sauber 1:52.780, 14. Jaime Alguersuari (Spa) Toro Rosso 1:52.911, 15. Sebastien Buemi (Swi) Toro Rosso 1:53.009, 16. Rubens Barrichello (Bra) Williams 1:53.156, 17. Bruno Senna (Bra) Lotus-Renault 1:53.835, 18. Jarno Trulli (Ita) Lotus 1:55.051, 19. Timo Glock (Ger) Virgin 1:55.494, 20. Heikki Kovalainen (Fin) Lotus 1:56.202, 21. Jerome d’Ambrosio (Bel) Virgin 1:56.816, 22. Vitantonio Liuzzi (Ita) Hispania 1:57.450, 23. Daniel Ricciardo (Aus) Hispania 1:57.612, 24. Vitaly Petrov (Rus) Lotus-Renault 2:02.234