Michael Schumacher tops First Friday Practice

Michael Schumacher

Michael Schumacher started his 20th anniversary celebration weekend in appropriate style by leading the opening practice session at Spa, as Formula 1 resumed after its summer break, but the position was somewhat deceptive as only the Mercedes managed laps in the dry.

A heavy shower hit the Belgian venue just 10 minutes into the session, and track conditions never improved enough to allow further running on slick tires. The Mercedes duo Schumacher and Nico Rosberg had set flying laps by that time, and their respective 1m54.355s and 1m54.829s would stand as the morning’s fastest times by a vast margin – a suitable, if unusual, way to Schumacher to kick off the weekend that marks 20 years since his F1 debut for Jordan.

The track was completely empty for 25 minutes after the shower, before championship leader Sebastian Vettel set off for an exploratory lap. He was soon joined by Lewis Hamilton, although a violent twitch for the McLaren at Blanchimont showed that the Briton’s choice of intermediate tyres was optimistic at the time.

Force India’s Adrian Sutil was first to try a flying lap on wets, lapping 21s off the Mercedes’ earlier pace. By the end it was Jenson Button who managed the fastest rain time for McLaren, with a lap of 2m02.740s – 8.3s away from Schumacher’s mark – on intermediates in the closing minutes.

Vettel (Red Bull) grabbed fourth with a similar last-gasp run, followed by Hamilton. Sutil remained a frontrunner and was sixth, ahead of Toro Rosso’s Jaime Alguersuari, Felipe Massa’s Ferrari and Kamui Kobayashi (Sauber)

Bruno Senna’s return to a race seat with Renault did not begin well, as he spun into the tyres at the nameless Turn 9 left-hander with half an hour to go. Paul di Resta would later crash his Force India at the same place, and although the Scot’s accident was less damaging, it required a seven-minute red flag stoppage as the crane needed to clear the car away was already engaged with Senna’s Renault.