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Vettel sets opening pace in Belgium


Ahead of today's opening session, the air temperature is 15 degrees, while the track temperature is 22 degrees. It is cloudy, cool and there's a 20% chance of rain.

Please note that for reasons of time and convenience we shall not now, nor shall we ever, refer to the new team as Racing Point Force India, therefore until we can think of something better they shall be Force India, Panthers or RPFI.

There is only one reserve driver on duty this morning, Lando Norris making his F1 race weekend debut with McLaren.

As the title stakes are raised, Ferrari and Mercedes are both expected to introduce engine upgrades this weekend, though they will not appear until tomorrow.

Hulkenberg is first out as the second half of the season officially gets underway. Bottas, Ericsson, Hartley and Grosjean are among the early risers.

As Norris heads out, there appears to be an issue with Vandoorne's car, worrying smoke pouring from the back of the car.

A good mixture of mediums and softs with only Hulkenberg on the supers.

Grosjean reports that he couldn't get his DRS to work.

"Right hand down, steering's not straight," reports Hamilton.

Ten minutes into the session, sporting a bright orange helmet, Verstappen (softs) posts the first time of the weekend (46.916).

As Verstappen improves to 46.241, he, Norris and Ricciardo are the only drivers on track.

As Mercedes confirms that both drivers have the upgraded engine - Bottas the full works and therefore demotion to the back of the grid - it starts to racing.

Norris posts the second time of the day, the Briton, on mediums, crossing the line at 50.084.

"We have some rain in that area where we do the start," reports Raikkonen, "but it is sunny at Eau Rouge."

Mercedes confirms that its customer teams will also have the upgraded engine.

Vandoorne is told to "box" after reporting a brake issue, the pedal going to the floor in T1.

Raikkonen goes second (46.355) and Vettel third (46.959), while Stroll goes fifth with a 48.832.

Next time around, Raikkonen, running a lower downforce wing than his teammate, goes quickest with a 45.939. Vettel improves to second with a 46.074.

Another improvement for Raikkonen 45.444 as countryman Bottas posts 45.835.

Norris is told that he's doing a "very good job", when he asks for feedback on how he compares to Vandoorne.

Driver after driver is reported for missing the apex at T4, better known as Raidillon.

Hamilton and Stroll both report that it is "spitting rain".

Around 28 minutes in, all bar Vandoorne, Sirotkin and Ricciardo have posted times. The Australian appears to have a power unit issue.

A 44.998 sees Bottas go quickest on the supers, though the Ferraris posted their times on softs. Highest placed medium runner is eighth-placed Ocon on 47.243.

Hamilton, on softs, splits the Ferraris to go third with a 14.453. Moments later Verstappen (softs) goes fourth with a 45.917.

Quickest in the first two sectors, Hamilton goes quickest with a 44.676.

"The rear is extremely nervous," reports Magnussen.

Ocon, who appears to be the sport's biggest loser in terms of 'who goes where in 2019' improves to sixth with a 46.422.

As we reach the point where the extra set of tyres is handed back, it's: Hamilton, Bottas, Raikkonen, Verstappen, Vettel, Ocon, Hulkenberg, Sainz, Gasly and Perez.

After the briefest of lulls, Sirotkin (supers) gets proceedings underway again, the Russian followed by Norris and Vandoorne. The Briton is currently thirteenth, having posted 48.090 on the mediums.

Curiously, despite this being the longest track on the calendar, the two McLarens have been sent out together.

Back on track, Raikkonen improves to second with a 44.718, just 0.042s off Hamilton's best.

A spin for Sirotkin at T8 brings out the yellows.

A 44.358 sees Vettel go quickest, eclipsing Hamilton by 0.318s.

As Vettel loos set to improve, despite missing the apex at T4, Bottas goes quickest in S1 on the mediums.

With 30 minutes remaining, Ricciardo has still t post a time, the Australian having completed just one installation lap.

Behind the big guns, the battle for 'best of the rest' shows no sign of letting up, with Ocon holding off Hulkenberg, Gasly and Grosjean.

Indeed, it would come as no surprise to see Force India leapfrog Williams - and possibly Sauber - in the standings this weekend.

Verstappen improves to second with a 44.509, just 0.151s off Vettel's pace.

The TV cameras pick up on a touching tribute to the victims of the Genoa bridge collapse, the second successive race in which the Italian team has been in mourning.

Gasly, Hartley and Norris have completed the most laps (18 apiece), ahead of Stroll (17).

With 14 minutes remaining, Ricciardo looks as though he's preparing to go out.

More problems for Vandoorne? The Belgian is told to "back off, back off" and box.

With eight minutes remaining, Raikkonen and Hulkenberg are the latest to miss that pesky apex at T4. Grosjean and Ocon follow suit.

Gasly unimpressed by Stroll's antics. "What the **** is he doing," demands the Frenchman.

With four minutes remaining, Ricciardo finally heads out. He should have time for one flying lap.

"Poor drivability on braking," he reports. Elsewhere, teammate Verstappen has a scare at the very fast Pouhon.

Ricciardo crosses the line at 45.558 to go sixth, a sterling effort from the Australian, who is just 1.200s off Vettel's pace.

Vettel is quickest, ahead of Verstappen, Hamilton, Raikkonen, Bottas, Ricciardo, Ocon, Hulkenberg, Perez and Sainz.

Gasly is eleventh, ahead of Grosjean, Leclerc, Ericsson, Hartley, Stroll, Magnussen, Norris, Sirotkin and Vandoorne.

Check out our Friday gallery from Spa, here.


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