SPA FRANCORCHAMPS: Spa veteran Kimi Raikkonen kept Ferrari on top of the Belgian Grand Prix practice timesheets on Friday, just ahead of Formula One world championship leader Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes.
Finnish driver Raikkonen, four times a winner at one of the most exhilarating and daunting tracks on the calendar and chasing the 100th podium finish of his career on Sunday, produced a time of 1 minute 43.355 seconds under leaden skies.
Both Ferrari and Mercedes ran with new engines in their cars, but Raikkonen gave little away when asked if he was impressed with his new power unit.
“We don’t do it if we don’t think it’s a step, but it’s not a night and day difference,” he said. “It’s just a step. It’s ok. And it’s only Friday. Who knows what will happen.”
Raikkonen has won four times at the sweeping and spectacular Spa-Francorchamps circuit set in the forests of the Ardennes, but his and Ferrari’s last win was in 2009. “Yes, it was a long time ago,” he agreed.
Hamilton was 0.168 seconds off the pace, with Finnish team-mate Valtteri Bottas — who will start the race from the back of the grid because of engine penalties — third fastest.
Raikkonen’s team-mate Sebastian Vettel had been top in the morning session — the first since the three-week August break — in 1:44.358. The German, 24 points behind fellow four times champion Hamilton with nine of 21 races remaining, was fifth in the afternoon.
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, with tens of thousands of his Dutch fans expected to make the short trip across the border, was second and fourth respectively in the two sessions.
Hamilton, last year’s winner in the Ardennes forests from pole position, had been third in the morning.
Vettel expressed optimism on Thursday that Hamilton could be reeled in over the remaining races, some of which should favour Ferrari more than Mercedes.
“Points-wise we know that we are a little bit behind but I don’t think it’s anything that we can’t do,” the German told reporters.