Belgian GP FP2: Rosberg on top despite disastrous Pirelli tyre explosion

Second free practice at the Belgian Grand Prix topped by Nico Rosberg.

Once again Rosberg had the edge over Hamilton as the teams switched onto the soft tyres. New compound and greater grip ensured the Silver Arrows floated clear of the Red Bull’s and Ferrari’s, while McLaren-Honda’s upgrade package continues to be far from progress. But despite taking the fastest lap, Nico suffered a frightening explosion to his rear-right Pirelli that brought out one of the two red flags.

After his early FP1 issues, Rosberg conquered Hamilton to top the opening time sheet following the summer break and this continued into FP2 with Nico on top of Lewis once more but the session was far from perfect.

Initially however, it was the Ferrari’s and Bottas scrapping for the fastest lap on the medium tyres with the recently re-signed Kimi Raikkonen pushing his German team-mate down the order. Over the session, the four-time Spa winner continued to have a consistent and strong session keeping him towards the top of the time sheet.

For the Toro Rosso kids, they were finding it hard to stay on track in the early parts of FP2 with small run offs at turn eight and nine. Luckily for Sainz, turn eight has no gravel as it would have a few years ago. Other drivers also found themselves running off line or off the track in minor incidents, including once more the Lotus duo who had a rather handful car.

After the change of tyres to the soft compound, drivers were finding massive gains of around 1.7 seconds. And although this sent Seb back to the top when he crossed the line, his time was soon pushed down the order with even the Sauber’s creeping ahead.

Red Bull later moved ahead of Raikkonen to be the latest ‘best of the rest’ challenger. Generally speaking, Red Bull have a strong car when it comes to downforce, which is highly important in the middle sector of the Spa track. This is also a clear downside of the Force India car which is mighty strong in the first sector, but all time gained there is instantly lost in the middle sector.

As the teams settled down into another batch of long runs, Rosberg suffered a dangerous tyre explosion but luckily the car came to rest on the run off at Blanchimont and the explosion happened at a point where he had just enough distance to stop the car. Had the explosion happened 200 or so metres further down the road, the accident could have been disastrous.

Replays soon after the red flag came out showed Rosberg’s rear-right tyre developed a loose thread as early on as Kemmel Straight before the Les Combes chicane. The loose thread would have been loosening the carcass of the corner but as he made his way over the lap, a blister developed and with the pressure put on to it, it gave way causing the tyre to explode between turn 16 and 17.

Once Rosberg’s car was cleared from the track and Mercedes set about investigating the cause of the tyre problem, the field took back to the track. Initially Lewis was held in the garage but soon left for the track on tyres which had completed the same amount as Nico’s had before the explosion.

His run however was brought to a halt when the red flags were once again waving after Marcus Ericsson crashed his Sauber into the barrier at Pouhon. He ran Sauber over the Pouhon kerbs before the car snapped to the right. As he tried to correct it, the car sailed off into the barrier.

With the stoppages, the clock had almost ran its course but the cars still flocked back to the track for a final short run. Grosjean however failed to see out this run and take the flag after his Lotus pulled to the side of the track after turn nine following a full loss of electronics. The Frenchman soon was hoping out then back into his Lotus as it began to roll down the hill towards Pouhon, forcing Romain to put one foot in the cockpit and on the brake.

Nevertheless, despite a tyre blowing, Rosberg topped FP2 for the Belgian GP after his early strong pace on the softs. Hamilton set the second fastest lap with Ricciardo again third, while Ferrari and the rest of the field were far off Nico’s pace.

Position Driver Gap
1 Rosberg 1:49.385
2 Hamilton 0.302
3 Ricciardo 0.751
4 Kvyat 1.014
5 Raikkonen 1.076
6 Hulkenberg 1.076
7 Grosjean 1.104
8 Ericsson 1.324
9 Nasr 1.543
10 Vettel 1.555
11 Perez 1.586
12 Sainz 1.652
13 Verstappen 1.732
14 Bottas 1.865
15 Maldonado 1.932
16 Massa 2.203
17 Button 2.469
18 Alonso 3.185
19 Stevens 4.680
20 Merhi 4.868