Belgian GP | Prototype Rosberg tops first free practice

Nico Rosberg tops the opening practice session at the Belgian Grand Prix.

Summer’s over but the sun continued to shine at Spa, where Rosberg topped the timesheet while running the Halo and prototype tyres. It was the first time any driver running the Halo crossed the line to set a time, with previous runs seeing driver head straight back in.

After a decision was made to delay the Halo until 2018 rather than implementing the cockpit protection device next year, further testing was advised in order to understand the visibility restrictions it could present. Particularly at circuits such as Spa-Francorchamps, where the run through Eau Rouge presents a different challenge to other corners on the calendar.

As a result, the first practice session of the Belgian Grand Prix weekend saw Ricciardo, Sainz, Hulkenberg and Rosberg all run a variation of the Halo device.

On board footage from a run carried out by Nico Rosberg showed the possible visibility restrictions presented by the central pillar. However, any visibility restrictions were minimal as Nico set the first timed lap ever carried out while fitted with the Halo.

Nico’s time remained fastest overall throughout the session. With Rosberg running additional prototype additions to his Mercedes in the shape of Pirelli’s new prototype stronger tyres. In addition, Rosberg also had the banana shaped rear wing fitted to his car rather than the traditional flat wing fitted to Hamilton’s.

The ‘stronger’ Pirelli’s on offer to the teams are a prototype compound the Italian manufacturer has elected to test in practice. Saying they will “further protect the tyre from possible consequences generated by accidental multiple impacts on kerbs or other external bodies.” One of the initial believed causes of Sebastian Vettel’s tyre blow-out at last year’s race.

While Rosberg took to the top of the first timesheet since the summer shut down, Hamilton lingered in second place – seven-tenths down to his team-mate and title rival.

For Hamilton, the practice sessions at the Belgian Grand Prix present the current championship leader with a chance to bank new power unit elements. With Lewis already set to take a 15-place grid penalty for his sixth new turbo and MGU-H. Although further grid penalty places and new elements are expected across the weekend.

Fernando Alonso also has been forced into taking an engine change after a water leak prevented the Spaniard from running during FP1. After noticing the issue, the McLaren team were forced to remove the entire power unit from Alonso’s car in order to fix the issue.

Palmer, too, had problems in the opening 90-minutes. With the Briton informing his Renault team that “something felt very strange on the car before I hit the brakes at Les Combes. It pulled a bit to the right.” Palmer was then forced to crawl back to the pits as he later lost drive around the longest lap in Formula One.

Pos Driver Laps Time Gap
1 Nico Rosberg 27 1’48.348  —
2 Lewis Hamilton 25 1’49.078 0.730
3 Kimi Raikkonen 24 1’49.147 0.799
4 Sergio Perez 23 1’49.274 0.926
5 Sebastian Vettel 19 1’49.768 1.420
6 Daniel Ricciardo 24 1’49.782 1.434
7 Max Verstappen 24 1’49.865 1.517
8 Nico Hulkenberg 21 1’50.088 1.740
9 Valtteri Bottas 31 1’50.394 2.046
10 Esteban Gutierrez 21 1’50.583 2.235
11 Romain Grosjean 18 1’50.899 2.551
12 Felipe Massa 28 1’51.122 2.774
13 Marcus Ericsson 16 1’51.125 2.777
14 Carlos Sainz Jr. 17 1’51.424 3.076
15 Felipe Nasr 19 1’51.768 3.420
16 Esteban Ocon 26 1’51.787 3.439
17 Daniil Kvyat 19 1’52.308 3.96
18 Jenson Button 18 1’52.407 4.059
19 Pascal Wehrlein 23 1’52.837 4.489
20 Kevin Magnussen 20 1’53.053 4.705
21 Jolyon Palmer 20 1’53.089 4.741
22 Fernando Alonso 3