x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Happy Hamilton gets the edge over Rosberg in practice at Spa

Hamilton, who trails Rosberg by 11 points in the title race, wound up six-10ths of a second clear of the German, and said he had enjoyed returning to the cockpit after vacationing in the month-long break.

Clouds shadowed Lewis Hamilton, but the Mercedes driver practised in dry conditions. Clive Mason / Getty Images
Clouds shadowed Lewis Hamilton, but the Mercedes driver practised in dry conditions. Clive Mason / Getty Images

SPA // A relaxed Lewis Hamilton yesterday topped the times ahead of his Mercedes teammate and championship leader Nico Rosberg in second free practice for ­tomorrow’s Belgian Grand Prix.

Hamilton, who trails Rosberg by 11 points in the title race after 11 of this year’s 18 races, wound up six-10ths of a second clear of the German, and said he had enjoyed returning to the cockpit after a month away on holiday, mostly in the United States.

“Yes, that was fun, for sure,” he said. “I always love racing here and that was good. I’m sure I’m going to feel something tonight or tomorrow, but it’s definitely good to get back into the car.

“It didn’t feel so good in the morning, but it was better in the afternoon. But I feel there is some work to do for tomorrow [Saturday qualifying].”

Hamilton was almost a 10th of a second slower than Rosberg in opening free practice in the morning, but changes made in the set-up to his car pleased him and led to him surging to the top in the afternoon, notably on soft tyres.

As so often this season, the two Mercedes men turned the session into a private affair as they continued their scrap for the world title.

Earlier, Mercedes executive director Toto Wolff gave an insight into how the team had rebuilt rapport after their discord in Budapest.

He said the situation, after Hamilton had ignored team requests to allow Rosberg to pass him, had “needed a little bit of mediating, management, caressing, hard words ...”.

“You cannot expect it to run super smoothly,” Wolff said. “You don’t expect when your teammate has one more stop to do that you make his life difficult.

“On the other hand, you cannot ruin one’s race by expecting him to lose a couple of hundred metres. “It was a matter of the words used not the principle.

“We probably shouldn’t have said to Nico that Lewis was going to let him through. We should have said ‘he won’t make your life difficult’.”

Yesterday’s session was run in mostly dry conditions at the majestic Spa circuit set in the forests of the Belgian Ardennes.

For Hamilton, 29, tomorrow’s 44-lap race represents a perfect opportunity to reduce or overhaul Rosberg’s advantage particularly as the 29-year-old German has never qualified in the top three in seven attempts at the Belgian race.

He has also never finished on the podium, while Hamilton won in 2010 and has always relished the challenge of the circuit.

For both of the two duelling title contenders, there is some consolation in knowing that Mercedes have a great reliability record in Belgium where they have finished every race since 1955.

Rosberg was second ahead of two-time champion Fernando Alonso of Ferrari, Felipe Massa and Jenson Button of McLaren on a rare mostly dry day at the track.

Valtteri Bottas was sixth for Williams ahead of Russian rookie Daniil Kvyat of Toro Rosso, Australian Daniel Ricciardo for Red Bull, Danish rookie Jan Magnussen in the second McLaren and German Nico Hulkenberg for Force India.

The session began under a heavy black cloud and produced two major red flag accidents, but there were no injuries.

The first came when Venezuelan Pastor Maldonado lost control of his Lotus in the approach to Pouhon and hit the barriers to put him out for the rest of the session.

Lotus later confirmed that Maldonado was taken to the medical centre for precautionary checks and that he was OK.

The second red flag came when Mexican Esteban Gutierrez spun off at Blanchimont in his Sauber.

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