Belgian Grand Prix: Tyre failures overshadow Friday practice

Sebastian Vettel set the fastest time in practice for the Belgian Grand Prix, but once again controversy has reared its head, as two tyre failures have threatened to ruin the entire race weekend.

One happened to Vettel at the end of an 11-lap stint, while the other was discovered on Fernando Alonso’s car after FP2 had concluded. While Pirelli have claimed that the failures were due to debris, drivers have grown worried that there will be a repeat of the Silverstone tyre explosions.

First practice

Rain across Thursday night and Friday morning in the Ardennes forest meant that the track was damp at the start of FP1. As the session continued, the middle sector began to dry out, while everywhere from the Bus Stop chicane to Rivage was still wet.

While McLaren’s Jenson Button set some impressive times in the varying conditions, once the slick tyres were available, the usual drivers topped the timesheets. Sergio Perez, Nico Rosberg, Daniel Riccardo, Lewis Hamilton and later Fernando Alonso all took P1 at different points in the session.

Light rain fell again with 15 minutes to go, leaving Lotus as the only team who failed to set proper lap times when the track was at its driest.

Times from FP1:

 1.  Fernando Alonso      Ferrari               1:55.198          11 Laps
 2.  Paul di Resta        Force India-Mercedes  1:55.224  +0.026  10
 3.  Adrian Sutil         Force India-Mercedes  1:55.373  +0.175  11
 4.  Sergio Perez         McLaren-Mercedes      1:55.518  +0.320  14
 5.  Nico Rosberg         Mercedes              1:55.614  +0.416  10
 6.  Sebastian Vettel     Red Bull-Renault      1:55.636  +0.438  14
 7.  Esteban Gutierrez    Sauber-Ferrari        1:55.954  +0.756  18
 8.  Nico Hulkenberg      Sauber-Ferrari        1:56.110  +0.912  11
 9.  Daniel Ricciardo     Toro Rosso-Ferrari    1:56.770  +1.572  14
10.  Valtteri Bottas      Williams-Renault      1:56.858  +1.660  18
11.  Felipe Massa         Ferrari               1:56.863  +1.665  10
12.  Pastor Maldonado     Williams-Renault      1:57.081  +1.883  14
13.  Jean-Eric Vergne     Toro Rosso-Ferrari    1:57.084  +1.886  17
14.  Jenson Button        McLaren-Mercedes      1:57.281  +2.083  14
15.  Lewis Hamilton       Mercedes              1:57.358  +2.160  10
16.  Heikki Kovalainen    Caterham-Renault      1:57.821  +2.623  16
17.  Giedo van der Garde  Caterham-Renault      1:57.887  +2.689  16
18.  Max Chilton          Marussia-Cosworth     1:58.600  +3.402  14
19.  Mark Webber          Red Bull-Renault      1:58.929  +3.731  12
20.  Jules Bianchi        Marussia-Cosworth     1:59.209  +4.011  12
21.  Kimi Raikkonen       Lotus-Renault         1:59.441  +4.243  11
22.  Romain Grosjean      Lotus-Renault         2:03.176  +7.978  15

Second practice

A dry track greeted drivers for FP2, allowing everyone to make full use of the medium and hard compounds.

Until a tyre failure for Vettel put some worried faces in the paddock, that is. With 20 minutes to go, the Red Bull developed a puncture around the Turn 13/14 area, resulting in the German limping slowly back to the pits.

This is the same area where Fernando Alonso’s car later developed a problem. Giedo van der Garde crashed at the same corner, but this was caused by the Dutchman losing control of his Caterham, rather than another worrying blowout.┬áPirelli have stated that they will inspect the track overnight, but they do not attribute the failures to a tyre design flaw.

Despite their issues, Red Bull still secured a 1-2 finish for FP2, with Vettel 0.05 seconds ahead of Mark Webber. While Mercedes appear to be their main rivals this weekend, they opted to complete only long-run simulations in second practice.

Times from FP2:

 1.  Sebastian Vettel     Red Bull-Renault      1:49.331          22 Laps
 2.  Mark Webber          Red Bull-Renault      1:49.390  +0.059  34
 3.  Romain Grosjean      Lotus-Renault         1:50.149  +0.818  34
 4.  Felipe Massa         Ferrari               1:50.164  +0.833  27
 5.  Jean-Eric Vergne     Toro Rosso-Ferrari    1:50.253  +0.922  28
 6.  Kimi Raikkonen       Lotus-Renault         1:50.318  +0.987  33
 7.  Fernando Alonso      Ferrari               1:50.510  +1.179  21
 8.  Sergio Perez         McLaren-Mercedes      1:50.536  +1.205  27
 9.  Nico Rosberg         Mercedes              1:50.601  +1.270  33
10.  Paul di Resta        Force India-Mercedes  1:50.611  +1.280  27
11.  Adrian Sutil         Force India-Mercedes  1:50.629  +1.298  30
12.  Lewis Hamilton       Mercedes              1:50.751  +1.420  27
13.  Nico Hulkenberg      Sauber-Ferrari        1:50.972  +1.641  33
14.  Pastor Maldonado     Williams-Renault      1:50.991  +1.660  28
15.  Jenson Button        McLaren-Mercedes      1:51.195  +1.864  28
16.  Daniel Ricciardo     Toro Rosso-Ferrari    1:51.447  +2.116  26
17.  Valtteri Bottas      Williams-Renault      1:51.568  +2.237  28
18.  Esteban Gutierrez    Sauber-Ferrari        1:51.644  +2.313  26
19.  Giedo van der Garde  Caterham-Renault      1:53.157  +3.826  21
20.  Charles Pic          Caterham-Renault      1:53.251  +3.920  29
21.  Jules Bianchi        Marussia-Cosworth     1:53.482  +4.151  28
22.  Max Chilton          Marussia-Cosworth     1:54.418  +5.087  12
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