Charles Leclerc fastest in Belgian GP practice as close race expected

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Charles Leclerc fastest in Belgian GP practice as close race expected
Listen to final practice and qualifying on BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra from 11:00 BST on Saturday

Charles Leclerc set an eye-opening lap to head a Ferrari one-two in second practice at the Belgian Grand Prix.

The 21-year-old was 0.630 seconds quicker than team-mate Sebastian Vettel – and a massive 0.846secs ahead of the fastest Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas.

Championship leader Lewis Hamilton was fourth, 0.046secs behind his team-mate, but only Leclerc of the drivers in the top teams seemed to manage a clean lap.

Alex Albon was down in 10th, with Red Bull team-mate Max Verstappen sixth.

Albon, who has been promoted from Toro Rosso for the final nine races of the season, had been right with Verstappen in the first session in the morning but ended the day 0.377secs off the Dutchman’s pace.

Vettel, Hamilton and Verstappen all made errors at the final chicane on their laps. Albon’s lap looked uncomfortable and while Leclerc also went into the Bus Stop chicane a little deep, he lost less time than the other top drivers.

The cars were showing wildly different performance profiles.

Ferrari were blisteringly quick on the straights, with Leclerc 0.8secs quicker than the Mercedes in the first sector, which includes the flat-out drag from La Source hairpin to the Les Combes chicane, and 0.2secs up in the final sector, including the run through Blanchimont.

But Mercedes were nearly 0.4secs quicker than Ferrari in the middle section, which includes the vast majority of the corners at Spa-Francorchamps.

However, Mercedes clearly have more pace to find, as Bottas and Hamilton were only 0.1secs quicker than the Racing Point of Sergio Perez in fifth place.

And on the race-simulation runs later in the session, Mercedes appeared to have a significant advantage not only on absolute pace, but also on tyre degradation, which was much more pronounced on the Ferrari.

Terminator: Lance Stroll’s Racing Point lost a section of bodywork down the Kemmel Straight in first practice

Ferrari were more competitive on the medium tyre, on which Verstappen’s Red Bull appeared quickest, and that may influence their decision as to how to run their qualifying strategy and therefore on which tyre to start the race.

Perez’s strong session ended in sadness, when he pulled off with what looked like an engine problem. He appeared very unhappy as he climbed out of the car – and may be fearing a grid penalty.

Behind Verstappen in sixth, Kimi Raikkonen’s Alfa Romeo was seventh, ahead of Lance Stroll’s Racing Point, Daniel Ricciardo’s Renault and Albon.

There are a number of grid penalties caused by excessive engine changes already confirmed, largely as a result of upgraded engines being introduced by all manufacturers apart from Ferrari.

Albon, Stroll and Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat will start from the back and Ricciardo, his Renault team-mate Nico Hulkenberg and McLaren’s Carlos Sainz have five-place penalties.

Verstappen is wearing a bright orange helmet design at Spa
Ferrari topped both practice sessions

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