Spa-Francorchamps: Lewis Hamilton’s first attempt at inflicting “pain” on his championship rival Nico Rosberg was a relative success, as he ended Friday practice more than half a second clear of his team-mate.
Hamilton, who has resumed some of the mind games, which have been a feature of this campaign, was behind in the first segment but laid down an impressive marker in the afternoon.
During the morning session, in overcast conditions around the spectacular Spa-Francorchamps circuit, situated in the dense forest of the Ardennes, there was almost nothing to choose between the season’s principal protagonists.
On this occasion, it was Rosberg, fresh from clear-the-air talks over team orders on Thursday, who put his Mercedes fastest. Toto Wolff, the team boss, admitted the pair “needed a little bit of mediating, management, caressing, hard words".
“But you cannot expect it to run super-smoothly,” he added. “We probably shouldn’t have said to Nico (in the Hungarian Grand Prix) Lewis was going to let him through, we should have said he won’t make your life difficult.”
For now, the cracks appear to have been papered enough, but not enough for Hamilton to resist the temptation to turn the knife into Rosberg once more. He even spoke of inflicting “pain” on his rival.
On the official Formula One website, he said on Friday: “I am not hiding anything from Nico. He has all my data. I never, never ever have asked my guys, ‘Don’t show that to Nico’. Actually I want him to be at his best, because it is more painful when you are at your best and getting beat.”
The two, as usual, will pour over each other’s times from Friday in a bid to gain the upper hand. Although the gap was just 0.097 seconds, Hamilton seemed the more uncomfortable driver all morning, missing a few braking points and twice running wide at the searingly fast Pouhon double left-hander.
For the rest of the field, it still seems that Mercedes are largely out of reach. Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso outperformed Kimi Raikkonen once again to finish third, on a circuit where the Finn usually excels. Alonso was 0.228 seconds behind Rosberg.
In the second session, the roles were very much reversed for Rosberg and Hamilton. The Briton put in a lap 0.6s quicker than his team-mate early on, to which there was no reply. Alonso again wound up third fastest.
Sebastian Vettel is enduring a torrid season, and even the summer break did not seem to cure his woes. After an engine problem in the morning, he had to sit out the entire afternoon.
It was not so for Max Chilton, making a miraculous return to the fray after it had seemed his time at Marussia was temporarily over on Thursday. After “contractual issues” were resolved – likely to be stumping up the funds his seat demands – he took the wheel in second practice. He ended up 1.3s slower than team-mate Jules Bianchi. Andre Lotterer, a genuine new boy, did relatively well on his debut, replacing Kamui Kobayashi.