Valtteri Bottas boosted his hopes of retaining his seat alongside Lewis Hamilton next year when he topped the times for Mercedes in Friday morning’s damp opening free practice at the Belgian Grand Prix.
The Finn, whose place is under threat from George Russell of Williams, clocked a best lap of one minute and 45.199 seconds to outpace championship-chasing Max Verstappen by 0.164 seconds as Formula One roared back to life after a three-week summer break.
Pierre Gasly was third for Alpha Tauri ahead of Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz and Sergio Perez in the second Red Bull in the capricious conditions
Sebastian Vettel was seventh for Aston Martin ahead of McLaren’s Lando Norris and the Alpines’ of Esteban Ocon and Fernando Alonso.
Bottas will start Sunday’s race with a five-place grid penalty after causing a multiple collision at the Hungarian Grand Prix and ran with a low down-force configuration.
Despite the changing conditions, there were few incidents, Kimi Raikkonen and Yuki Tsunoda spinning at La Source in their respective Alfa Romeo and Alpha Tauri cars before the Finn hit the pit lane entry barrier.
The session began as the majestic Ardennes circuit dried out after heavy showers, leaving the pit lane wet, but much of the track invitingly dry.
This meant most drivers began on intermediate tyres before switching to slicks.
Verstappen took control with a dominant early display as championship leader and seven-time champion Hamilton struggled and was blocked by Williams’ Nicholas Latifi on his best lap.
Using a bigger rear wing than Bottas, he wound up 18th as rain returned.