Alonso, Massa out front in Belgian GP practice

In what his team must hope will be the start of a consistent weekend display, Renault's Fernando Alonso posted fast time in second Friday free practice for Sunday's Formula One Belgian Grand Prix. Two-time world driving champion Alonso nailed a...

In what his team must hope will be the start of a consistent weekend display, Renault's Fernando Alonso posted fast time in second Friday free practice for Sunday's Formula One Belgian Grand Prix.

Two-time world driving champion Alonso nailed a lap of 1 minute, 48.451 seconds on the four-mile circuit with three minutes left. Massa followed in 1:48.504.

As with most runners, the Spaniard's afternoon time did not improve upon his morning fast lap, a 1:48.104. The four fastest morning-session runners bettered the 1:48 mark. Massa led teammate Kimi Raikkonen by more than three-tenths, 1:47.284 to 1:47.623, ahead of Lewis Hamilton (1:47.878) and Heikki Kovalainen (1:47.932) for McLaren Mercedes. Alonso was fifth-quick in the morning.

But spitty, spotty rain affected the afternoon session, in which Hamilton set the early pace. Rain was insufficiently heavy to warrant data collection, leaving drivers to lounge in garages for nearly a half-hour. The Ardennes Forest location of Circuit de Spa Francorchamps makes the course as likely to be wet as dry, and teams are well familiar with damp tendencies. Still, Red Bull's Mark Webber was caught out, going off at Rivage with the RB4 becoming lodged in the tire barrier and leaving the Australian with a mere seven laps completed.

Raikkonen stopped the session when he smacked the tire barrier between Rivage and Pouhon. The F2008 hit the tires sufficiently solidly to jar water from the barrier. Water streamed across the track and swept Giancarlo Fisichella's Force India into track-lining Armco barrier, prompting a halt while officials tidied up. Farther along the course, Alonso wandered into gravel at Stavelot.

But the break didn't cure adhesion slippage. Even after running resumed with about a half hour left, Alonso teammate Nelsinho Piquet smacked his R28 and loosened its rear wing at about the same spot as Raikkonen had gone off.

Once the track began to dry properly, Nico Rosberg cracked out a top-six time for Williams. His effort was followed by Kovalainen supplanting the fast time of his teammate, only to have Alonso sweep past with the session's best lap. Massa followed Alonso past Kovalainen on time charts. Drizzle returned to lock the Spaniard and the Brazilian at the top.

Raikkonen followed Kovalainen and Hamilton for fifth-best. Rosberg stayed sixth ahead of Germans Sebastian Vettel of Scuderia Toro Rosso and Adrian Sutil for Force India. Sutil improved from 17th in the morning session. Toyota's Jarno Trulli, 14th in the morning session, rounded out the top 10.

Showing only midpack speed all day, the BMW Saubers of Nick Heidfeld and Robert Kubica were 10th and 11th in the afternoon. Kubica's 11th was all the Pole could manage; Heidfeld moved from 12 to 10 from morning to afternoon. They picked up barely more than half a tenth.

Honda was again holding bottom spots. Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello were 19th and 20th, respectively, in the first session, 17th and 18th, respectively, in the second.

Raikkonen has won the past three editions of this race. Thirteen points behind championship leader Hamilton and trailing Massa by seven, Raikkonen sees victory Sunday as vital to his championship retention. Other drivers, including Heidfeld and Toro Rosso's Sebastien Bourdias, have said they understand results are vital to their job retention.

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Series Formula 1
Drivers Giancarlo Fisichella , Jarno Trulli , Jenson Button , Mark Webber , Nick Heidfeld , Kimi Raikkonen , Fernando Alonso , Lewis Hamilton , Nico Rosberg , Heikki Kovalainen , Robert Kubica , Sebastian Vettel , Adrian Sutil
Teams Mercedes , Sauber , McLaren , Force India , Toro Rosso , Williams