Berthold Bouman, F1 Correspondent
Again rainy conditions during the second practice session for the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa this afternoon, this time it was Mark Webber who topped the time sheets for Red Bull Racing. The Australian set a time of 1m50.321s, which was 4.034s faster than Michael Schumacher’s fastest time of 1m54.355s during the morning session. After the morning rain showers the track was still damp and there were wet patches all around the circuit which meant the blue marked Pirelli intermediates were the only right choice at the start of the afternoon session.
In still tricky conditions drivers took off from the pit lane for a reconnaissance lap and Schumacher was the first to find out it was still very wet as he had to take the escape road at Les Combes but was able to continue his lap. Ten minutes into the session and Bruno Senna took his repaired Lotus Renault, which he had crashed in the morning session, onto the track for a quick lap. The Brazilian was now more cautious though and put in a lap of 2m10.901s, at that moment good for a third fastest time.
After 20 minutes 2010 champion Sebastian Vettel set the benchmark with a time of 2m06.398s, almost two seconds faster than his team colleague Webber. Nico Hulkenberg, who took over the wheel from Adrian Sutil this afternoon, was also fast and positioned his Force India in sixth place. Next man to make a major step forward was Ferrari driver Fernando Alonso by posting the quickest lap with a time of 2m03.953s.
From then on the circuit got drier again and drivers started to improve their time, not much later Jenson Button took over the leading position in his McLaren and put a time of 2m02.206s on the clock. Also fast during the first part of the session was Toro Rosso’s Jaime Alguersuari, while Jarno Trulli in the Team Lotus showed he was quick again on a damp circuit.
Forty minutes into the session Schumacher recorded the fastest lap with 1m52.102s, and was followed by Alonso, Vettel, Lewis Hamilton and Alguersuari. But the FIA rain radar predicted there was more rain to come, and a few drivers gambled and tried their luck on a set of slicks before the rain would arrive. Alonso was fast on his soft slicks and took first place with 1m50.461s, almost one and a half second faster than the previously recorded fastest time. He was soon followed by Felipe Massa who took fourth also on the soft slicks.
Radar images again showed the rain was now very close and during the last minutes on a dry track it was Webber who finally set the fastest time of the day and topped the time sheets. Not much later the rain came pouring down again and the circuit became slippery, certainly for those on slicks. Drivers began to make mistakes and ended up on the run-off areas scattered around the circuit and it soon became clear slicks were useless under these circumstances. Drivers returned to the pits and got out of their car to evaluate the data they had collected with their engineers.
With just 15 minutes to go the rain somewhat subsided which was for a few drivers the signal to get out on intermediates to try to find a setup for a wet race. Webber was one of the first to set a time, but with a time of 2m17.615s it became apparent it was useless to try to improve a time under these conditions.
Rosberg and Schumacher were out on full wets to see if these were faster than the intermediates, but when Rosberg aquaplaned through Blanchimont he decided to call it quits and like Schumacher he returned to the garage and got out of his car. Senna also tried a set of full wets to get the ‘feel’ but lost control when he braked for the Bus Stop chicane and was forced to steer his Lotus Renault onto the run-off area, and he also headed for the pits. A few drivers wentout to make a few practice starts in the wet but the second free practice session was effectively over before the full 90 minutes mark was reached.
Again, not a good session to conduct aero tests, but if it rains tomorrow during qualifying, drivers at least have had enough experience in the wet today. Webber remained on top of the charts, and was followed by Alonso, Button, Hamilton, Massa and Rosberg, Sergio Perez did a super job for Sauber and took seventh place, while Force India again demonstrated their strength in the rain as Hulkenberg and Paul di Resta took eighth and ninth position respectively. Vettel took 10th place, not impressive but he has in the past deliberately ‘under performed’ to put his opponents on the wrong foot, and he will certainly finish higher during the third practice session and the all important qualifying tomorrow.