Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium, Aug 26 – Dutch teenager Max Verstappen delighted his army of fans in the forests of the Ardennes on Friday afternoon when he topped the times in second free practice for this weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix.
The 18-year-old Red Bull driver, who was born 50 kilometres away from the sprawling and majestic Spa-Francorchamps circuit at Hasselt in Belgium, clocked a best lap of one minute and 48.085 seconds.
That allowed him to outpace Australian team-mate Daniel Ricciardo by two-tenths as the Renault-powered outfit delivered a strong one-two showing.
It was the third time in Verstappen’s brief Formula One career that he had topped the session times and did so in front of thousands of supporters camping under the trees in the unexpected heat-wave conditions.
“Compared to our rivals, we showed great pace today,” said Vertstappen.
“I am very happy to finish P1, but of course it’s only practice. It’s not qualifying or the race.”
He dismissed suggestions that he could realise a dream by taking pole at his ‘home’ circuit.
“I never dream,” he said. “I just want to work and then we’ll see where we end up.”
With Hamilton due to start from the back of the grid after taking two successive new power units, Verstappen may have a chance to claim a memorable win.
Hamilton had accumulated a minimum 30-place grid penalty by the end of the day and it is expected to increase on Saturday if he takes another new power unit in final practice.
“I am cool about it and for sure, it is going to be an interesting race on Sunday,” said a smiling Hamilton.
German Nico Huelkenberg was third-fastest for Force India ahead of his compatriot Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari, Mexican Sergio Perez in the second Force India and championship contender Nico Rosberg of Mercedes.
“I’m not entirely happy, as you can see,” said Vettel.
“I’m struggling a bit with the balance of the car. It didn’t feel great out there, but that’s up to us, myself and the team — to work on that and improve the car.”
Rosberg had been fastest in a Mercedes one-two ahead of championship leader and defending champion Hamilton in the morning session, but both men concentrated on preparation for the race with long runs on medium tyres.
Finn Kimi Raikkonen, newly married during the month-long European summer break, was seventh in the second Ferrari ahead of Frenchman Romain Grosjean of Haas, Briton Jenson Button of McLaren and Mexican Esteban Gutierrez in the second Haas.
Hamilton, clearly focused on his race rather than qualifying, was 13th, one place behind Alonso, who was 12th for McLaren having missed out on the morning session due to a water leak.
The team was forced to change his power unit and install a new one, which led to him taking a grid penalty.
Both Rosberg, who trails Hamilton by 19 points in the title race with nine races remaining, and Hamilton were given new Mercedes power-units for the opening free session, a move that the team confirmed will bring Hamilton at least a 15-place penalty on the grid.
After taking a second power unit for the second session, Hamilton is expected to have another installed for third practice on Saturday morning, actions that may lead to him taking an overall record grid penalty of 75 places.
A series of engine failures early in the year meant Hamilton quickly reached the limit of new parts he is allowed for the season while Rosberg, who won the opening four races without problems, is within the limits.
Mercedes policy is aimed to be as fair as possible to both drivers and to give Hamilton sufficient new parts to last for the rest of the season with all of his penalties served at one race.