World champion and series leader Max Verstappen set the times for Red Bull ahead of his closest rival Charles Leclerc of Ferrari in Friday’s second practice at the Belgian Grand Prix.
After being outpaced by Carlos Sainz in the first morning session, the 24-year-old Dutchman bounced back to stamp his procedural authority with a fastest lap of one minute and 45.507 seconds.
That left Leclerc adrift eight tenths of a second around the majestic Spa-Francorchamps circuit where thousands of fans, including many in the visiting ‘orange army’ of Verstappen supporters, camped among the pine trees.
On an unclear and somewhat chaotic day, Lando Norris was third ahead of McLaren, ahead of Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll and Sainz, in Ferrari’s second.
Wherever they qualify, the two leading contenders for the title race, with an 80-point difference, will start from the back of the grid between a group of six drivers who will be fined for installing new power unit parts.
Seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton, who is chasing a sixth consecutive podium finish in Sunday’s race, finished sixth ahead of Mercedes, ahead of two-time Alpine champion Fernando Alonso and George Russell, in the second Mercedes.
Daniel Ricciardo, who announced on Wednesday that he will leave McLaren at the end of the year after agreeing to terminate his contract, finished ninth and Sergio Perez 10th in the second Red Bull.
After a brief shower of rain at the end of opening practice, the second session started in dry conditions but with many heads turning to the sky in anticipation of more rain from the erratic microclimate on the vast Ardennes circuit.
The usual suspects were soon back in control at the top of the timing monitors with Verstappen leading the way with Sainz and Leclerc.
Sainz recaptured first place shortly after 28 minutes, but the Dutchman responded with a lap of 1:45.507 to clear eight tenths of Leclerc, who was second behind him.
Towards the end of the soft tire ride, the two were ahead of Norris, Stroll, Sainz and Hamilton, with Alonso taking seventh.
By this time it was also clear that at least six drivers would have to face grid penalties for taking new parts of the power unit led by Verstappen, Leclerc, Norris, Estaban Ocon, Valtteri Bottas and Mick Schumacher, a group that makes for a dynamic opening lap Sunday ahead.
With 12 minutes to go, it started to rain again, leading to a series of colored umbrellas taking off across the track as the drivers began to slide wide and slide into gravel traps.
With six minutes to go, all 20 cars were back in the pits to get back on the road for an exploratory lap and some practice starts.