Formula 1

Nico Rosberg leads Lewis Hamilton in opening Belgian GP practice

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Nico Rosberg got his return back from the summer break off to the perfect start as he led the opening practice session at the Belgian Grand Prix.

The Mercedes driver led teammate Lewis Hamilton by just under a tenth of a second with Fernando Alonso again taking the 'best of the rest' role in a practice session in third.

Eau Rouge still flat?

Cool conditions greeted the teams at Spa but under mostly sunny skies, the 11 teams woke up from their summer slumber as the serious work of testing new parts began.

Another of the big questions heading into the weekend was, after several years of being a curved straight line, would Eau Rouge finally return back to its former glory as the ultimate test of bravery for drivers?

Well, based on the first session it seems the answer is yes and no. On fresh tyres, most drivers were still easily full throttle albeit using a lot more of the racetrack than they had before, however, with higher fuel and as the tyres wore, the challenge was certainly back as even Lewis Hamilton came close to losing control at the top of the hill.

Mercedes domination?

At over four miles or seven kilometres, most believed the long straights at the beginning and end of the lap would see the Mercedes-powered teams dominate throughout the weekend.

However, for Ferrari at least, it appears the twistier middle sector could offer a chance to match those midfield German-powered cars as Fernando Alonso claimed third just over a tenth behind Hamilton, while Kimi Raikkonen claimed fifth.

For Red Bull the outlook was not so rosy, as Daniel Ricciardo could only take ninth, nearly one-and-a-half seconds slower than the Mercedes', as Sebastian Vettel endured engine problems late on and was in 11th.

Traditionally, Spa has always been a strong circuit for Force India. The team claimed their only pole there in 2009 and, with Giancarlo Fisichella, took their first podium after finishing second on the Sunday.

The lower downforce setup allied to the Mercedes power unit seems to once again make Belgium and Force India a much stronger combination as Sergio Perez was sixth was team-mate Nico Hulkenberg eighth.

Another strong Spa driver is Jenson Button and the McLaren's too seem to be benefiting from having the right engine as the 2009 champion was fourth with Kevin Magnussen sixth.

Williams sandbagging

Of all the Silver Arrow backed teams, the one most believe can challenge the works outfit is Williams.

As they proved in Austria, along the straights they can be as quick if not quicker than their engine supplier, but on Friday morning it appeared they were holding back their true pace.

Both Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa tallied 20 laps, however the Finn was only 10th quickest with his Brazilian teammate 15th.

This has been a routine the team have used for much of the season in practice sessions so expect the Grove team to gradually work up the standings as qualifying approaches.

Compact midfield

Of those teams expected to be in the lower half of the top 10 and battling in the midfield, the session was surprisingly close given the length of the circuit.

Just one-and-a-half seconds covered Raikkonen in fifth to Giedo van der Garde, subbing for Esteban Gutierrez in the morning, in 17th.

Sauber, Toro Rosso and Lotus again seem to be the teams least likely to break into the points with Jean-Eric Vergne and Pastor Maldonado the most disappointing compared to their teammates.

Related articles

Lewis Hamilton vs Nico Rosberg: Who will be 2014 F1 champion?

Andre Lotterer to replace Kamui Kobayashi at Belgian GP

Spa remains the most magical circuit on the F1 calendar

Fight for the wooden spoon

At the back during the opening session, the news came that despite initially being announced as driving for the whole weekend, Alexander Rossi would only be participating in the morning with Max Chilton returning to the Marussia cockpit in the afternoon.

It appears contractual issues are to blame for the small fiasco, however, the Briton will be back behind the wheel for the remainder of the weekend.

That business didn't affect Jules Bianchi, however, as the Frenchman easily led the four slower cars and was two seconds clear of the Caterhams as Andre Lotterer led Marcus Ericsson by a tenth of a second on his Formula 1 debut.

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