Verstappen tops eventful second Spa practice, then crashes

Spa-Francorchamps (Belgium) (AFP) –


Max Verstappen clocked the fastest lap to head both Mercedes and then crashed in his Red Bull in Friday’s incident-packed second free practice session for the Belgian Grand Prix.

The Dutchman had clocked a best lap in one minute and 44.472 seconds to outpace Valtteri Bottas by 0.041 seconds with championship leader and seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton a close third before he ended the session after hitting the barriers.

Verstappen’s crash at Malmedy was the second to prompt a red-flag stoppage and came only minutes after Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc had gone off at Les Combes in challenging drying conditions at the sprawling circuit in the Ardennes.

The two accidents brought a premature end to the session on a day of intermittent rainstorms.

Fernando Alonso was fourth for Alpine, ahead of Pierre Gasly of Alpha Tauri, Lance Stroll of Aston Martin and Esteban Ocon in the second Alpine.

Four-time champion Sebastian Vettel was eighth in the second Aston Martin ahead of Lando Norris of McLaren and Sergio Perez, who was re-signed by Red Bull for 2021 earlier in the day, taking 10th.

After another heavy rain shower between the sessions, the track was declared wet as Bottas, who was fastest in morning practice, led the way with fellow-Finn Kimi Raikkonen. He very quickly decided to pit and switch to slick ‘dry’ tyres.

Norris set the early pace for McLaren until Bottas found his groove to improve on his pace in the morning session. He and Mercedes team-mate Hamilton were separated by less than two-tenths at the front until Verstappen took over midway through in 1:44.472, putting the Red Bull on top by 0.041 seconds.

This left the top three 0.5 clear of the rest led by Fernando Alonso, the 40-year-old Spaniard who was confirmed as staying with Alpine for 2022 after an impressive return to F1 this year.

His team-mate Esteban Ocon, who claimed his maiden victory at the previous race in Hungary, pushed too hard into Stavelot and spun his car, but avoided the barriers, shortly before the session was red-flagged when Leclerc crashed in his Ferrari.

The Monegasque driver lost control as he exited Les Combes and clipped the barriers with his front left wheel. He was unhurt.

The session resumed after a six-minute pause to clear the circuit and almost immediately, with four minutes remaining, Verstappen prompted another red flag stoppage when he lost the rear of his car at Malmedy, banging into the barriers. He also was unhurt, but it was a setback to his bid to regain the initiative in this year’s title race.