Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz topped the sole hour of practice for the Belgian Grand Prix beating the McLarens of Oscar Piastri and Lando Norris in a session that was disrupted by heavy rain.
With a haze of rain falling at the start of the session, Williams’ Alex Albon set the initial pace at 2m08.394s on Intermediate tyres. The Briton was one of just a handful of drivers to try the green-banded tyre, with AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda slotting into P2 with full wet tyre time of 2:10.108 ahead Mercedes pair Lewis Hamilton and George Russell.
However, heavier rain then began to fall across track and as the drivers filed back to the pit lane the only other times on the board were from Alfa Romeo’s Zhou Guanyu in P5, followed by Daniel Ricciardo in the second AlphaTauri. In the worsening conditions, Tsunoda slid wide at Eau Rouge and that put an end to immediate running on the soaking track.
As the session hit the quarter-hour mark, Ferrari sent Carlos Sainz out to test the conditions and he was soon followed by McLaren’s Lando Norris.
Sainz, on the blue-banded wet tyres, jumped to P2 with a lap of 2:09.081 before Charles Leclerc moved to the top of the order with a 2:08.148 set on full wet tyres. Pierre Gasly might have beaten that time, with the Alpine driver setting purple mini sectors throughout the second sector on Intermediate tyres, but the Frenchman locked up into the Bus Stop chicane at the end of his lap.
Norris then demonstrated that Intermediate tyres were the right choice by moving to P1 with a lap of 2:04.484 as the track improved and after team-McLaren team-mate Oscar Piastri went another six tenths of a second faster and Sainz then immediately shaved another half a second off that time the entire field switched to the green tyres.
The session was red flagged at the halfway point, however. Williams’ Logan Sargeant lost control on the entry to Les Combe and went straight on into the run-off area, colliding the barriers on the left-hand side before coming to a halt. The American was swiftly on the radio suggesting that “something broke”.
The pit exit opened again after a 10-minute delay, but with more heavy rain falling, the track remained silent. Red Bull eventually broke that silence, with both Sergio Pérez and Max Verstappen both heading out on track on Intermediate tyres. They were then followed by Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso and Lance Stroll. But, with the rain again intensifying, all four returned to the pit lane without setting a time and meaningful running ended, although there was a brief spell of activity at the end of the session when a number of took to the track in order to make practice starts.
2023 FIA Belgian Grand Prix – Free Practice 1
1 Carlos Sainz Ferrari 2:03.207 9 204.650
2 Oscar Piastri McLaren 2:03.792 0.585 4 203.683
3 Lando Norris McLaren 2:04.484 1.277 4 202.551
4 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 2:08.148 4.941 8 196.759
5 Sergio Pérez Red Bull Racing 2:08.240 5.033 5 196.618
6 Alexander Albon Williams 2:08.394 5.187 5 196.383
7 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri 2:09.067 5.860 8 195.358
8 Kevin Magnussen Haas 2:09.229 6.022 7 195.114
9 Daniel Ricciardo AlphaTauri 2:09.319 6.112 7 194.978
10 Nico Hülkenberg Haas 2:10.042 6.835 8 193.894
11 Fernando Alonso Aston Martin/Mercedes 2:10.283 7.076 4 193.535
12 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 2:10.299 7.092 7 193.511
13 George Russell Mercedes 2:10.475 7.268 7 193.250
14 Valtteri Bottas Alfa Romeo 2:12.085 8.878 9 190.895
15 Zhou Guanyu Alfa Romeo 2:14.002 10.795 8 188.164
16 Logan Sargeant Williams - 4
17 Lance Stroll Aston Martin - 5
18 Pierre Gasly Alpine - 2
19 Esteban Ocon Alpine - 2
20 Max Verstappen Red Bull Racing - 2