Vettel tops FP2 in Spa despite puncture

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Sebastian Vettel has sent out a warning shot to his title rivals by finishing quickest in Free Practice 2 for the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps on Friday, edging out teammate Mark Webber by just 0.059 seconds to head up a Red Bull one-two.

However, the world champion did not have it all his own way, suffering from a puncture that ended his session early. He had already done enough to secure top spot as the field focused on fuelled runs, with Romain Grosjean, Felipe Massa and Jean-Eric Vergne particularly impressing to tail home the Red Bulls in third, fourth and fifth respectively.

Conditions had improved drastically since the end of free practice one this morning where rain showers had limited meaningful running, with Spa-Francorchamps bathing in bright sunshine under blue skies. The serenity was quickly broken as Jenson Button and Nico Hulkenberg were the first drivers out on track, with the latter’s teammate, Esteban Gutierrez, setting the first benchmark time of 1:52.954 only for Daniel Ricciardo to go a fraction quicker seconds later. Paul di Resta and Pastor Maldonado also occupied P1 momentarily as the teams looked to make up for the lost time in the morning session, resulting in a frantic few minutes on track. Once the order had settled down, it was Sebastian Vettel who led from Ferrari’s Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso.

With the hard tires thoroughly tested, the first runners began to switch to the white-ringed medium compound, led by Ricciardo in the Toro Rosso. The Australian could only move up to P7 initially, not bothering the leaders who remained in the pits after their initial runs. When they did emerge, Webber set the immediate pace, dethroning his teammate by over one second, only for Vettel to strike back and reclaim P1 minutes later. Romain Grosjean and Kimi Raikkonen also set an impressive pace on fresh tires, with both drivers thought to be using the passive DRS device at Spa this weekend. Maldonado also showed signs of good pace throughout the session, suggesting that Williams may have turned a corner in their season.

As the race simulation runs began, the times at the top of the leaderboard came under little threat. Vettel’s engineer reassured the German driver that he was doing a good job as he looks to extend his championship lead this weekend. He will be hoping that he has used up all of his bad luck after a slow puncture forced him to crawl back to the pits with twenty minutes to go. Moments later, Giedo van der Garde speared his Caterham into the wall on the exit of Stavelot, ending his practice session early.

Once the stricken Caterham had been recovered, the yellow flags were withdrawn and the drivers returned to their original programme. However, with heavy fuel on board, none of the drivers could threaten Red Bull’s dominance at the top of the timesheets, suggesting that we could be set for a repeat of the 2011 Belgian GP where Vettel led Webber home in a one-two for the team, barring any punctures of course.

IndyCar: Turn 5 gives drivers fits in Friday’s second practice at Barber Motorsports Park

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You’ve heard of the Fast Six in IndyCar, right?

Well, Friday’s second practice session for Sunday’s Honda Grand Prix of Alabama was the Frustrating Five – Turn 5, that is.

It almost might be easier to list those drivers that were not bitten by the cantankerous turn on the 2.3-mile Barber Motorsports Park layout in Birmingham, Alabama.

Close to 10 drivers in the 23-driver field suffered issues in the turn, ranging from running off the grass and back on, to getting stuck and having to be towed out, to suffering damage.

But by the time the one-hour session was over, Josef Newgarden took a big step towards defending his win from last year’s race there, being fastest in Friday’s second of two practice sessions.

Newgarden covered the 2.3-mile permanent road course in a speed of 122.786 mph at a best lap time of 1:07.4345 minutes.

Spencer Pigot was second (125.599 mph/1:07.5372), followed by Sebastien Bourdais (122.129 mph/1:07.7971), Will Power (122.107 mph/1:07.8092) and last week’s winner at Long Beach, Alexander Rossi (122.065 mph/1:07.8326).

Sixth through 10th-fastest were Scott Dixon (122.044 mph/1:07.8445), Ryan Hunter-Reay (121.975 mph/1:07.8829), Takuma Sato (121.652 mph/1:08.0628), Marco Andretti (121.579 mph/1:08.1040) and Graham Rahal (121.572 mph/1:08.1076).

Now, speaking of all the incidents, here’s a list.

INCIDENTS:

* Right after rookie Matheus Leist spun early in the session in Turn 5, fellow rookie Zach Veach spun with about 45 minutes left in the session in Turn 5. Graham Rahal had to take evasive action to miss Veach.

But that wasn’t all, as Sebastien Bourdais followed in almost the same spot with a spin of his own roughly a minute later, and then Gabby Chaves also had his problems in the same turn, going into the grass but avoiding the gravel.

* Simon Pagenaud joined his Penske Racing teammate Josef Newgarden in the Turn 5 gravel. Newgarden spun into the gravel in the first practice session.

* Rookie Rene Binder, who has struggled in his inaugural season, continued to have issues, running into the wall and causing damage to the front end, needing a tow truck to get him righted.

It appeared Binder snapped part of the front suspension in the incident.

* Turn 5 saw James Hinchcliffe and Tony Kanaan run off-track late in the session, but they were able to continue.

ALSO OF NOTE:

* The third and final practice of the weekend will take place Saturday morning at 10:50 a.m. ET, followed by qualifying beginning at 4:05 p.m. ET, to be televised live on CNBC (with an encore performance at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN). The race, to be televised live Sunday on NBCSN, is slated to start at 3:30 p.m. ET.

* However, the weather forecast does not look promising for Sunday’s race. As of 1 p.m. ET today, the forecast calls for 100 percent rain throughout the day.

* Dixon has had an incredible record at Barber Motorsports Park, with seven podium finishes in eight starts there. Except for one thing: he has yet to win a race there. But he does have five runner-up and two other third-place showings on the permanent road course.

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