Lewis Hamilton fastest in final Belgium practice

By Andrew BensonChief F1 writer in Spa-Francorchamps
Lewis Hamilton
Lewis Hamilton has been on pole position at Spa in 2008 and 2013
Belgian Grand Prix on the BBC
Venue: Spa-Francorchamps Dates: 21-23 August
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Lewis Hamilton bounced back from a difficult Friday to set the fastest time in final practice at the Belgian Grand Prix by nearly half a second.

Hamilton had lagged behind Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg in both Friday sessions but solved his car problems to move on to another level on Saturday.

His fastest time was 0.498secs clear of Rosberg, with Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel third 0.147secs adrift.

Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen was fourth, ahead of Force India's Sergio Perez.

Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat were separated by just 0.05secs in sixth and seventh places.

Hamilton on course for pole?

Hamilton heads into the weekend with a 21-point lead over Rosberg in the championship, but facing a revived threat from Ferrari following Vettel's victory in the previous race in Hungary, before Formula 1's summer break.

The world champion had appeared out of sorts on Friday, and Rosberg was confident enough to say he was "one step ahead of Lewis at the moment".

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Not any more. Hamilton's work on the set-up overnight with his engineers has translated into a significant advantage, most of which was in the demanding middle sector of the lap, which is a succession of difficult medium- and high-speed corners.

Although Rosberg was slightly quicker than Hamilton in the first sector through the famous Eau Rouge corner, Hamilton was half a second ahead in the second.

The fight for pole appears to be between the two silver cars, with Ferrari next best.

Lewis Hamilton

Revived Red Bull head next group

Red Bull may get in the mix with Ferrari, however. Ricciardo set the early pace in the session and he and Kvyat did their qualifying simulation runs on the 'soft' tyre some time before their rivals, when the track conditions would be less advantageous.

That gave the team the chance to do more race preparation work in the second half of the session on the soft tyre, which their rivals did not manage.

This probably explains why Perez was able to slot into fifth ahead of Ricciardo and Kvyat, with the Mexican's team-mate Nico Hulkenberg eighth from Williams's Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa, who would be expected to be ahead of the Force Indias when qualifying starts at 13:00 BST.

Tyre concerns allayed?

The session started with an announcement from tyre supplier Pirelli that they believed the dramatic 190mph tyre failure suffered by Rosberg on Friday had been caused by a puncture.

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And although the sport's biggest names, Hamilton, Vettel and McLaren's Fernando Alonso all raised their concerns about tyre safety in the drivers' briefing on Friday afternoon, there were no further problems in final practice.

The drivers continue to have a wider, general concern about Pirelli's tyres, however, their memories still fresh of the 2013 season, when a series of catastrophic failures during the British Grand Prix plunged the sport into crisis and led to emergency changes to the tyre design.

McLaren in the mire

McLaren continue to struggle, despite the introduction this weekend of an upgraded engine from Honda.

The design, with redesigned combustion, has not delivered what the Japanese company promised, and the power-unit continues to be plagued by an under-performing hybrid system, which runs out of boost before the end of the straights.

Jenson Button was 17th fastest and team-mate Fernando Alonso failed to set a time because of an exhaust problem.

Honda has fitted two of the new engines to each car this weekend to give itself a bigger pool of the upgraded design for the rest of the season.

That decision, and changes of the associated parts of the hybrid system, mean the drivers will have a combined penalty total of more than 100 grid places.

Because of a revision of the penalty system last month, however, this means only that they will start from the back of the grid, with no extra in-race penalties.

Full practice results

Belgian GP coverage details