Carlos Sainz leads Ferrari one-two in Belgian Grand Prix practice

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen was two tenths slower than the Ferraris
Carlos Sainz leads Ferrari one-two in Belgian Grand Prix practice

Philip Duncan, PA F1 Correspondent, Francorchamps

Carlos Sainz finished ahead of team-mate Charles Leclerc as Ferrari dominated opening practice for the Belgian Grand Prix.

Under grey skies at the Spa-Francorchamps circuit, Sainz finished 0.069 seconds clear of Leclerc, with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen third, two tenths slower.

Both Leclerc and championship leader Verstappen will be relegated to the back of the grid for Sunday’s race after exceeding their number of allocated engine parts.

Their grid penalties could aid Mercedes’ bid to win their first race of a steadily improving campaign.

Lewis Hamilton’s team began the year off the pace, but have started to reduce the deficit to the front, with the seven-time world champion heading into the sport’s summer shutdown following five consecutive podium finishes.

In the first action of the weekend, Hamilton finished ninth, 1.8secs adrift, after he failed to post a competitive lap on the speediest soft compound tyre. Hamilton’s team-mate George Russell was fourth, eight tenths back from Sainz.

Verstappen holds a commanding 80-point lead at the championship summit and can afford to finish second at each of the remaining nine rounds and still retain his world crown.

But the Dutchman will face a tall order to claim his third win in a row and the ninth of a campaign in which he has impressed and Ferrari have continued to falter.

Like Verstappen and Leclerc, Lando Norris will also serve a grid punishment on Sunday after taking on a new engine.

Norris will hope to fight back through the field along with Verstappen and Leclerc at a track where overtaking is possible.

The young Briton finished 13th in practice with his team-mate Daniel Ricciardo, who will leave McLaren at the end of the year after the British team terminated his contract early, seventh.

The session was suspended in the closing stages after Kevin Magnussen broke down in his Haas. The track also became damp in the final minutes following a rain shower.

Second practice begins at 5pm local time (4pm Irish time).

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