Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium (AP) — Kimi Raikkonen posted the fastest time in second practice for the Belgian Grand Prix, offering Ferrari further encouragement after teammate Sebastian Vettel was quickest earlier Friday.
There is a third and final practice on Saturday ahead of qualifying, where Vettel needs a strong performance to put pressure on Formula One championship leader Lewis Hamilton.
Raikkonen was .168 ahead of Hamilton and nearly a half second clear of the British driver’s Mercedes teammate, Valtteri Bottas.
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen was fourth quickest ahead of Vettel in mild but overcast afternoon conditions. Hamilton leads the overall standings by 24 points from Vettel, but the 7-kilometer (4.3-mile) Spa circuit nestled in the Ardennes forest is well suited to Ferrari and gives the German driver a chance to hit back.
“It’s really close between us and Ferrari,” Hamilton said. “The challenge is to find the right (car) balance.”
Spa is also good for overtaking, negating the usual overly-dominant position of the driver who takes pole position. Hamilton is F1’s all-time record holder with 77 poles — nine more than Michael Schumacher and 22 ahead of Vettel.
Hamilton also leads Vettel in GP wins: 5-4 this season and 67-51 overall.
Raikkonen last won at the season-opening Australian GP in 2013, but four of his 20 victories have been at Spa.
Only Ayrton Senna, with five wins, and Schumacher, with six, have had more success at Spa. Another victory for the 38-year-old Raikkonen could be timely in his bid to get a new Ferrari contract for next year.
Ferrari’s last win here was in 2009, with Raikkonen behind the wheel during his first spell with the Italian manufacturer. Mercedes has won the past three races here.
In first practice at lunchtime, Vettel was .151 seconds quicker than Verstappen and .318 clear of Hamilton.
Raikkonen was fourth ahead of Bottas, who was penalized for too many engine changes and will start Sunday’s race from the back of the grid.
Drivers are allowed to change each of the six engine parts twice in a season before incurring penalties. Multiple alterations were made to all six parts of Bottas’ engine.
Renault driver Nico Hulkenberg joins Bottas at the back of the grid after similar changes were made to his engine.
However, on a long and wide track good for overtaking, Bottas and Hulkenberg can fight their way back into a good position.
“It is possible to come up through the field here in Spa,” Bottas said.
Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo, hampered by an engine problem in P1, finished both sessions in sixth place. Red Bull has less power than Mercedes and Ferrari and, according to Verstappen, neither driver can realistically expect to finish higher than fifth and sixth.
Also in P1, British teen Lando Norris replaced Fernando Alonso for McLaren and was quicker than teammate Stoffel Vandoorne.
The 18-year-old Norris has impressed in F2 and is vying for an F1 seat at McLaren next year, while Vandoorne is fighting to keep his place.
In front of his home fans in Belgium, Vandoorne was last in both practice runs.