Kimi Raikkonen sets fastest time at first practice in Belgium

Kimi Raikkonen has topped the time sheets in opening practice for the Belgian Grand Prix today.

Formula One returns to action at the famous Spa-Francorchamps circuit following its summer hiatus, and Raikkonen led the way with a best lap of one minute and 45.502 seconds.

Britain's Lewis Hamilton finished just 0.053 secs adrift of the Ferrari driver and set his fastest time on the soft tyre, the slowest of the Pirelli compounds available this weekend.

Hamilton's speed on the slower tyre would suggest that his Mercedes team hold the advantage at this high-speed track which is expected to play to their strengths.

Indeed Sebastian Vettel, whom Hamilton trails by 14 points heading into the remaining nine rounds of the title race, was slower than his rival, having posted his best effort on the fastest ultrasoft tyre.

Max Verstappen, cheered on by a large army of Dutch fans who have made the journey across the border to Belgium, and his Red Bull team-mate Daniel Ricciardo finished fourth and fifth respectively, with Valtteri Bottas sixth.

Bottas, like Hamilton, did not set a quick lap on the fastest rubber, but was still within one second of Raikkonen. Bottas' running, however, was hampered by damage sustained to his front wing after he ran wide at Turn 13 and brushed the barriers.

The Finn was not the only driver in the wars here. Felipe Massa was given the green light to race yesterday after he withdrew from the Hungarian Grand Prix with illness.

But the 36-year-old Brazilian failed to last a single lap after crashing out of the opening moments of this morning's session.

Massa lost control of his Williams through the right-handed Malmedy before running off into the gravel and into the barriers.

The former Ferrari driver walked away from the incident unscathed, but his Williams team now face a major repair job to get his car ready for second practice here later on Friday because of significant damage suffered in the incident.

Britain's Jolyon Palmer, who scaled Mount Kilimanjaro during the summer break, is bidding to get his stuttering grand prix career back on track.

Palmer is one of only two drivers yet to score a point this term, but the Englishman will be heartened by his 11th place in practice, one spot ahead of his Renault team-mate Nico Hulkenberg.

Stoffel Vandoorne, who will continue to race for McLaren next season, was 10th in the order, while his team-mate Fernando Alonso, whose future is rather less certain, finished 13th.

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