After a four-week summer break, the Formula One field returned to action in the majestic setting of Spa: one of the most challenging tracks of the year, characterized by a long lap and uncertain weather.

Inclement weather was again the case this year, with rain dominating the first free practice session in the morning after only 10 minutes of dry running. On the 20th anniversary of his Formula One debut in Belgium, Michael Schumacher set the fastest time for Mercedes in the opening session, with a time of 1m54.355s, having managed to post a benchmark on the P Zero White medium tires before the rain fell. His team mate Nico Rosberg was second-fastest under similar circumstances, with both Mercedes nearly half a second quicker than their rivals.

Rain then fell for the rest of the session, giving the drivers the chance to accumulate plenty of information about the P Zero Orange wet tire and the P Zero Blue intermediate tire, which are likely to see lots of action over the rest of the weekend.

The rain held off at the start of the afternoon session but the standing water that remained meant that all the drivers started off with intermediate tires. Once the crossover point had been reached – the time at which it becomes quicker to use slick tires rather than intermediates – Fernando Alonso set the pace on the P Zero Yellow soft tires, before being beaten by Red Bull Racing’s Mark Webber on the same tires, who posted a time of 1m50.321s.

Conditions then became even wetter once more, with many teams electing not to run during the final half-hour of practice today, having accumulated enough wet weather running in the morning. With the teams now allocated four sets of intermediate tires and three sets of wet tires for the weekend, and a high likelihood of further bad weather, the emphasis was on conserving the tires for the remaining days – although one set of the intermediate tires has to be returned at the end of Friday.

Pirelli’s Motorsport Director Paul Hembery commented: “First of all, it’s great to be back on track again after the summer break, and there are few more spectacular places to return to action than Spa. Today we saw a typical day at Spa-Francorchamps, which was all about the Belgian weather. Conditions were extremely variable, with differing amounts of water in different places on the track. This gave the teams the opportunity to assess both the slick, wet and intermediate tires over a wide window of parameters and conditions. Being the longest lap of the year, tire strategy will be more important than ever this weekend, with a difference of about 1.2 seconds per lap predicted between the P Zero White medium and P Zero Yellow soft tire – in dry conditions. But the weather here is incredibly hard to predict, which means that all the data accumulated on the wet and intermediate tires this weekend is sure to be very useful as well.”

Pirelli fact of the day:

The second race of Michael Schumacher’s illustrious career took place on Pirelli tires. In 1991 his debut Grand Prix was in Belgium with Jordan, but the German’s spectacular performance was enough to convince Benetton to sign him for the next race in Italy, using Pirelli tires. On that occasion, he finished fifth.

Pirelli Tire North America designs, develops, manufactures and markets tires for passenger vehicles in both the original equipment and replacement markets as well as markets and distributes tires for motorcycles and motorsports. Located in Rome, Georgia, Pirelli’s Modular Integrated Robotized System (MIRS) employs state-of-the-art technology to manufacture tires for both export and domestic markets.  For more information please visit www.us.pirelli.com.