Friday practice at the iconic Spa-Francorhamps circuit was a rain-hit affair. Surprised? Why, what a coincidence: neither were we. The madcap microclimate of the Ardennes track was on the rampage again today, with showers in both the morning and afternoon session mixing up the order and providing plenty of set-up headaches ahead of what is expected to be a dry race. But what are we saying – predicting the weather more than ten minutes in advance is borderline impossible at Spa.

FP1 saw Michael Schumacher began his 20th anniversary weekend with a bang – albeit a deceptive one – by topping the session at the circuit that will forever be linked with his F1 career. Twenty candles on cake, P1 on the timing screens – probably best he enjoys that whilst he can.

Schumacher and Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg had set fast laps before a shower hit the track ten minutes in to FP1. That eliminated any chance of the Silver Arrows being beaten and allowed Schumacher and Rosberg to sit atop of the times for the next 80 minutes.

The rain kept the field in the pits for close to half an hour and when laps did resume going was tricky, with several inevitable spins in to Spa’s increasingly tarmacked run-off areas. Jenson Button set the fastest wet lap – eight seconds shy of Schumacher’s best – with Sebastian Vettel just 0.012s adrift of the Englishman. 2010 Spa winner Lewis Hamilton was also in the mix, ending the session behind Vettel.

 

Photo: Vladimir Rys/Getty Images/Red Bull Media

FP1 also saw impressive displays from mis-season bloomer Adrian Sutil, who was P6 in the ever-improving Force India, and Jarno Trulli. The veteran Italian set the 13th fastest time aboard his Lotus to end the session ahead of several big names and just two places behind Fernando Alonso.

Meanwhile Bruno Senna’s first session as a Renault race driver saw the Brazilian complete just seven laps and drop his car in the tyres at turn nine. Bruno would end the session 23rd, with the added embarrassment of 2010 HRT team-mate Karun Chandhok lapping faster than him in the Lotus. And, whilst this was happening on-track, Nick Heidfeld’s lawyers remain adamant that he will be in the car and come Singapore whilst GP2 champion-in-waiting Romain Grosjean is also being tipped to get a run before the season’s out. Enjoy your debut, Bruno.

The second session began with a drying-but-damp track, allowing the teams to get some patchy slick running under their belts. Rain came with little over half an hour remaining, effectively ending the session, but it was less of a washout than the morning run.

On the eve of his 35th birthday Mark Webber was the fastest man in the afternoon, beating Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso by 0.140s. Next up were the McLaren pairing of Button and Hamilton with Felipe Massa fifth, Rosberg sixth and Sergio Perez seventh aboard the Sauber. The top ten was completed by the Force Indias of Paul di Resta and Nico Hulkenberg (running in place of Sutil) and world champ Vettel. FP1 topper slipped to 11th in the afternoon whilst Senna improved to 17th (with team-mate Vitaly Petrov was bottom of the pile).

Answers? Conclusions? No, as ever we’ll have to wait until late Sunday afternoon to know what to make of the Spa weekend – and even then may still be tough to make sense of it all.