Ferrari dominated the first two practice sessions for the 2019 Belgian Formula One Grand Prix on Friday. Charles Leclerc was fastest in FP2 after team-mate Sebastian Vettel had clocked the quickest time during the opening run.
Leclerc refused to be outdone, posting the fastest lap at one minute, 44.123 seconds.
FP2 was brought to an abrupt end when Racing Point's Sergio Perez came to a halt with smoke billowing from his engine. The red flag confirmed Ferrari's stellar day, while there were contrasting fortunes for Mercedes, with Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton third- and fourth-fastest, respectively.
Alexander Albon acquitted himself well on his debut for Red Bull Racing.
Earlier, Vettel got off to an encouraging start in his effort to win this race for a second year in a row, recording the fastest lap in first practice, while Hamilton came sixth after a delayed start.
Vettel ended Friday's morning session with a fastest time of 1:44.574. Leclerc followed closely to complete a Ferrari one-two in the first phase of practice.
The biggest partnerships stayed bunched together among the top places. Red Bull's Max Verstappen and Albon finished third and fourth, respectively, while Bottas took fifth ahead of team-mate Hamilton.
Racing Point driver Lance Stroll impressed on his run to the seventh-fastest time, clocking in at 1:46.198 despite losing part of his engine cover earlier in the session.
Championship leader Hamilton and Bottas, in particular, will be hoping to improve in the later session, with the former seeking his ninth race victory of this calendar year.
Ferrari will take great confidence from Friday's early result and the gap of 0.933 seconds that separated runner-up Leclerc from third-place finisher Verstappen.
Neither Vettel nor Leclerc have produced a victory between them this year, and Hamilton's early issues could be the opening they need to eat into his advantage.
The Mercedes star leads team-mate Bottas by 62 points in the standings, with Verstappen another seven points behind in third ahead of Sunday's race.
Hamilton didn't register his first time until more than an hour of the session had passed, immediately zipping into 10th but still a couple of seconds behind the Ferraris.
He rose another four places but failed to build any momentum for a challenging time. Reporter Luke Smith confirmed Hamilton's issue from first practice, suggesting improvements are on the way:
It was confirmed this month that former Toro Rosso driver Albon would replace Pierre Gasly at Red Bull for the final nine races of the 2019 season.
His performance at Spa in Stavelot, Belgium, was promising as far as debuts go, with his fourth-best time just 0.077 seconds slower than his team-mate.
Albon may be new to the Red Bull garage, but the 23-year-old explained prior to Friday's practice that he and Verstappen share a competitive history:
Stroll was one of numerous drivers to experience success on the soft tyres throughout the session. He did well to finish as high as seventh after he lost a piece of his casing early on:
Buoyed by the momentum accrued during FP1, Vettel started the second run swiftly. He was riding on the medium tyres, and while there was some difficulty, Vettel generally handled the turns well.
While Vettel was setting the early pace, it wasn't long before he was upstaged by Leclerc. The 21-year-old was soon riding quickest:
Leclerc was now asserting himself, a move that encouraged the Silver Arrows to do more. On cue, Hamilton duly made his move during the middle sector, although it still wasn't enough to match or better Leclerc:
Ferrari remained in control at the halfway stage of the session. However, Perez was still in the mix before his engine trouble, while Verstappen was pushing his car as far as he could, although his efforts were only good enough for sixth-fastest.
Perez stayed fifth-fastest, despite his Mercedes-powered vehicle giving out late on. Worryingly for Racing Point, Perez wasn't the only one of the team's drivers to encounter problems:
Ferrari have the early edge at Spa-Francorchamps ahead of Sunday's race, but Mercedes have time on their side to work out any kinks in time for Sunday.