Max Verstappen took over the top spot on the time sheets in second practice for the Belgian Grand Prix, with the Red Bull narrowly pipping Mercedes duo Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton to the Friday afternoon honours with less than a tenth covering the top three.
However the session ended on a sour note for Verstappen when the rear end of the Red Bull snapped away from him at turn 7 sending the car into the barrier and ending the session early. It was the second red flag of the session after a similar accident for Ferrari's Charles Leclerc.
With the track starting off wet and teams continuing to play with downforce configurations and engine modes throughout the hour-long session, it's still hard to tell how everyone truly lines up heading into this weekend's race - especially if the rain continues to be a factor on Saturday.
The drivers were initially back on intermediate tyres after a brief downpour following the end of FP1 which had left patches of the Circuit Spa-Francorchamps wetter than it had been during first practice. However just had been the case in the morning, there were long stretches of the circuit that were already completely dry by the time Valtteri Bottas, Kimi Raikkonen and Pierre Gasly were the first to head out.
It didn't take long before Bottas and Lando Norris were both on their respective team radios to confirm that the track was already too dry for the inters, sending them back to pit lane to change on to slicks at the first opportunity. Norris was first to get back underway on the hard compound and had the place to himself as he set the first time of the session with a lap of 1:48.219s despite a lock-up on a damp patch at La Source.
Norris subsequently improved his time to 1:47.138s, encouraging the rest of the drivers to rouse themselves and head out with Red Bull's Sergio Perez Max Verstappen the last to join the fray. With the track drying and improving minute by minute, it was Alpine's Esteban Ocon and Fernando Alonso who were next to take up residency and the top of the times, and then Williams' Nicholas Latifi got the best run of anyone so far with a lap of 1:46.198s on the medium compound.
Latifi's time didn't stay on top for long before morning pacesetter Bottas lay down a new time of 1:44.513s. That was six tenths quicker than Verstappen's own initial flying lap and Perez supplanting Gasly for third. Following a subdued first practice, Lewis Hamilton was looking more up to speed after lunch and displaced Verstappen for second, just 0.031s slower than his Mercedes team mate.
Most of the top times up to this point had been set on the medium compound, but just before the halfway point Bottas was the first of the front runners to head out on the soft tyres, soon followed by Hamilton as the pair took advantage of a brief quiet period on track. However neither driver improved their times, the team seemingly opting to experiment with engine modes rather than show their full hand at this stage of proceedings.
Further back, other drivers did get a chance to complete proper qualifying simulations with Alonso up to fourth for Alpine ahead of Aston Martin pair Lance Stroll and Sebastian Vettel. They were separated by better runs for Gasly and Ocon, pushing Perez back to ninth ahead of Yuki Tsunoda, before Verstappen returned to action and went top, but surprisingly given the change in tyres only by the thinnest of margins - just 0.072s covered the top three with just over 20 minutes remaining on the clock.
Ocon's qualifying run was compromised by going for a spin at turn 14, losing the rear of the Alpine and and sliding sideways down the track leaving his tyres hopelessly flat-spotted. He was able to keep the car off the barriers, which was more than could be said for Charles Leclerc who was too greedy accelerating out of turn 6 and lost the rear of the Ferrari, the high kerbs sending him skittering into the barrier. The car was left with a crumpled front left, and the session was red flagged to allow marshals to retrieve the car.
The stoppage (with the clock continuing to count down) ate into the time available to the rest of the drivers for their long distance race simulations. By the time the session resumed there was just over ten minutes remaining, and the majority of the field were queuing at the end of pit lane eager to get going when the lights went green again, Verstappen at the head and Norris stuck at the back.
There was no prospect of the timing screens changing in the remaining few minutes, but there was a brief scare for Alonso that sent him off-roading suggesting conditions were still tricky enough to catch out even the best. Seconds later than was confirmed when Verstappen lost the rear of the RB16B and crashed out at turn 7, bringing the session to a premature end.