Rain turns Spa practice into a washout
Steady rain washed out Belgian Grand Prix practice on Friday with Formula One fans huddled under umbrellas in the forests and gazing at a deserted track while drivers took shelter in the garages.
The afternoon session ended without a timed lap on the board, although some extremely slow times were registered on the screens after drivers went out to perform practice standing starts on the grid at the finish.
Marussia's French rookie Charles Pic was top of that list, almost certainly the only time this year that the tail-ender will find himself in such a position, with a time of two minutes 49.354 seconds.
"It's a shame for fans around the track - it's quite windy and probably not so nice out on the grandstands," said Red Bull's double world champion Sebastian Vettel.
"Hopefully they can come back tomorrow with dry clothes and we'll have some sunshine - that's the forecast anyway. You can't race in these conditions, as the tyres can't get rid of the water."
The lack of afternoon activity meant Sauber's Kamui Kobayashi could claim the fastest lap (a 2:11.389 in the morning session) by any driver in August - an easy feat given that Friday was the first running since the end of July when the holiday break started.
Ferrari's championship leader Fernando Alonso, who has a 40 point lead over Australian Mark Webber after 11 of the 20 races, spent most of the afternoon as a spectator as teams gave up attempts to test new developments.
Alonso had been 22nd in the morning with a time 29.360 seconds slower than Kobayashi.
"We won't see until tomorrow how good the upgrades are working," said McLaren's Lewis Hamilton. "That's the challenge, everyone is in the same boat so it's going to be very interesting trying to find the correct set up in the short space of time we'll have tomorrow."
While commentators padded furiously to make up for the lack of track action, teams and drivers kept themselves amused on social network Twitter.
"Someone's fired up an engine. Probably just trying to keep warm," commented @redbullf1spy from somewhere in the paddock where temperatures hovered around 11 degrees Celsius.
Hamilton posted a picture of his boots and teammate Jenson Button joked he might have to get his triathlon wetsuit out.
"And now we go and have a cup of tea...," declared Ferrari's official feed as the chequered flag finally came down.
Nico Rosberg did a few test runs, with Mercedes feeling the need to advise him to watch out for puddles, and he was followed by teammate Michael Schumacher. Neither did complete laps, coming in to the pits without crossing the finish line.
Schumacher, steering gingerly around a circuit he fondly calls his 'living room', must have felt more like someone had left a bath running upstairs as he splashed through the downpour.
The German, who made his debut at Spa in 1991 and took his first victory there in 1992, was wearing a new helmet to mark his 300th grand prix but it was hard to see that through the rain-spattered on-board camera.
Kimi Räikkönen, winner four times at his favourite circuit and a good bet for victory with Lotus on Sunday, was 23rd in the morning and 35.191 off the pace. The Finn's race lap record, set with McLaren in 2004, is 1:45.108.
Alonso's Brazilian teammate Felipe Massa was the only driver without a lap time in the morning and he stopped at the end of the session with smoke billowing from his Ferrari.
"Conditions are terrible. Unbelievable how much water," said Force India's Nico Hulkenberg over the team radio in the afternoon.
Saturday's final practice and qualifying, and Sunday's race, should be brighter although Spa's weather is notoriously capricious.
"Hopefully it's blowing over and we can get down to business tomorrow because it's been such a long break we want to get out there and enjoy ourselves and get as much information for this weekend," said Button.