SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS, Belgium, AFP – Nico Rosberg walked away unhurt after a spectacular high speed tyre blow-out during Friday’s second free practice session, in which he clocked the fastest lap, ahead of this weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix.
The 30-year-old German lost control of his Mercedes when the right rear Pirelli tyre exploded at around 320 kph at the Blanchimont corner.
“That was definitely not fun,” said Rosberg. whose wife Vivian is expecting their first child at any time,
“I think a tyre broke at the rear, but I am not sure. Let’s wait and see, but it was at the maximum speed on the lap. So that is not good.
“There was no debris on the track… I had this happen once before in testing…”
The session was red flagged and suspended briefly while the car and debris were cleared from the spectacular and majestic, but challenging, circuit in the Ardennes forests.
On resumption, Swede Marcus Ericsson lost control of his Sauber car and crashed heavily at the downhill Pouhon corner, a collision that produced the red flags again for a third time in the day.
Venezuelan Pastor Maldonado had set the pattern during opening practice in the morning when he hit the barriers at Malmedy. He also, like Ericsson, was unhurt.
Rosberg’s accident resulted in his Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton staying in his car in the pits while the team analysed the cause of Rosberg’s tyre failure.
In both of the afternoon accidents, the drivers were saved from more serious damage and possible injuries by the big run-off areas built into the circuit.
Hamilton was unable to improve his time and finished the session second fastest behind Rosberg, as he had been in the morning, when both the Red Bull and Ferrari teams produced improved speed to threaten the champion team’s supremacy.
The incidents highlighted again the dangers that remain prevalent at one of the classic ‘traditional’ long and high speed F1 tracks where last year Hamilton and Rosberg’s tense intra-team rivalry turned acrimonious and resulted in a collision during the race.
Defending world champion Hamilton finally did one more lap on the medium tyres before the end of the session when he finished three-tenths adrift of Rosberg’s best lap in one minute and 49.385 seconds.
Australian Daniel Ricciardo was third quickest, seven-tenths behind, ahead of his Red Bull team-mate Daniil Kvyat, who was a full second adrift of the fastest time.
Finn Kimi Raikkonen, who signed a new contract with Ferrari for 2016 on Wednesday, was fifth quickest ahead of German Nico Hulkenberg in a Force India, Frenchman Romain Grosjean of Lotus and Ericsson.
Brazilian Felipe Masr was ninth in the second Sauber ahead of four-time champion Sebastian Vettel in the second Ferrari.
The struggling McLaren team endured another torrid day.
Jenson Button, the 2009 champion, was down in 17th and two-time champion Fernando Alonso one place behind him in 18th, ahead only of the Manor Marussia team.
The McLarens, with new power units fitted, are expected to start Sunday’s race from the back of the grid after being penalised.