- Associated Press - Friday, August 26, 2011

SPA, BELGIUM (AP) - Red Bull’s Mark Webber made the most of the conditions to post the fastest time before heavy rain returned to mar the second practice for the Belgian Grand Prix on Friday.

The Australian clocked 1 minute, 50.321 seconds, with Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso second quickest in 1:50.461, and McLaren’s Jenson Button third in 1:50.770.

Heavy rain affected the first practice, and another big downpour arrived nearly one hour into the second session.

“We got some dry running in, but only around four laps, two laps on the soft tire and two on the medium,” Webber said. “We need to get out there and get the mileage in, but on the other side of the coin we need to save tires for Saturday and Sunday. The curbs are the hardest thing here when it’s wet, it makes the white lines like ice.”

Defending F1 champion Sebastian Vettel was only 10th fastest, but took no risks in the treacherous conditions.

“It was difficult to judge lap times and the overall pace today, but the car feels OK,” said Vettel, who was fourth on his first practice run. “Let’s see what we can do tomorrow.”

Webber, who is still seeking his first win 11 races into the season, went out again briefly toward the end of the session but kept his speed down on the soaked track.

Webber is second overall in the title race and 85 points behind Vettel with only eight races remaining, but he is the only top-five driver not to have won this season.

Vettel has won six races, with Lewis Hamilton and Button winning two each, and Alonso getting the other. Hamilton is third overall, ahead of Alonso and Button.

Webber, whose last success came at last year’s Hungarian Grand Prix, finished second at Spa last year.

The 4.3-mile Spa circuit is the longest and one of the most demanding on the calendar beside Monaco’s track. Its famed corners Eau Rouge and Blanchimont push drivers to the limit, and this prompted some cautious driving in both sessions.

Seven-time former champion Michael Schumacher was 11th fastest the second time around after posting the best time in the first practice ahead of his Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg, followed by Button and Vettel.

Schumacher, who made his debut at Spa 20 years ago and has won the race six times, went out early when the track was still dry and before the rain starting lashing down to clock a leading time of 1:54.355 seconds.

“It was a special feeling to be out on track today for the first practice sessions of this anniversary weekend in Spa. A lot of things have changed here in the past 20 years, but the weather certainly hasn’t,” Schumacher said. “Today was another typical Spa day, with mixed conditions and very little dry running. The conditions meant that we couldn’t do much work on the set-up, although we made the most of the limited time when the circuit was dry.”

Hamilton still hopes to catch Vettel, even though he is 88 behind with only 200 points available. Alonso is 89 points behind Vettel, while Button is 100 back.

But McLaren has won the last two grands prix _ Hamilton winning in Germany and Button following that up with a brilliant drive in Hungary _ and the momentum is clearly with the two British drivers.

“I really do feel we can be competitive, I feel optimistic for us a team,” said Hamilton, who was fourth on his second practice run Friday. “From the last five races we’ve won three, so we’re definitely there or thereabouts.”

Brazilian driver Bruno Senna and rookie Paul di Resta experienced difficulties on their first runs.

Senna, making his F1 return with Renault as a replacement for Nick Heidfeld, had a run that ended when he crashed into the barriers on the ninth turn. He was unhurt and his car was taken away.

Di Resta’s Force India was also lifted away late in the session, after he slid sideways and slammed into the crash barriers on the same turn as Senna. It prompted race director Charlie Whiting to go and inspect the turn.



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