Hamilton sets the pace at his favourite place

Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button experienced contrasting fortunes on their favourite race track at Spa yesterday, as the world champion set the fastest time for McLaren and the pretender to his throne could only manage 17th in his Brawn.

Hamilton sat out most of the morning session after rain fell 15 minutes into it, apart from evaluating some new aerodynamic components during four "installation" laps.

Button began his day well with second fastest time, but the roles were reversed as the track dried for the afternoon's session.

Both had a lot of chassis set-up and tyre evaluation work to pack in, and Hamilton's cause was not helped when the heel bar in the cockpit broke, necessitating repairs. He was nonetheless pleased with his car's overall pace on a very high-speed circuit which was not expected to suit it.

''I'm happier today than I expected,'' Hamilton said. ''We don't have as much downforce as some of the other teams, so we're not as quick as we'd like to be, especially in the middle sector. Fortunately, however, we have KERS and can use it to our advantage in the first and third sectors.

''The car didn't feel fantastic today – but we only really had one session to find a set-up so we've got some changes to make overnight. Still, this is a massive improvement compared with Turkey or Silverstone, and we look competitive, which is important, so we're not unhappy.''

Button and Valencia-winning team-mate Rubens Barrichello appeared to be way off the pace, nearly a second off Hamilton, but Fridays are notoriously difficult to judge because there are so many variables to work through that cars are not always running in comparable configurations. The good news was that team principal Ross Brawn reported that there was no sign of the tyre temperature problem that has been an issue in cooler climates.

''It was a tough session this morning as we weren't able to get much done apart from some wet running at the end,'' Button said. ''The second this afternoon was much more useful. We worked through a few aero and downforce comparisons as well as looking at the tyres. We collected a lot of information but obviously we're not as quick as we would like to be. There are a few areas that we do need to improve on with the balance but the potential is there to do that ahead of qualifying.''

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