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Michael Schumacher tops practice with early lap before rain hits Spa

Michael Schumacher, Mercedes, Spa 2011Michael Schumacher started his 20th anniversary celebration weekend in appropriate style by leading the opening practice session at Spa, as Formula 1 resumed after its summer break, but the position was somewhat deceptive as only the Mercedes managed laps in the dry.

A heavy shower hit the Belgian venue just 10 minutes into the session, and track conditions never improved enough to allow further running on slicks.

Mercedes duo Schumacher and Nico Rosberg had set flying laps by that time, and their respective 1m54.355s and 1m54.829s would stand as the morning's fastest times by a vast margin - a suitable, if unusual, way to Schumacher to kick off the weekend that marks 20 years since his F1 debut for Jordan.

The track was completely empty for 25 minutes after the shower, before championship leader Sebastian Vettel set off for an exploratory lap. He was soon joined by Lewis Hamilton, although a violent twitch for the McLaren at Blanchimont showed that the Briton's choice of intermediate tyres was optimistic at the time.

Force India's Adrian Sutil was first to try a flying lap on wets, lapping 21s off the Mercedes' earlier pace. By the end it was Jenson Button who managed the fastest rain time for McLaren, with a lap of 2m02.740s - 8.3s away from Schumacher's mark - on intermediates in the closing minutes.

Vettel (Red Bull) grabbed fourth with a similar last-gasp run, followed by Hamilton. Sutil remained a frontrunner and was sixth, ahead of Toro Rosso's Jaime Alguersuari, Felipe Massa's Ferrari and Kamui Kobayashi (Sauber)

Bruno Senna's return to a race seat with Renault did not begin well, as he spun into the tyres at the nameless Turn 9 left-hander with half an hour to go. Paul di Resta would later crash his Force India at the same place, and although the Scot's accident was less damaging, it required a seven-minute red flag stoppage as the crane needed to clear the car away was already engaged with Senna's Renault.

Pos  Driver              Team/Car              Time       Gap        Laps
 1.  Michael Schumacher  Mercedes              1m54.355s             13
 2.  Nico Rosberg        Mercedes              1m54.829s  + 0.474s   15
 3.  Jenson Button       McLaren-Mercedes      2m02.740s  + 8.385s   8
 4.  Sebastian Vettel    Red Bull-Renault      2m03.752s  + 9.397s   10
 5.  Lewis Hamilton      McLaren-Mercedes      2m04.301s  + 9.946s   7
 6.  Adrian Sutil        Force India-Mercedes  2m04.663s  + 10.308s  18
 7.  Felipe Massa        Ferrari               2m04.728s  + 10.373s  10
 8.  Rubens Barrichello  Williams-Cosworth     2m05.391s  + 11.036s  12
 9.  Jaime Alguersuari   Toro Rosso-Ferrari    2m06.583s  + 12.228s  16
10.  Kamui Kobayashi     Sauber-Ferrari        2m06.886s  + 12.531s  15
11.  Fernando Alonso     Ferrari               2m07.055s  + 12.700s  12
12.  Sergio Perez        Sauber-Ferrari        2m07.481s  + 13.126s  15
13.  Jarno Trulli        Lotus-Renault         2m08.233s  + 13.878s  14
14.  Sebastien Buemi     Toro Rosso-Ferrari    2m08.239s  + 13.884s  14
15.  Pastor Maldonado    Williams-Cosworth     2m08.918s  + 14.563s  10
16.  Mark Webber         Red Bull-Renault      2m09.792s  + 15.437s  8
17.  Timo Glock          Virgin-Cosworth       2m12.278s  + 17.923s  13
18.  Tonio Liuzzi        HRT-Cosworth          2m12.389s  + 18.034s  10
19.  Jerome D'Ambrosio   Virgin-Cosworth       2m12.772s  + 18.417s  13
20.  Paul di Resta       Force India-Mercedes  2m13.058s  + 18.703s  8
21.  Karun Chandhok      Lotus-Renault         2m13.090s  + 18.735s  11
22.  Vitaly Petrov       Renault               2m13.601s  + 19.246s  10
23.  Bruno Senna         Renault               2m14.340s  + 19.985s  7
24.  Daniel Ricciardo    HRT-Cosworth          2m14.933s  + 20.578s  11
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