Formula 1 returns from a summer break with the Belgian Grand Prix at the legendary Spa-Francorchamps circuit this weekend.
Our motorsports expert, Andrew Mount, talks us through his predictions for this weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix…
There was a lot of love for the venue from team bosses and drivers alike at Tuesday’s press conference, with McLaren’s Fernando Alonso stating:
“Spa Is incredible – for many of us it’s one of our favourite tracks. The feeling when you drive (the famous corner) Eau Rouge is completely different to any other corner in the calendar.”
Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel heads the drivers’ championship on 202 points, 14 ahead of Lewis Hamilton. The latter, who has had plenty of time to reflect over the summer recess, now reportedly regrets letting his heart rule his head by sportingly allowing fellow Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas to pass him on the last lap of the Hungarian Grand Prix to regain third place, a position he had earlier given up on team orders to allow Hamilton to attack the Ferraris.
Three points, the difference between third and fourth place, could prove vital in such a tight championship, with three of fewer points deciding the title four times this century.
Vettel picked up maximum points in Hungary when leading home a Ferrari one-two and a win in Spa will make him the first driver this season to land consecutive race victories, though Mercedes have twice gone back-to-back with different drivers.
The German has won twice at Spa – for Red Bull in 2011 and 2013 – but has under-performed here since joining Ferrari. He was sixth last year after qualifying in fourth place and failed to complete in 2015 because of tyre failure.
Vettel’s Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen has just had his contract renewed until the end of the 2018 season, a timely boost for the 37-year-old Finn whose future was questioned after some below-par performances in the early stages of the current campaign.
Spa has been a happy hunting ground for Raikkonen, who won here in 2004, 2005, 2007 and in 2009 – the last time a Ferrari took the chequered flag in Belgium. He hasn’t had much luck here recently but did out-qualify Vettel last year. Another win would be no surprise but he’s a risky betting proposition as team orders could again come into play.
Despite four wins and a second place in the championship, the feeling remains that Lewis Hamilton has not been operating on all cylinders this year. Failure to reach the podium in Russian (fourth), Monaco (13th), Austria (eighth) and Hungary (fourth) has proved costly but perhaps the summer break will have revitalised him. His three previous non-podium finishes this season have been followed by wins (in Spain, Canada and Britain) and another Hamilton ‘bounce-back) looks the best bet.
Spa is the closest that Dutchman Max Verstappen has to a home Grand prix and he’ll have plenty of support. He qualified in second place 12 months ago but could only finish eleventh and his previous best finishing position in Belgium was eighth.
Verstappen’s Red Bull teammate Daniel Ricciardo is still searching for his first podium of the year but he has a decent record at Spa, winning in 2014 and finishing second last year. That was a great drive after only qualifying in fifth and he led much of the way before succumbing to Nico Rosberg. He could be the value in the ‘podium finish’ betting.
Belgium Grand Prix Prediction & Odds
Winner: Lewis Hamilton 7/10
Podium finish: Daniel Ricciardo 9/4