Belgian GP Preview: Four miles of adrenaline sparks the return of F1
After the tediously long summer break, the Formula One circus will explode back into life this weekend at one of the most iconic and breathtaking venues in the world: Spa-Francorchamps. With only 11 points separating the Mercedes duo of Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton, the battle for supremacy will certainly be rekindled when the cars purr back into action come the weekend.
Despite Daniel Ricciardo and Red Bull’s surprise victory last time out at the Hungarian Grand Prix, the reigning Champions themselves feel a repeat of such success will be unlikely in Belgium this weekend or even Monza several weeks afterwards in Italy. Due to the high speed nature of the next two circuits, one should look no further than the seemingly indomitable Mercedes duo of Rosberg and Hamilton, who will resume their battle at the sharp end of the Championship this weekend.
Last season Hamilton romped to an impressive pole position around the 4.352 mile circuit ahead of eventual race winner and World Champion Sebastian Vettel. Although the 2008 World Champion has retired from three of his seven races around the Spa-Francorchamps circuit due to collisions, the Briton has managed to finish the other four races within the top four, which included one race victory in 2010 and almost another in 2008 before he was struck with a controversial post-race penalty.
In the other corner of the Mercedes camp, Rosberg will be looking to nail down his fifth race victory of the season, in his bid to keep a manageable gap between himself and new sparring partner Hamilton. Although Rosberg has managed to finish every race he has competed at Spa-Francorchamps, the German’s results are far from sensational with a personal best of fourth last season. With the various statistics regarding the Mercedes duo aside, there is no doubt that Rosberg will certainly be a force to be reckoned with once the sport reconvenes.
With Red Bull already resigned to the fact that victory at Spa will be incredibly unlikely, Mercedes’s only true opposition could arrive in the form of the ever-improving Williams duo, with star of the year so far Valtteri Bottas at the centre of the teams recent competitiveness. With the Finn loosely linked to McLaren next season, he is still hunting for his maiden victory in the sport after podiums at Austria, Britain and Germany. Due to the fast and flowing nature of Spa-Francorchamps, similar to that of Silverstone and the Red Bull Ring, both Bottas and his team-mate Felipe Massa will be eyeing another strong weekend performance-wise.
Throughout the sport’s incredibly competitive midfield, the likes of Ferrari, Force India, McLaren and Toro Rosso will find themselves scrabbling for the lower points-paying positions. The Scuderia, who hold the record for the most victories for a Constructor in Belgium with 16, will certainly be looking for a repeat of Fernando Alonso’s podium finish at Hungary, however with Kimi Raikkonen, a four-time winner in Spa, still struggling with the new breed of Formula One machinery, the Italian outfit could find their quest for another podium finish hindered.
Meanwhile Force India will be eyeing up yet another strong weekend in Belgium, with the Silverstone-based outfit renowned for their strong form at the circuit in previous years. Back in 2009 the outfit secured their first podium finish with Giancarlo Fisichella, after the Italian secured a surprise pole alongside Toyota’s Jarno Trulli. Last season Paul di Resta came tantalisingly close to replicating Fisichella’s success during qualifying in the rain, eventually lining up fifth on the grid after several late improvements during the final top ten shootout.
Although Jean-Eric Vergne managed to rise as high as second during the thrilling Hungarian Grand Prix, the Frenchman only secured two points in the end by finishing ninth. Despite an impressive start to his F1 career, Daniil Kvyat has since struggled to return to his early points scoring form, with a handful of frustrating retirements that were beyond his control hindering his progress. With the team currently sat seventh in the Constructors’ Championship, tempers are beginning to rise within the Faenza-based outfit with their technical director James Key describing their meagre haul of only 17 points as pathetic.
Towards the latter half of the order Lotus will be looking for a trouble-free weekend, after the first half of their season was plagued by a whole host of technical issues. Whilst Romain Grosjean continues to ponder his future in the sport, Pastor Maldonado is still hunting for his first points finish of the season, despite being confirmed for 2015 with the Enstone-based outfit. This time last season Lotus were debating whether or not to introduce their longer wheelbase car and their interpretation of the passive DRS device. This year the outfit would undoubtedly by satisfied by simply getting both cars to the end of the race, with no mechanical gremlins rearing their ugly heads throughout the weekend.
With Marussia enjoying a surprise handful of points at the Monaco Grand Prix courtesy of Jules Bianchi, Sauber currently sit a miserable tenth in the Constructors’ Championship with no points scored. Although Adrian Sutil has insisted he is not worried about his team’s recent run of frustrating form, there is no denying that the necessity for a decent points finish is a must for the Swiss outfit who currently sit behind Marussia and only ahead of Caterham due to a better finishing rate. So far this season Sutil has come agonisingly close to securing points, with two 11th place finishes at Australia and Hungary along with three consecutive 13th place finishes at Canada, Austria and Britain.
Meanwhile Marussia will be hoping for inclement weather once again this weekend, which will in turn increase their chances of another surprise result against their rivals Caterham and Sauber. With the Anglo-Russian outfit visibly improving throughout the season, they will be striving to continue catching the likes of Sauber and Lotus whilst aiming to accumulate more valuable points in their quest to distance themselves from rivals Caterham. Due to the rain which struck qualifying last season both Bianchi and Chilton managed to progress to Q2, a feat they will be happy to repeat this weekend.
For Caterham hopes of rainfall throughout the weekend will also be in abundance, much like Marussia. With the outfit still yet to open their points account in Formula One, a frenetic rain-struck race similar to that of last time out in Hungary would undoubtedly boost their chances of silently creeping up the order. With the team requiring not only one but two points just to return to level pegging with arch-rivals Marussia, there is no denying that an uphill struggle faces the outfit in what is shaping up to be yet another enthralling battle for the final few positions in the Championship standings.
This weekend the eleven teams will be offered softer rubber in comparison to last season’s Belgian Grand Prix, with tyre supplier Pirelli set to bring their soft and medium tyre compounds to the race weekend for the first time at Spa since 2011. Last season the winning strategy from Sebastian Vettel was a two-stop strategy, despite the medium and hard compounds on offer. With rain always a possibility at the 44-lap Belgian Grand Prix at any given time, Pirelli’s intermediate or even full wet tyres could well be utilised as the weekend progresses.
Despite the dominance of one team so far this season in the form of Mercedes, no-one can deny that the year has been full of surprises, controversy, spills and thrills. With Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg undoubtedly set to continue such excitement and competitiveness at the sharp end of the order this weekend, possibly joined by Felipe Massa or Valtteri Bottas or even spiced up entirely due to inclement weather, the 70th running of the Belgian Grand Prix has all of the ingredients to produce another in its long list of thrilling races which will sweep majestically through the surrounding Ardennes Forest.
Images courtesy of Octane Photographic