• Belgian Grand Prix preview

Back to business

Chris Medland August 22, 2013
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Such a packed race schedule makes a mid-season break all the more noticeable, but after four weeks without a race the Formula One season returns with a grand prix at one of its most iconic circuits; Spa-Francorchamps. A firm favourite with both the drivers and fans, Spa often delivers exciting and unpredictable races in a spectacular setting, but above all else the teams will be looking for a straightforward weekend to start the second half of the season on a positive note.

On form

Mercedes has been showing signs of recovery from its tyre issues for a few races, but Lewis Hamilton was at his very best at the Hungaroring as he took his first victory for the team. Sebastian Vettel looked nailed on for pole position after the first runs in Q3 but Hamilton found a huge amount of time to snatch it by less than 0.04s and went on to dominate the race at the front as he managed his tyres perfectly. The Mercedes one-lap pace has never been in question but Hamilton showed he is able to get the most out of the tyres in Hungary and if he can do that on a consistent basis he is going to be a real threat in the title race.

Out of form

After a really promising start to the season, Paul di Resta appears to be stalling at exactly the wrong time. With the silly season in full swing, di Resta's name should be one of the most prominent when it comes to potential vacancies at the top teams, but he's only scored two points in the last three races and his qualifying results over the last five grands prix read: 17th, 17th, 21st, 12th, 18th. Di Resta may still be set for his most successful season to date but he needs to get back to delivering the type of consistent performances he displayed earlier in the year.

Romain Grosjean was very competitive in both Germany and Hungary © Sutton Images
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One to watch

Romain Grosjean could feel hard done by leaving the Hungaroring at the end of July. A very promising weekend had yielded only eight points for sixth place when he had been well placed to challenge even Lewis Hamilton for victory. Grosjean was quick all weekend, qualified well and started well, but in his haste to chase Sebastian Vettel for P2 he clumsily made contact with Jenson Button (something Vettel later did too). However, he recovered to pull a stunning move on Felipe Massa and jump ahead of Vettel, only to be penalised for the manoeuvre. He should at least have had another podium to add to his impressive third place in Germany, and if he can continue that form while eradicating the errors he will be strong in Spa; the scene of his biggest mistake in 2012.

Talking points

Ricciardo to Red Bull?
It seems like a done deal, but nothing is certain in Formula One. A report that Daniel Ricciardo would get the nod to replace Mark Webber first appeared in Germany on Saturday, with the report claiming an announcement would be made in Spa. While Red Bull wouldn't comment on the rumour when contacted by ESPN it did say that it doesn't "have anything to announce at present". Kimi Raikkonen's manager then revealed that talks with Red Bull ended a long time ago, leaving Ricciardo as the clear favourite, but that's been followed by Helmut Marko being quoted as saying the team won't be ready to announce in Belgium, which suggests a deal might not be as close as expected.

Raikkonen to Ferrari?
While Raikkonen's manager Steve Robertson said his driver would not be moving to Red Bull, he was also keen to stress that his driver has "options - and that is plural - out there and I will continue to talk to teams". That extends beyond Raikkonen's current Lotus team and could be seen as a negotiating tool with Lotus that the lack of a Red Bull deal doesn't necessarily mean he'll stay put. It could also be that Robertson is attempting to force Red Bull to make a final offer following the breakdown of talks there, or - perhaps more fancifully - it could be that Ferrari really is interested in bringing in Raikkonen as a replacement for Felipe Massa. Raikkonen is Ferrari's last world champion, but surely Fernando Alonso wouldn't go for that, would he?

Title battle
It always takes a while for a true title picture to emerge, but all the signs after the German Grand Prix were that Sebastian Vettel would ease to his fourth consecutive championship in the absence of a sustained challenge. Fortunately for the neutral, Lewis Hamilton cast some doubt on that prediction in Hungary with his first win for Mercedes in conditions which were a real test for the team and its tyre problems. If he can follow up with another victory at Spa - or at least comfortably outscore Vettel - then battle will have been joined and will also give further hope to Raikkonen and Alonso too.

Tyre contracts
In its own words, Pirelli is facing "the most bizarre situation" in Formula One at present as it still doesn't have a contract in place for next season and beyond. Paul Hembery says deals are in place with most of the teams and the promoter Bernie Ecclestone, but there's still no official contract with the FIA to supply tyres and the longer it drags on the more you wonder if a replacement is lined up. Even at such a late stage, McLaren's Jonathan Neale has admitted the teams could recover from a change in tyre manufacturer, saying "If we were to get a late change from somebody else coming in to the sport at late notice then of course we would work around that and work with whoever the FIA chose that to be".

Eau Rouge remains a spectacular place to watch a Formula One car © Getty Images
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Trivia

  • Spa-Francorchamps was on the first ever Formula One World Championship calendar in 1950
  • The majority of the Belgian grands prix have been held at Spa, with 45 of the 57 races taking place there
  • The other circuits that have been used for the Belgian Grand Prix are Zolder and Nivelles
  • Both Ferrari and McLaren have won 12 times at Spa, but Ferrari has 16 wins in Belgium overall compared to 14 for McLaren

Fast Facts

  • Drivers spend 22.7s at full throttle from the exit of La Source until braking at Les Combes; the longest period of the year
  • Six of the last eight races at Spa have seen the safety car deployed, with it making nine appearances in total during that time
  • The lap record of 1:47.263 is held by Sebastian Vettel, set in 2009 for Red Bull
  • The average speed during a qualifying lap is 230kph

Circuit

Ever since Spa hosted its first race in 1922 on closed public roads, the circuit has been both loved and respected by drivers. Its high-speed nature gives the ultimate adrenaline rush but has also seen some horrific accidents. In the 1960 race alone both Chris Bristow and Alan Stacey died in accidents while Stirling Moss broke his legs. After the 1970 race the old 9.3 mile track was considered too dangerous for F1 cars and the Belgian Grand Prix didn't return to the circuit until 1983. The new circuit was cut to around 4 miles and has seen a number of minor changes since. Nowadays it is one of the most exciting tracks on the calendar although the centrepiece Eau Rouge corner is now flatout and relatively easy in the dry. The most challenging corner for the drivers is Pouhon, although mistakes are no longer punished by a gravel trap. Overtaking is possible into Les Combes after the long drag through Eau Rouge and into the DRS zone on the Kemmel Straight. It's also possible to make a pass at the final chicane, while a second DRS zone is situated on the start/finish straight.

Driver Steward

Former Toleman, Renault, Brabham, Arrows and Lotus driver Derek Warwick will be the driver steward at Spa-Francorchamps. Warwick's last appearance in the role was at this season's Malaysian Grand Prix.

© ESPNF1
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Weather

Spa is one of the more unpredictable weekends when it comes to the weather, which is evidenced by the current forecast. On Tuesday and even Wednesday morning the predictions were for a threat of rain on Saturday and a wet Sunday, but at present we look set for a warm, sunny weekend. That could - and probably will - change quickly, though.

Betting

There's still little money to be made by backing Sebastian Vettel as he is favourite with the bookies once again at 7/4. Lewis Hamilton is now second favourite at 11/4 following his Hungary win and Kimi Raikkonen a tempting 11/2 at a track where he should be strong, especially if Lotus gets its Drag Reduction Device (DRD) working. Nico Rosberg is very generously priced at 9/1 while Romain Grosjean is worth an each-way bet at 18/1. For a different bet, take a look at Raikkonen to set the fastest lap at 7/1 if Lotus runs the DRD.

ESPN prediction

Spa-Francorchamps should be a strong circuit for Mercedes, so - perhaps in the hope of igniting the title battle - ESPN is backing Lewis Hamilton to make it two wins in a row this weekend at the track he last won at in 2010.

Chris Medland is assistant editor at ESPNF1

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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Chris Medland is assistant editor at ESPNF1 Chris Medland, who in his youth even found the Pacific GPs entertaining, talked his way in to work at the British Grand Prix and was somehow retained for three years. He also worked on the BBC's F1 output prior to becoming assistant editor ahead of the 2011 season