It’s back! Formula One returns after the summer break for a trip to the Ardennes Forest and round thirteen of the 2018 championship at the legendary Spa-Francorchamps circuit. From driver contract talk, to the title fight getting back underway and a possible milestone weekend for Kimi Raikkonen, here are your reasons to watch all of the Belgian Grand Prix action this weekend!
The end of the summer ‘break’
The summer break is supposed to be a quiet time for Formula One news, but it seems Daniel Ricciardo, Fernando Alonso, Carlos Sainz and Pierre Gasly had other plans this year. The summer break was filled with 2019 driver announcements, kicked off by Ricciardo making the surprise announcement that he’d be joining Renault next season. It was revealed earlier this week that Pierre Gasly would be taking his seat at Red Bull. There’s an interesting sub-story developing involving what really went on between the team and Ricciardo. Red Bull say Ricciardo told them he would be signing for them before dropping the bombshell that he was moving away from the team, while Ricciardo’s side deny things went that far. We’re likely to hear both sides of the story this weekend as both speak to the media.
Fernando Alonso, meanwhile, announced he won’t be racing in F1 next season as he steps away from the sport after seventeen years. His place will be taken by Carlos Sainz. At Spa, Alonso returns to the scene of his very first World Endurance Championship victory from earlier this year. Belgium hasn’t been a happy hunting ground for the Spaniard in Formula One, though – he’s never won or taken pole position at the track. Will he be able to get McLaren into Q3 for the first time since the Monaco Grand Prix?
The Drivers’ Press Conference on Thursday, which will feature all four of the aforementioned drivers, will certainly be worth tuning in to!
What better place to kick off the second half of the season than at one of the most exciting circuits on the calendar – Spa-Francorchamps! A favourite with drivers and fans, it’s the longest circuit on the calendar with classic corners like Eau Rouge, Raidillion, Stavelot, Pouhon and Blanchimont. The circuit itself is enough of a challenge without the micro-climate of the Ardennes Forest. The weather forecast currently suggests a damp weekend is in store, though that’s perhaps no surprise given that fifteen of the fifty races held at the track have seen rain during the Grand Prix. If the rain does come, it’d be the third race weekend in a row this season where the weather has come into play…
The title fight resumes
Arguably, it’s the weather in the past two rounds which have helped Lewis Hamilton begin the second half of the season with a 24 point advantage. A wet Grand Prix in Germany saw Hamilton scythe through the field from fourteenth on the grid to take victory, while rain on Qualifying day in Hungary aided the Brit’s route to victory on a weekend where Ferrari seemingly had the ultimately quicker car.
With nine races to go, the development race will continue between Mercedes and Ferrari, who are currently separated by just ten points in the Constructors’ battle. Hamilton, who recorded his fifth victory of the season last time out, will be doing his utmost to assume his authority over Sebastian Vettel as the battle resumes in Spa. Both drivers have previously taken wins here, though they’ve both experienced hardships here too. Hamilton has suffered first lap exits here in 2009 and 2012, and recent posts on Instagram have shown that he’s really not over being stripped of his 2008 victory at the circuit. Meanwhile, Vettel clattered into the side of Jenson Button’s McLaren in a rain-hit 2010 race at the track, and lost a near-certain podium finish as his tyre exploded just a few laps from home in 2015. Will Vettel make inroads on Hamilton’s recent impressive form and begin his championship fightback?
Securing the best grid position on Saturday could be very important. There’s only been one Grand Prix here in the past eight seasons which hasn’t been won from the front row of the grid.
A sea of orange
While there’s bound to be fans dressed in orange to support McLaren driver Stoffel Vandoorne at his home event, there’s also likely to be an army of orange to support Max Verstappen in his ‘home race’ this weekend. Red Bull were promoting their special orange caps by saying you could “stand out from the crowd” in them, but that somehow seems unlikely to make you stand out around Spa when Max’s fans descend upon the circuit.
Despite the support, Verstappen has had just one points finish so far in the Belgian Grand Prix – an eighth place back in 2015. Can he put on a better show in front of the partisan crowd this weekend?
Lando Norris makes his début
With the Silly Season in full swing, Lando Norris’ name keeps being thrown about in relation to a potential drive at McLaren or even Toro Rosso next season. He will make his début appearance in an F1 race weekend at Spa this weekend as he takes Fernando Alonso’s seat for the first practice session. The extent to which he is being evaluated for a 2019 drive at the team remains to be seen.
Norris will also be in action in the F2 races this weekend, in the latest round of a season has been enthralling so far. Fellow Brit George Russell currently leads the title race, but it’s Norris who regularly puts in the showstopping overtaking manoeuvres. The series is definitely worth watching this year if you aren’t already glued to the action!
Podium 100 for Raikkonen?
Kimi Raikkonen could become only the fifth man in F1 history to reach 100 career podiums this weekend. Raikkonen has the most wins of any current driver at Spa – impressively, he’s taken one fifth of his total wins at the Belgian Grand Prix. He’s currently on a streak of five podiums, and has had more top three finishes so far this season than team-mate Sebastian Vettel.
Could we also see Raikkonen’s future with Ferrari confirmed in the coming days? Or will the team wait until their home race next weekend to announce their 2019 driver line-up?
The Belgian Grand Prix begins at 2:10pm (BST). In the U.K. the race is live on both Channel 4 and Sky Sports F1.