Formula One returns from its summer break with Lewis Hamilton seeking to extend his lead at the top of driver’s championship with victory at this weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix (Race: Sunday, 13:00 BST, live on BBC One / Sky Sports F1).
Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel brought himself back in the championship picture with victory in Hungary last time out, taking advantage of poor starts and incident-packed races for the two Mercedes drivers to romp home to his second triumph of the season.
Daniil Kyvat secured the best finish of his Formula One career to date by coming home second for Red Bull ahead of his team-mate Daniel Ricciardo, with Max Verstappen (pictured) following them home in fourth in his Toro Rosso. Fernando Alonso was fifth for McLaren, who achieved their first double-points finish of the year with Jenson Button coming in ninth.
Hamilton finished sixth despite dropping down to 10th on the first lap and later receiving a drive-through penalty following a clash with Ricciardo. Yet he still managed to extend his championship lead over Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg, who was second going into the latter stages of the race before a collision with Ricciardo saw him drop down to eighth.
Romain Grosjean came in seventh for Lotus, while Marcus Ericsson rounded out the points-paying positions with a 10th place finish for Sauber.
Spa-Francorchamps hosted the first Belgian Grand Prix back in 1925 and has been the continuous host of the event since 1985. The circuit, situated in the heart of the Ardennes Forest, is a favourite among both drivers and spectators due to its challenging high-speed corners and plentiful overtaking opportunities. It usually produces a highly entertaining race.
The weather at Spa-Francorchamps is notoriously unpredictable. Current forecasts suggest that Saturday should be sunny but that there is a high chance of rain appearing at some stage on Sunday. Pirelli have chosen their soft and medium-compound tyres for this weekend’s event.
Events in Hungary showed that Mercedes are not infallible despite the clear pace advantage they have enjoyed for the majority of the season. They can, however, be expected to reassert their dominance this weekend at a circuit at which they had by far the quickest car last year and at which they will again expect to be very rapid this time around.
Rosberg beat Hamilton to pole position at last year’s Belgian Grand Prix (before a second-lap collision compromised both of their races and led to Ricciardo taking victory) but it is Hamilton who generally has the better record of the pair at Spa-Francorchamps. He won there for McLaren back in 2010 and beat Rosberg in both qualifying and the race in 2013.
Hamilton looks well placed to take pole position on Saturday and then return to the top step of the podium come Sunday afternoon.
Kimi Raikkonen drove very well in Hungary before engine problems saw him fall back and eventually retire from the Grand Prix and he travels to Belgium in good spirits on the back of the news that his Ferrari contract has been extended for a further year. He will hope to provide another strong showing this weekend at a circuit at which he usually excels.
The Finn has won at Spa-Francorchamps on four previous occasions (2004, 2005, 2007 and 2009), while the circuit was also the venue for his best finish (fourth) of last season. He has only once finished in the top three since returning to Ferrari at the start of 2014 but should be capable of putting together a good challenge for a podium finish this Sunday.
Force India suffered some reliability problems in Hungary last time but have otherwise been very happy with the performance of the B-Spec car they introduced at the British Grand Prix in early July. Both of their drivers will be confident of finishing in the points this weekend at a circuit that should be suited to their chassis, but it is Sergio Perez who offers best value.
The Mexican driver won at Spa-Francorchamps during his final year in GP2 and has shown strong pace at the circuit since entering Formula One in 2011. While last season’s eighth-place finish was the first time he had come home inside the top 10, he qualified strongly for Sauber in 2011 and 2012 and finished just outside the points with McLaren in 2013.
Perez is fancied by this preview to finish in the top 10 for a second consecutive year on Sunday.