After a month-long summer break the Formula One paddock reconvenes for the Belgian Grand Prix (Race: Sunday, 13:00 BST, live on BBC / Sky Sports F1 ) at the drivers’ favourite Spa-Franchochamps circuit.
Lewis Hamilton recorded his first win for Mercedes last time out in Hungary, driving superbly from pole position to build up the necessary gaps to stay ahead after each of his pit spots and take victory.
Kimi Raikkonen followed Hamilton home, making the best of his disappointing qualifying position of sixth to work his way past championship leader Sebastian Vettel into second by the conclusion of the race.
In doing so, Raikkonen was able to make a small dent in Vettel’s championship lead, but still trails the three-time reigning champion by 38 points with nine races remaining. Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso is third, a point further back, while Hamilton is fourth, 48 points behind Vettel.
The Spa-Franchochamps circuit is by some distance the longest on the current Formula One calendar, with one lap measuring just over seven kilometres. It is a medium downforce circuit, but one that requires the teams to find the right balance between the quick, sweeping first and third sectors and the more technical second sector.
The circuit’s location in the depths of the Ardennes forest makes it susceptible to varying weather conditions and reports ahead of this weekend’s event are far from clear, with a mixture of cloud, rain and sun currently forecast. With such a long lap, the conditions can often be different in each part of the circuit.
There can be no doubt as to who is the form driver in qualifying, with Hamilton having taken pole position in each of the last three Grand Prix. His Mercedes team have qualified at the head of the field in seven of the ten Grand Prix this season.
Hamilton endured a difficult qualifying session in Belgium last year, managing just eighth on the grid, but qualified second in 2011 and 2010 and took pole in 2008. With the fastest qualifying car underneath him, he can be fancied to extend his run of consecutive pole positions on Saturday.
Sauber ran superbly in qualifying for last year’s Belgian Grand Prix, qualifying second and fifth. This year’s car has failed to match the performance levels of last season’s model, but in Nico Hulkenberg they have a driver capable of qualifying strongly this weekend.
Hulkenberg qualified ninth on his Spa-Francorchamps debut for Williams in 2010 and although he only managed 12th with Force India last year, his charge to a fourth place finish in the race showed that he is attuned to the demands of the circuit.
The young German was less than a tenth of a second away from getting into the final part of qualifying in Hungary and has similarly been there or thereabouts in a number of Grand Prix this season. He has the necessary ability to reach the final qualifying session in Belgium.
Lotus will introduce a number of updates to their car for this weekend’s race as they try to provide Raikkonen with a car capable of sustaining a championship challenge in the second half of the season.
Raikkonen has been a picture of consistency since returning to Formula One at the start of last season, scoring points in 29 of the 30 races he has competed in, but has admitted that he and his team need to start winning races if he is to compete for the title.
Belgium seems as good a place as any for the Finnish driver to pick up his second victory of the season. He has four previous victories at Spa-Francorchamps to his credit and finished third on his return to the circuit last year. If he can qualify in the top four, Raikkonen has an excellent chance of securing victory,
After a promising start to the season, in which he recorded four top five finishes in the first five races, Felipe Massa has been off the pace in recent Grand Prix. As per last year, his future at Ferrari is in doubt, with Raikkonen being linked with a return to the team for next season.
Massa does, however, have an excellent previous record at the Belgian Grand Prix, winning the event in 2008 and finishing in the top five in four of his last five races at the circuit. With strong performances required in the second half of the year if he is to hold onto his seat, Belgium seems the ideal setting for the Brazilian to get his season back on track.
Belgian Grand Prix Betting Tips Verdict
- Back Lewis Hamilton to take pole position @ best odds of 6/4 with SkyBet, Betfred or BetVictor.
- Bet on Nico Hulkenberg to reach qualifying session three @ 2/1 with BetVictor or Ladbrokes.
- Back Kimi Raikkonen to win the race @ at best odds of 13/2 with Paddy Power or William Hill.
- Bet on Felipe Massa to finish in the top six @ 13/8 with Bet365 or BetVictor.