After a month-long summer break, the Formula One paddock returns to action at this weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix (Race: Sunday, 13:00 BST, live on BBC and Sky Sports F1).
Daniel Ricciardo (pictured) was the winner in Hungary last month in a race given extra spice by a pre-race downpour and an early safety car that shook up the order. It was the second victory of an impressive year to date for the Red Bull driver.
Fernando Alonso finished second for Ferrari, ahead of the Mercedes duo of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg. Hamilton closed to within 11 points of his teammate at the top of the championship after refusing orders from the team to allow Rosberg to pass. Their battle for the title can be expected to intensify over the remaining eight races.
Felipe Massa came in fifth for Williams, finishing ahead of his teammate Valtteri Bottas (eighth) for the first time in five races. Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari), Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull), Jean-Eric Vergne (Toro Rosso) and Jenson Button (McLaren) filled out the top 10. Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg failed to score for the first time this season after crashing out.
Spa-Francorchamps hosted the first Belgian Grand Prix in 1925 and has since hosted 54 more, including every one since 1985. Situated in the heart of the Ardennes Forest, it is a challenging and rewarding circuit for the drivers and one that provides plenty of overtaking opportunities. The cars will run a medium-to-low downforce setup.
The weather at Spa-Franchochamps is notoriously unpredictable. Current forecasts suggest it will be a mild and cloudy weekend, with rain likely during qualifying on Saturday. Pirelli have chosen their soft and medium compound tyres for this weekend’s event and most teams are likely to two-stop if there are no weather interruptions during Sunday’s race.
Mercedes should again be expected to enjoy a significant pace advantage over their rivals this weekend. Red Bull have occasionally got close at circuits at which strong engine performance is not a pre-requisite for success, but Spa is a circuit where the superior quality of the Mercedes power plant is likely to shine through.
Hamilton will be determined to put in a dominant performance after showing frustration at the team’s request for him to move aside for Rosberg in Hungary. He qualified on pole position at Spa last year, making him the only current driver to have done so on two occasions, and finished third in the race, a place ahead of Rosberg.
Hamilton has out-qualified his teammate of the time in five of his seven Belgian Grand Prix appearances and finished ahead on three of the four occasions on which he has completed the race. A pole position and race win double is within his capabilities.
Force India always go well at Spa-Franchochamps. Giancarlo Fisichella’s second place finish in 2009 remains the team’s best ever result, while they have had at least one car in the points in each of the last five Belgian Grand Prix. Powered by the dominant Mercedes power plant, they can be expected to enjoy a strong weekend.
Hulkenberg has been the team’s most consistent performer in both qualifying and race trim so far this season, but Sergio Perez has reached the final session of qualifying in two of the last three races and has previously qualified well at Spa – twice making the top 10 with Sauber. Perez seems well placed to enjoy another good session on Saturday.
Bottas was the star of the races leading up to the summer break, consecutively finishing on the podium in Austria, Great Britain and Germany. He qualified third in Hungary and was running in the same position in the race until he was handicapped by the timing of the early safety car and dropped down the order.
Williams should be very strong in Belgium, having impressed at other circuits that require strong engine performance. They have been the quickest of the Mercedes customer teams throughout the season and should be their engine suppliers’ closest challengers on Sunday.
Bottas only finished 15th at last year’s Belgian Grand Prix, but he did win at the circuit during his season in GP3 in 2011. He is in excellent form and has a very good chance of securing his fourth podium finish of the season this weekend.
As previously discussed, Force India are likely to be quick this weekend and should be capable of scoring good points on Sunday.
Hulkenberg has been the most impressive and consistent of the two Force India drivers so far this season and secured an excellent fourth place finish for the team at Spa two years ago. He is very strong in changeable conditions and has finished in the top six on six previous occasions this year. He can be fancied to do so for a seventh time on Sunday.
F1 Belgian Grand Prix Betting Tips Verdict
- Bet on Lewis Hamilton to qualify on pole position and win the race @ 5/4 with Bet365.
- Back Sergio Perez to reach qualifying session three @ evens with Ladbrokes.
- Bet on Valtteri Bottas to finish on the podium @ 15/8 with Ladbrokes.
- Back Nico Hulkenberg to finish in the top six @ 2/1 with BetVictor.