This weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix signals the return of Formula One racing after its summer hiatus. The action will focus on the historic Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps with qualifying on Saturday 31 August and the main race on Sunday 1 September.
Last year saw Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel picking up the chequered flag, but the German driver has been having a troubled season and hasn’t won since this race.
Once again, it will be Lewis Hamilton who will be favourite amongst the bookmakers to win the Belgian Grand Prix. But with Max Verstappen showing some incredible racing to win the recent German Grand Prix, it’s going to be fascinating to see what happens.
The 2019 Formula One season so far
2019 has seen Lewis Hamilton once again confirming his domination of Formula One motor racing. The English driver has won eight out of the twelve races so far, and is 62 points ahead of his nearest rival – teammate Valtterri Bottas – in the World Drivers’ Championship standings.
Hamilton and Bottas have helped Mercedes surpass their rivals in the Constructors’ Championship too. With Bottas gaining a couple of handy wins in Australia and Azerbaijan, Mercedes have picked up 438 points, ahead of 288 for Ferrari, and 244 for Red Bull.
It’s been a deeply unhappy season for Sebastian Vettel so far. The four-times world champion has failed to win any races so far in his Ferrari, and faces an almost impossible task in catching up with Hamilton. Similarly, Charles Leclerc has had a frustrating first season for Ferrari, and with just five podium finishes in 12 races, he’ll be desperate to prove that he’s the right man for the job.
Max Verstappen has undoubtedly been the breakthrough driver of the season so far. He showed moments of brilliance last season, but his wins in Germany and Austrian have revealed that he is set for very big things. His Red Bull teammate Pierre Gasly hasn’t had such a positive time as he has been replaced by the Toro Rosso driver Alexander Albon for the remainder of the season.
What can we expect from the 2019 Belgian Grand Prix?
The Spa-Francorchamps circuit is one of Formula One’s classic circuits and it has been hosting motor racing events since 1924. With the backdrop of the Ardennes forest, the Belgian Grand Prix always manages to be one of the most picturesque Formula One racing events.
Not that the Spa-Francorchamps circuit is forgiving on the drivers. The notorious Eau Rouge section has remained one of the most challenging corners in the season. Plus the location of the Spa-Francorchamps and the size of the 4.3 mile circuit means that it can be raining in one section and dry at the opposite end. Such matters will make pit stops and tyre choice pivotal in the race, and the current weather forecast indicates that it will be warm with some cloud.
Last year saw Sebastian Vettel producing a clinical finish to win the 2018 Belgian Grand Prix. The driver was able to use the pace of the Ferrari car to leave Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes lagging back in second place, whereas Max Verstappen worked his way up from seventh to get a very credible third-place finish.
Previously we have seen Formula One legends like Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher put in spectacular performances to win the Belgian Grand Prix. The circuit’s long straights and tricky fast corners always seem to bring out the best in drivers, and with the steep climbs giving Ferrari a slight advantage, it could be a fascinating race between Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull for the chequered flag.
Big things expected from Max Verstappen
Max Verstappen exploded onto the motor racing scene in 2016 when he became the youngest person ever to win a Formula One race when he won the Spanish Grand Prix at the age of just 18. Known for his aggressive driving style, the 21-year old hasn’t calmed down as was seen in his thrilling performance in the Hungarian Grand Prix where he was narrowly beaten by Lewis Hamilton.
Verstappen has been labelled everything from ‘narcissistic’ to ‘dangerous’ by other Formula One drivers, and whilst his performances can be erratic, there is no doubting the fact that he is a world-class driver.
The Dutchman produced a commendable third-place finish in the 2018 Belgian Grand Prix, and he will be desperate to continue his strong run of form that saw him win recent races in Germany and Austria.
There are concerns that the Honda engine might cause problems for the Red Bull team in the remainder of the season. But with Verstappen finding a consistency that has never seen him finish lower than fifth place in any 2019 race, the young Dutchman could be on course for his biggest season so far.
Lewis Hamilton closing in on all-time Formula One wins record
With 81 Formula One wins to his name, Lewis Hamilton is just ten wins away from Michael Schumacher’s all-time record of 91 Grand Prix victories. The English driver has managed to win 14 of his previous 21 races, and he isn’t too far off claiming his sixth Formula One championship title.
Hamilton’s contract with Mercedes runs out in 2020, but the 34-year has stated that he wants to keep racing well into his late thirties. There’s been a real tendency for Hamilton not to get the credit he deserves, but he’ll be looking at the Belgian Grand Prix to prove that he is easily one of the all-time greats.
The Mercedes driver somehow kept his cool to win a titanic struggle against Max Verstappen in the Hungarian Grand Prix, and he’ll be looking to get his fourth win at the Spa-Francorchamps circuit.
Hamilton will be hoping to consolidate his 62-point Championship advantage, and with the star stating that he is feeling ‘fantastic physically and mentally’, it’s going to be hard to see who can catch him in the second half of the season.
Why Spa-Francorchamps should suit Ferrari
Ferrari started the 2019 Formula One season with a car that looked like it could finally give them the edge against Mercedes. However, things haven’t gone their way and the team have once again struggled to get the results. With no wins so far for either Sebastian Vettel or Charles Leclerc, the Ferrari team will return with plenty of determination for the second half of the season.
Vettel should do better in the Belgian Grand Prix. The 32-year old managed to get decent podium finishes in Germany and Hungary, and he won by a solid 11 seconds at the Spa-Francorchamps 12 months ago. The faster circuit is better-suited to the Ferrari car, and both Vettel and Leclerc should be able to outpace Red Bull.
Vettel has made little secret of his dissatisfaction with both Ferrari and Formula One this season. His penalty for dangerous driving in the Canada Grand Prix cost him his first victory in nearly a year, and he complained that Formula One are ‘stealing the race from us’. The under-performing Ferrari car was also criticised. If Vettel finishes the season outside of the top three, he may try and exit his contract and seek to rejoin Red Bull.
Charles Leclerc has shown plenty of progress throughout 2019, and has delivered five of Ferrari’s 11 podium finishes. What’s interesting is that 21-year old has not qualified behind Vettel since the Canada Grand Prix, and the pair seem to be good team-mates.
Ferrari have struggled behind Red Bull and Mercedes on slow corners this season. But the upcoming Grand Prix races in Belgium and Italy are much more power-sensitive which should play into the SF90 Ferrari cars. But with Ferrari facing their third winless season since 2014, the Belgian Grand Prix is a hugely important race for this classic racing team.
Valtteri Bottas and Pierre Gasly have everything to prove
The Belgian Grand Prix represents a big chance for Valtteri Bottas to bounce back after a couple of disappointing races. The Mercedes driver crashed out of the German Grand Prix and somehow went from a front-row start to an eighth-place finish in Hungary.
There have been ongoing rumours that the Finnish driver could be replaced at Mercedes by Estaban Ocon if he doesn’t turn around his form. Such an event would be hugely disappointing as Bottas started the season well with two wins and three second-place finishes in the first five races.
Pierre Gasly also suffered a bad race at the Hungary Grand Prix and he faces a fight for his Formula One future. The French driver was replaced by Alex Albon at Red Bull for the second half of the season, and he’ll have to prove his worth with Toro Rosso.
Having to be Verstappen’s teammate was never going to be easy, but Gasly will now have nine races to prove he is a better driver than his new teammate Daniil Kvyat.
Alex Albon is a talented driver and it will be interesting to see how he shapes up at Red Bull. But with the Red Bull car looking like it might struggle with the Spa-Francorchamps circuit, it might not be the perfect start for the young Thai racing star.