Belgian Grand Prix | Sunday 23 August | Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps | 14:00
Motorsports enthusiasts will have their thirst for four-wheeled race action quenched this Sunday, with the mid-summer break finally drawing to its conclusion. We now head to Belgium for the eleventh leg of the season. With only nine races left, can Ferrari’s new main man continue to claw back at Hamilton’s narrowing Drivers’ Championship lead?
The Hungarian Grand Prix was full of twists and turns that would have had Formula One fans on the edge of their seats. It was eventful right from start with Felipe Massa’s incorrect line-up at starting grid seeing the field do another formation lap and the Williams man being handed a five-second penalty. There was a touch of déjà vu when the lights finally went out, with the Mercedes duo once again having poor starts off the line. Their starting line woes were capitalised on by the Ferrari pairing of Vettel and Raikkonen; who stole into first and second place much like their Williams counterparts had done at Silverstone.
There was to be further misery for the Silver Arrows team when main man Lewis Hamilton made a mistake going into turn six. The defending world champion ran off the track and when he rejoined the race he found himself way down the field in tenth place. By the mid-point of the race, Sebastian Vettel had extended his lead to seven seconds over his second-placed teammate and a further twenty-seconds ahead of the third-placed Nico Rosberg. Elsewhere on track, Hamilton had worked his way up into fifth spot behind Daniel Ricciardo, who was putting in a performance reminiscent of his 2014 display at the track. There was to be some drama a few laps later, firstly with the second-placed runner Kimi Raikkonen who began to struggle with a kinetic engine unit issue which eventually ended his race. Meanwhile, Nico Hulkenberg’s front wing had fallen off in spectacular fashion, littering the track with debris. With the debris becoming a serious safety issue the field was to be led by the virtual safety car whilst stewards cleared the remnants of the Force India’s front wing.
The initiation of the virtual safety car saw a mad dash for the pits by the front runners with both the Mercedes and Ferrari boys making it into the pit lane before the virtual car was replaced by the actual safety car, which led the field until lap 49. Almost immediately after the safety car had vacated the track, there was a further incident with Ricciardo and Hamilton making contact going into turn one. Hamilton was handed a drive through penalty and Ricciardo subsequently moved up to into fourth. The race stewards were having a bit of a field day throwing out time penalties left, right and center, with both Pastor Maldonado and Max Verstappen incurring their wrath by the sixtieth lap. Things had started to heat up at the front of the field and soon Ricciardo was involved in his third incident of the race. He and Rosberg clipped with the Mercedes man coming off second best with a punctured tyre. Whilst the two went into the pits, Ricciardo’s teammate Daniil Kvyat stole into second, where he would finish the race, leaving Vettel assured of pole.
Saturday’s race distance spans some 308km with each lap equating to just over 7km, which makes it the longest lap distance of all F1 stops. Drivers will duke it out over 44 of these lengthy laps, which contain nineteen corners. The most infamous aspects of the track are the Blanchimont turn which leads onto the start/finish straight and the left-right-left sequence of turns which starts at the bottom of the Eau Rouge corner and runs through Radillon, which sees drivers do a slight climb as they attack the uphill right-hander. Qualifying on pole is not as important as it is at other circuits with only four of the last eleven race winners being those who started first on the grid.
On to the tyres and weather now, and Pirelli have issued the same compounds that were in use at the Hungaroring; soft and medium options. The weather forecast for this weekend looks good with moderate temperatures and no rain being predicted. However, it must be remembered that there hasn’t been a rainless race weekend at Spa since 2007, so despite the promising forecast we may well see a few showers over the weekend. Last year’s race saw Daniel Ricciardo claim victory; he was followed across the line by Nico Rosberg and Valtteri Bottas who claimed second and third respectively.
To Win Outright
Lewis Hamilton 5/10
Nico Rosberg 9/4
Sebastian Vettel 11/1
Kimi Raikkonen 14/1
Valtteri Bottas 40/1
Felipe Massa 40/1
Sebastian Vettel - Fastest Qualifier (14/1) & To Win (11/1)
Before the Hungarian Grand Prix I asked if anyone could stop Lewis Hamilton cantering to a third successive Drivers’ Championship; when all was said and done at the Hungaroring, I was left with my answer. Sebastian Vettel’s second race victory of the season has left the German only 42 points behind the Brit. The gap between Rosberg and himself is even closer, with the Ferrari man now only 21 points shy of the Silver Arrows “number two”. The four-time world champion must now feel like there’s a chance to rain on Hamilton’s parade and with the Brit not having the healthiest of records in Belgium, Sebastian has another opportunity to narrow the points margin this weekend. Although Vettel didn’t have the best of races at last year’s Belgian Grand Prix, he has experienced victory twice at this track, the first win coming in 2011 and the second in 2013. The man affectionately known as Seb could make it three podium finishes in a row with a win here and would truly revive what seemed to be fading title challenge after the Austrian Grand Prix.
Kimi Raikkonen - Fastest Lap (15/2) & Podium Finish (5/4)
Last year’s Belgian Grand Prix would have been a bit of a disappointment for the Finn despite climbing from eighth on the grid to fourth when the checkered flag was waved. The reason I suggest he would have been feeling a bit disenchanted after last year’s relatively good finish is the Flying Finn’s record at Spa. He has experienced happier times and higher finishes at this venue, having won the event four times. He has also set the fastest lap on two occasion at the track; one way back in 2004 in a McLaren and the other during his first stint with Ferrari in 2008. Raikkonen to produce the fastest lap is always a go-to bet for me, he may not have done it as frequently this year as he has in the past but with Ferrari starting to catch up with Mercedes in the engine power stakes, we may well see Kimi start notching up those fastest laps as well as podium finishes.
Daniel Ricciardo - Podium Finish (9/1)
The phrase “luck of the Irish” may need to be rejigged to read Aussie after Ricciardo's race in Hungary. He was clipped three times but still made it to the finish line in third. Ricciardo seems to produce his best racing at these European tracks. Having won last year’s event at Spa, he will want to get himself back on the podium and in the process continue to pull his Red Bull team out of the mire that they were bogged down in for much of early 2015. With the Red Bull mechanics making great inroads towards producing a more reliable car, Ricciardo should be up there with the front runners come the conclusion of this race. With the happy go lucky Australian sitting at 9/1 to make it onto the podium, this bet offers excellent value.
Daniil Kvyat - Top 6 Finish (7/4)
Whilst his teammate managed to make numerous appearances on the highlights reel of the Hungarian Grand Prix due to the series of incidents he was involved in, the young Russian had a contrasting race which saw him fly under the radar. This is to take nothing away from Kvyat; on the contrary it’s often the best driver who gets the least amount of airtime during the highlights package. His second-place finish couldn’t have come at a better time for both his team and himself as their third-place Constructors’ rivals Williams had a race to forget in Hungary. Although Kvyat finished last year’s Belgian Grand Prix in ninth, it must be remembered that it was his debut season and he was in an under-powered Toro Rosso. Kvyat has coped well with the issues that saw Red Bull lack the pace to keep up with the front of the pack. With the car now putting out a lot more power than earlier in the season expect the former Toro Rosso man to become a top six ever-present for the remainder of the year.