The month-long break is over and what better way to resume the Formula One season than at the prolific Spa-Francorchamps. The drivers should be refreshed after a European summer and they’ll need their wits about them if they want to get the better of one of the most challenging tracks on the calendar. Mercedes still remain the favourites but with Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo proving he’s up for the challenge, the second half of the Formula One season is looking rather exciting.
The race in Hungary provided a refreshing respite from the usual Mercedes domination. Ricciardo had the Silver Arrows chewing their nails as he snuck past Hamilton, who had started from the pits, in the closing stages of the Grand Prix to win his second race of the season. Fernando Alonso also fell victim to the Aussie and was forced to settle for second behind the impressive young driver, whose poor start indicated nothing of the spectacular performance to come. Rosberg finished just shy of the podium while Massa continued his impressive string of results with a decent haul of points for Williams in fifth. Tyres, crashes and rain played a big part in Hungary, with the Safety Car making two appearances at the Hungaroring. Perez ended up in the pit wall, simultaneously ending his race and Hulkenberg ruined his consecutive run of points finishes by messing up a pass on the Mexican and subsequently retiring. Raikkonen managed a Top 6 finish, a rare thing for the Finn this season, while Vettel continued his string of mediocre results with a seventh place finish. Vergne performed well for the Toro Rossos, adding two points to their small pile with a ninth place finish. Jenson Button rounded off the top ten with a familiar low points finish for the McLaren team.
Home to some of the most infamous corners in F1, Spa-Francorchamps, located in the middle of the Ardennes forest, is not a track for the faint-hearted. Like many of the formerly dangerous tracks on the calendar, its been modified over the years to include a little less death on the part of the drivers. However, the circuit still packs quite a punch and is considered one of the most challenging of the season. Although it was dramatically shortened after its alteration, Spa is still the longest F1 track and strangely, instead of the usual tyre choice of the Hard and Medium compounds to withstand the testing track, Pirelli have nominated the Soft tyre to accompany the usual white Mediums. The steep uphill of the Eau Rouge and Raidillon corner combination tests even the most skilled drivers as they fly full speed from the La Source hairpin downhill and then into the swift uphill. Blanchimont, which is found further down the track before the final chicane, provides another challenge in the form of an extremely quick flowing left hand turn which has been the spot of more than a few accidents over the years. The unpredictable weather, elevation changes, perilous turns and the fast nature of the track make it a firm favourite among drivers and fans alike and as one of the most exciting races of the season, it rarely disappoints.
To Win Outright
Lewis Hamilton 7/10
Nico Rosberg 16/10
Valterri Bottas 18/1
Daniel Ricciardo 18/1
Sebastian Vettel 22/1
Felipe Massa 28/1
Fernando Alonso 33/1
Jenson Button 80/1
Sebastian Vettel (22/1 a win, 5/2 a podium)
Red Bull’s number one driver seems to have fallen by the wayside as all the glory in the team has found his much younger and obviously quicker teammate this season. A podium is the German’s best achievement in 2014, with the Champion seemingly exhausted from his four years of shameless domination. He’s a double winner in Belgium, taking the checkered flag last year to add to his victory in 2011. A win seems to be out of his reach with the stiff competition, so if you’re betting on Vettel, a podium at 5/2 is the way to go.
Kimi Raikkonen (14/1 a podium, Top 6 Finish 3/1)
Raikkonen is the only current driver to have graced the top of the podium in Belgium on more than two occasions. The Finn has a whopping four victories under his belt at Spa, but with his recent form being lacklustre at best, another win seems awfully unachievable for the veteran. His performance in Hungary showed a slight improvement from the Ferrari driver and with decent odds on a Top 6 finish, this is probably the most likely scenario where money can be made off the former Champion this weekend. At 14/1 for a podium finish, daring punters may be tempted, but taking his performances this season into account, a finish just inside the Top 6 is much more realistic.
Daniel Ricciardo (18/1 a win, 5/2 a podium)
Ricciardo shocked and delighted fans, while undoubtedly worrying the Mercedes team when he took his second victory of the season at the Hungaroring before the summer break. As the only non-Mercedes driver to win this season, the future is looking bright for the Red Bull rookie, who has proven himself a worthy competitor to his esteemed teammate. He’s never won at Spa before, which is not surprising considering his previous experiences at the track have been behind the wheel of a Toro Rosso. Consider him the dark horse in the Mercedes mirrors, at 18/1 for a win it’s well worth the risk, however a podium for the Aussie at 5/2 seems more likely.
POLE POSITION: Lewis Hamilton 7/10
Hamilton has had a bit of a miserable spell in qualifying as of late, but the British Champion is used to pulling out fast times at the Belgian track. He nabbed the Pole here last year and managed a win back in 2010. His main rival for the Championship is his teammate, who is not yet out of reach in the points but is consistently pulling away from Hamilton as the Brit battles to close the ever-expanding gap. Hamilton was on the podium in Belgium last year and it’s not unusual to see both the Mercedes in the high points positions so it’s very likely the Silver Arrows will be near the top this weekend. Take a bet on Hamilton for Pole on Saturday and hope the summer break has ended his streak of bad luck in qualifying.
WIN: Nico Rosberg 16/10
As Formula One’s new golden boy, there’s a lot of publicity surrounding Rosberg as we begin the second half of the season. Unfortunately, not all of it is positive as the Monaco native finds himself in a “team orders” scandal after the team politely requested that Hamilton move aside for him at the Hungaroring. Hamilton refused to back off and Rosberg ended up finishing behind him, but if anything, the antics in Hungary added fuel to the already blazing rivalry between the two Mercedes drivers. Rosberg has yet to warm the top of the podium at Spa, so I’m backing him to take the win this weekend as he has added a few maiden victories to his collection this season. Back the blonde driver at 16/10 on Sunday to take home the trophy.