The four-week break is almost over, and the world of Formula 1 returns from its summer holiday this weekend for Round 11 of the 2013 Championship: the Belgian Grand Prix.
Where better to go, after a long break, than the picturesque, challenging, temple of speed that is Spa-Francorchamps? This fantastic circuit, nestled in the Ardennes countryside, is a favourite amongst drivers and fans, and one of the highlights of any F1 calendar.
Before looking ahead to this race in detail, however, it makes sense to recap where we left Formula 1 before we went into shutdown mode and headed to the beach.
Previously on F1…
Lewis Hamilton won the last race in Hungary, and was immediately touted as the challenger to Sebastian Vettel for the drivers’ championship crown.
There were many reasons why journalists, pundits, and even hopeful fans were putting their eggs firmly in the Hamilton basket. For a start, this maiden victory for Mercedes apparently meant that he was now properly settled into the team, and would continue to build on this success.
Positive comments from Hamilton also backed up the hypothesis. The 2008 champion believes that he now has the car to win many more races in 2013.
Furthermore, the newly found competitiveness was ascribed to tyres (of course). Pirelli reverted to compounds with a 2012 construction in Hungary and it appeared that Mercedes benefitted more than the other teams from this change. These tyres will be used for the remainder of the season, so perhaps Mercedes will truly be the best-placed team to challenge Red Bull.
Unfortunately, for the Hamilton-backers, the numbers tell a different story. Vettel has a lead of 48 points over Hamilton, who remains fourth in the championship. Vettel’s lead over second-placed man Kimi Räikkönen is 38 points. The German only needs to score regular podium finishes for the remainder of the season, and the championship is surely his.
Also, there are plenty of other drivers capable of taking valuable points (and wins) from Hamilton, even if his Mercedes does have the edge over his competitors for the rest of the year.
Nico Rosberg is a further 30 points behind Hamilton, but is still capable of stealing the odd race win before this championship is decided. Räikkönen and Fernando Alonso are probably even more likely to take points off Hamilton at some races. When you take this into account, that 48-point margin looks insurmountable.
Other drama left unresolved before the summer break was the decision over who would takeover from Mark Webber at Red Bull in 2014. In fact, the story was given further fuel when team boss Christian Horner refused to rule out Alonso for the seat. In a semi-related story, Alonso upset Ferrari boss Luca di Montezemolo with comments he made after Hungary, which led to a public rebuke in a press release.
This drama over the most coveted seat in the sport is set to continue into this weekend, and possibly to the following race at Monza. This story still has legs, but it should (thankfully) be resolved in the coming weeks.
There are also money stories that hangover from before the summer. The sport needs a new Concorde Agreement (which the main players were discussing in Hungary), and there is still speculation over the financial health of some teams, including Lotus and Sauber.
Despite all of this unfinished business keeping us interested over the summer, the thirst for F1 will only be quenched once the cars are out on track at Spa. The biggest questions are likely to be over the form of the Mercedes.
Have the team truly got over their tyres problems? Hungary suggested they had, but Spa is a completely different track. Can they now compete with Red Bull at every racetrack? The answer to this question must be ‘yes’ if the title fight is to stay alive for Lewis Hamilton.
Of course, you can have one of the best cars on the grid in Spa-Francorchamps, and still come away with nothing. Fernando Alonso had the misfortune of being in the firing line of Romain Grosjean at this race last year, and suffered costly DNF as a result. Hamilton and Sergio Perez also found their afternoon cut short by the Frenchman. Grosjean’s punishment was severe – a one-race ban. He is sure to be on his best behaviour this weekend.
Jenson Button stayed out of trouble and took the win last year, but has already ruled himself out of victory this year. Vettel won the race in 2010, his only victory at this hallowed track.
The Spa specialist on the grid is Kimi Räikkönen. The Finn has won the Belgian Grand Prix four times. The first was in 2004, the most recent in 2009 – his last victory before his sabbatical. If Räikkönen wants to bolster his championship credentials, he needs another win soon.
The summer break has given plenty of breeding time for speculation, hype, rumours and predictions. Now, with just days to go until the Belgian Grand Prix, and the F1 famine almost over, we can finally see the rest of this exciting 2013 season unfold.
|2013 FORMULA 1 SHELL BELGIAN GRAND PRIX|
|Timetable (all times BST)|
|Friday 23rd August|
|Free Practice 1||09:00|
|Free Practice 2||13:00|
|Saturday 24th August|
|Free Practice 3||10:00|
|Sunday 25th August|
|Live: Sky Sports F1 HD, BBC One; Radio: BBC Radio 5 Live / 5 Live Sports Extra|