Formula 1 returns from its summer break this weekend, with Spa-Francorchamps hosting the Belgian Grand Prix.
Reigning champion Lewis Hamilton heads into the race with a 62-point advantage over teammate Valtteri Bottas, while Ferrari are still looking for their first win of the season.
It may have been the summer shutdown for the last few weeks, but there’s been plenty happening, with Red Bull making a driver change, and 2020 driver announcements coming thick and fast.
3 Legs 4 Wheels looks ahead to the 13th race of the 2019 season.
Last year’s race
Hamilton looked to be continuing his strong form heading into the mid-season break when he qualified on pole position at last year’s Belgian Grand Prix, but it was Sebastian Vettel who took the plaudits on Sunday, slipstreaming the Briton’s Mercedes just before a safety car period to put himself at the front of the field, while Max Verstappen completed the top three.
The safety car was caused by a huge 3-car shunt triggered by Nico Hulkenberg. The Renault driver locked him brakes, colliding into the back of Fernando Alonso’s McLaren, which launched the Spaniard over Charles Leclerc’s Sauber, scuffing the Monegasque driver’s Halo in the process.
It was a race to remember for Force India, as the team qualified on the second row of the grid just weeks after almost going out of business, having been saved by a Lawrence Stroll-led takeover during the summer. Although they were caught by some of the front runners, both drivers finished in the top 6.
Kimi Raikkonen and Daniel Ricciardo both ended the race prematurely as the Australian clipped the back of the Finn’s Ferrari, resulting in damage to both.
The longest circuit on the current calendar, Spa’s 19-turn track is 7.004km long, meaning the race is just 44 laps long. Bottas set the lap record last year with a time of 1:46.286.
— Spa-Francorchamps (@circuitspa) August 29, 2019
The current configuration of this track has been used since 2007, and no significant changes have been made since last year.
Two DRS zones will be available to the drivers throughout the race. The first is detected just before turn 2 and can be used after turn 4, with the second coming towards the end of the lap with a detection point ahead of turn 18 for use after the final corner.
Pirelli has given the teams its three hardest dry compound tyres for this race, with Mercedes and Lando Norris taking fewer soft tyres than any other drivers on the grid.
The move means the trio will each have four sets of mediums available for Spa, while Williams’s George Russell is the only driver to have more than one set of hards.
Elsewhere on the grid, there’s little variation, with the majority of drivers selecting 1 hard, 2 or 3 mediums and 9 or 10 softs.
Last year’s race saw the majority of the grid using the two softest compounds in use that weekend for the race, with most just needing one pitstop to complete the race.
Not really a “moment” so much as an entire race, Michael Schumacher’s 1995 Spa drive was one of the most memorable. A mixed-weather qualifying caught the German out, leaving him out of position in 16th on the grid.
With a race in the dry, Schumacher soon caught those on wet setups ahead of him, but faced a tough task at the front of the field, with David Coulthard and Damon Hill leading the way.
After Coulthard’s gearbox failed, Hill moved ahead, but a poorly timed pitstop just before the weather changed again saw him drop down the order. The German gambled, staying out on dry tyres at the front of the pack.
On fresh wet tyres, Hill closed the gap to Schumacher and moved back in front when the German ran wide, but the Benetton driver regained the advantage after the second round of pitstops. Hill closed again in the closing laps, but Schumacher stayed ahead of the Briton to secure the victory.
Hill was unhappy with some of the German’s defensive driving at the end of the race, earning Schumacher a suspended one-race suspension, but to come from 16th on the grid in changeable conditions still makes this one of the stand-out performances at Spa.
Statistics and form
Hamilton and Vettel have won six of the last nine races in Belgium, but it’s Kimi Raikkonen who has the most race wins of the current grid in Spa, with four victories between 2004 and 2009. Hopes of a fifth for the Finn seem unlikely this weekend though. Not only has the Alfa Romeo not looked like challenging for a podium this season, but the 2007 champion comes back from the summer break with a leg muscle injury, resulting in the team bringing reserve driver Marcus Ericsson to the race in case Raikkonen’s injury prevents him from racing on Sunday.
No driver has won this race two years in a row since Raikkonen in 2004 and 2005, suggesting it’s unlikely 2018 winner Vettel will be on the top step again this weekend. Hamilton would surely start the race as favourite, having claimed 8 wins already this season, but Verstappen showed strong form going into the summer break, so will surely be looking to challenge again.
All eyes will be on the Red Bull garage as rookie Alexander Albon steps into the team for the first time, having swapped seats with Pierre Gasly. The Thai driver doesn’t look set to feature at the front of the grid though as Honda has announced its made its fourth power units available to Albon and Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat for this race, meaning both are likely to start at the back of the grid.
One driver who needs a strong weekend is Nico Hulkenberg. The German goes into this race knowing he doesn’t has a drive for 2020 with Esteban Ocon replacing him at Renault, and having caused a big crash at this track last year. However he equalled his career-best 4th place finish at Belgium in 2016, so is capable of a strong performance at this track.
McLaren were the form team in the midfield ahead of the summer break, but Carlos Sainz typically doesn’t go well in Spa, having secured just one point in four previous appearances. The track will hold happy memories for Lando Norris though, as it was at this race last year that he made his first FP1 appearance for the team.
It seems this weekend could be one with plenty of distractions. With Mercedes and Renault already making 2020 driver announcements at time of writing, and Racing Point dropping hints that they could also have news this weekend, this could be a chance for those with wise heads to take advantage amidst the chaos.
Check out this week’s podcast as we look ahead to the 13th race of the season, and let us know who you think could be on the podium this weekend. Check out our predictions for the top three, and join us during qualifying and on race day for our live blogs. Let us know what you think of all of this weekend’s action through Twitter or Facebook.
We’ll also be recording a bonus podcast this evening reflecting on today’s driver announcements.