F1 is back! Belgium GP Weekend Preview

Almost a month on from the roller coaster of a race that was the Hungarian Grand Prix, Formula One returns from it’s summer hiatus for the illustrious Belgium Grand Prix! Will Max Verstappen overcome his recent spout of bad luck? Or will Lewis Hamilton continue to pull away towards his 8th World Driver’s Title?

Written by Aiden Hover, Edited by Janvi Unni 

The Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps, located in Stavelot, has undergone many renovations and different layouts throughout its near centenary as a race track. The current track layout features 20 unique and storied corners as it winds itself through the Ardennes. Amongst these 20 is the ever nail-biting, world-famous Eau Rouge and Raidillon complex; an epic uphill, near flat-out roller coaster. Having navigated the run down from the first hairpin of La Source, drivers brace for a dramatic sweep left as the track dips away before steadily rising again for the epic right-handed, almost blind, rush to the crest of the hill where the track once again sweeps to the left onto the Kemmel Straight! 

With corners like this throughout the track, it’s no wonder the drivers love it here so much. Boasting overtaking opportunities throughout –  namely, the aforementioned Kemmel straight into Les Combes, or into the famous Bus Stop chicane following the high-speed left turn of Blanchimont – all 20 drivers will be eager to prove themselves as Formula One returns for the second half of this thrilling 2021 season!

A track as infamous as this is sure to have played host to some of Formula One’s most legendary moments – and the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps does not disappoint! Iconic overtakes, such as Mark Webber on Fernando Alonso in 2011 are sure to be remembered for a long time yet – as well as prove the inspiration for more epic moves into Eau Rouge, such as Pierre Gasly’s stunning charge in last years race as he passed Sergio Perez in a similar yet equally daring move. Even at the front, battles for the lead often steam to a boil along the Kemmel straight, such as Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel’s race-long squabble in 2017 or the famous scenes of Mikia Hakkinen and Michael Schumacher darting either side of the lapped Ricciardo Zonta in 2000!

Who could forget the epic starts we so often see at Spa? From the Formula One meltdown in 1998 to the scary La Source melees of 2012 and 2018, starting a race at Spa is a frivolous embark. Making it past turn 1 is no guarantee of safety, however, as we saw an enthralling 4-abreast battle for the lead in 2018 between the Racing Points of Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon as well as the championship contenders that year of Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel – this battle also gave birth to the now-iconic Crofty line, ‘BUT HERE COMES SEBASTIAN VETTEL!’ as the German pulled out from the slipstream of the Mercedes ahead in a showing that can only send shivers of excitement down one’s spine!

Whilst Spa can so often be a cruel mistress, it also has a soft spot that allows for some truly heart-warming Formula One moments. A playground for the underdog, Spa gifted the first points, podium and pole position for the much loved Force India team in 2009 as well as allowing the same team in its Jordan guise in 1998 to luck into a sensational 1-2 finish! In 2014, Daniel Ricciardo took advantage of a collision between Hamilton and Rosberg at Spa to win the third race of his career. In 2018, Esteban Ocon proved the world wrong by securing P3 in a wet qualifying just as it was announced he will not be racing with Racing Point for the following year just as in 2015 Romain Grosjean with Lotus secured his and his team’s last Formula One podium. Finally, the 2019 Belgium Grand Prix saw a truly deserving and much loved Charles Leclerc take his maiden Formula One victory to close a truly emotional weekend for the entire Formula One and motorsport world, following the tragic loss of Leclerc’s close friend and true talent in young Anthoine Hubert in that Saturday’s Formula Two race.

What can fans look forward to this year?

Having played victim to the mishaps of Valtteri Bottas (who will be taking a 5-place-grid-drop this weekend) at Hungary’s wet start, both Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez will be desperate to perform well in Spa – Particularly Perez whose future with the RedBull team is ever more cast in doubt following the endless tales of Helmut Marko. Mercedes too will be hoping to reverse the wrongs of Hungary, where they threw away a near sure-fire win following a strategic blunder for Sir Lewis Hamilton and will plead for both cars to stay out of trouble in the opening laps.

Formula One’s newest winner, Esteban Ocon will be looking to prove he has more than simply luck on his side and will be looking to extract the most out of his Alpine car that is only ever getting stronger – just as is Fernando Alonso who heroically defended from Lewis Hamilton in Hungary. Williams too found themselves in a rather fortunate position last time out, securing their first double points finish since 2018. Whilst they won’t quite be expecting the same fortunes as Hungary, they will definitely be hoping for yet more Q2 appearances and the odd chance at a point following their best weekend in some time.

Aston Martin and McLaren both found themselves wanting so much more from Hungary with the two teams scoring no points. The two McLaren’s were taken out at the start as well as Stroll (who will be taking a 5-place-grid-drop this weekend for his role in the first lap Melee) whilst Sebastian Vettel, who drove a stunning race to second, was unfortunately disqualified for failing to provide a fuel sample. It’s fair to say that anything that can happen this weekend will be a much-needed improvement from last race’s nightmares. Ferrari too will be hoping to stay out of trouble as, despite a podium for Carlos Sainz, they still seemed to struggle for overall pace, shown through a mediocre qualifying, and Charles Leclerc too was eliminated in the opening lap mess.

Alpha Tauri performed stoically in Hungary securing P5 and P6 for their two drivers simply by staying out of trouble and so will be looking for the same this weekend at a track star driver Pierre Gasly seems to excel at. 

At the back of the grid, Alfa Romeo and Haas would have been disappointed not to make the most of the mayhem and the opportunities of Hungary. With Giovinazzi lacking pace all weekend and a weird strategy call eliminating him from contention and a pit lane collision between Kimi Räikkönen and Nikita Mazepin eliminating the latter and awarding a penalty to the former, it meant Alfa Romeo only came home with one point (thanks to Vettel’s DSQ) whilst Haas once again came home with nothing – despite Mick Schumacher’s insane wheel-to-wheel prowess throughout the race as he slowly fell back through the pack.

Be sure not to miss any of the festivities of this weekend’s Formula One race, Formula Three races as well as the immensely entertaining W-series!

# AH19☆

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