2013 Belgian Grand Prix Preview

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Formula One returns after its summer break to the legendary Spa-Francorchamps circuit in Belgium. A favorite among fans and drivers, Spa is renowned for its great changes in elevation and high-speed corners, the most famous of which – Eau Rouge – has a special place in the heart of all F1 personnel. As the drivers get back in the saddle and prepare to attack the second half of the 2013 season, an explosive and exhilarating Belgian Grand Prix could be in the offing.

Belgian Grand Prix Talking Points

Mercedes plan assault on Red Bull

With Sebastian Vettel enjoying a 38-point lead over Kimi Raikkonen and Red Bull leading Mercedes by 69 points, you could be forgiven for writing off both championships with barely half of the season gone. Judging by their recent form, Mercedes are the only team well-placed to challenge the defending champions; starting off with a win in Spa would certainly put the Silver Arrows in good stead for the rest of the season.

Ferrari and Lotus try to keep a grip on their coat-tails

For Ferrari, this season is becoming increasingly about damage limitation. No wins since May and more references to the troublesome wind tunnel suggest that finishing in the top three would be a good result come Interlagos for the Italian team. Lotus’ outlook is far brighter following two strong results in Germany and Hungary, and Spa is a big race for the team as the “King of Spa” Kimi Raikkonen chases a fifth win in Belgium – with or without ‘the device’.

Who will come back with renewed vigor?

The summer break gives drivers a chance to relax and take a break from the stresses of the sport, making it a key point of the season. Last season, Felipe Massa returned from his holidays a completely different driver, laying down a remarkably consistent run of results in the final stretch of the season. Therefore, for the drivers hoping to move up the grid in the coming few weeks, Spa is an important race to get the second half of the season off to a good start.

This season versus next season

Another big question surrounds the development paths that teams will choose to take. As Brawn proved in 2009, planning ahead of a change in the regulations can pay great dividends. Therefore, the teams have to decide whether they want to plan ahead and sacrifice the second half of the year, or secure some good results in 2013 and trail at first in 2014. Despite their lead, Red Bull have to think about getting the championships sewn up to avoid losing out at the beginning of next season.

Kimi, Ricciardo and Red Bull – a decision close?

This week has seen the news break that Kimi Raikkonen may no longer be in the running for the Red Bull seat after a breakdown in negotiations. Therefore, with the door now open for Daniel Ricciardo, an announcement may be close. However, with so many teams still to confirm their line-up for next season, the world champions may yet bide their time further.

Track: Spa-Francorchamps
Laps: 44
Corners: 19
Lap Record: Sebastian Vettel 1:47.263 (2009)
Tire Compounds: Medium (Option); Hard (Prime)
2012 Winner: Jenson Button (McLaren)
2012 Pole Position: Jenson Button 1:47.573
2012 Fastest Lap: Bruno Senna 1:52.822
DRS Zones: Main Straight (T19 to T1); T4 to T5

Friday – Free Practice 1: 04:00am ET
Friday – Free Practice 2: 08:00am ET (LIVE on NBCSN)
Saturday – Free Practice 3: 05:00am ET
Saturday – Qualifying: 08:00am ET (LIVE on NBC Sports Live Extra)
Sunday – Race: 08:00am ET (LIVE on NBCSN)

MRTI: Keith Donegan earns Mazda Shootout Scholarship

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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Dublin, Ireland’s Keith Donegan claimed a $200K scholarship from Mazda after emerging victorious at the second annual Mazda Road to Indy Shootout. The 20-year-old Donegan earned an at-large nomination for the scholarship based on his performance at this year’s Formula Ford Festival, in which he finished second in the final, and emerged from a pack of 17 drivers from across the globe to claim the scholarship.

“It really hasn’t hit me yet,” said an emotional Donegan, who earlier in his career actually spent two years away from racing as he focused on academics. “The weekend was really good and I enjoyed it. I have to say a huge thanks to Mazda and Cooper Tires and everyone at the Mazda Road to Indy. I enjoyed every moment. Throughout the weekend we were consistent and I kept the small things in check. I didn’t make any stupid mistakes and kept my head cool and that really paid off in the end.”

The two-day shootout was held at the Bondurant Racing School in Arizona and saw the nominated drivers tackle the school’s 1.6-mile circuit in Formula Mazda race cars before facing on and off-track assessments. Donegan was selected by a panel of judges that included former driver and current Verizon IndyCar Series TV analyst Scott Goodyear, Mazda drivers Tom Long, Andrew Carbonell, and Jonathan Bomarito, as well as Victor Franzoni – the current champion of the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires – and Oliver Askew, the current champion of the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda.

Donegan was humbled to be in the presence of drivers who have won scholarships and championships previously, and added that he is grateful to have the opportunity to continue his racing career.

“You see all these champions here today that will go on to great things in the future and I’m sure the names you see here today aren’t going to disappear,” Donegan added. “They will be back up there and I’m sure I will be racing them again some day. It is an unbelievable opportunity to be given and for Mazda to provide that for any young driver. It just gives that bit of motivation that you need because the [U.S.] is where you need to go to become a professional these days. It is such a boost to my career.”

Donegan is now slated to join the 2018 USF2000 championship, with further announcements regarding the team with whom he’ll be racing to come in the future.

Follow @KyleMLavigne