2014 Belgian Grand Prix Preview

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Following the three-week summer break, Formula 1 makes its long-awaited return this weekend with the Belgian Grand Prix. The Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps has a special place in the heart of the sport’s following, being one of the few truly classic tracks left on the calendar. From the fearsome Blanchimont to the behemoth that is Eau Rouge, this is a circuit that rewards the brilliant and the brave.

Spa not only heralds the return of F1, but it also begins the run to the end of the season. Over the next fourteen weeks, there will be eight grands prix in three different continents before culminating with the probable championship decider in Abu Dhabi – double points and all.

Championship leader Nico Rosberg will be hoping to extend his advantage over teammate Lewis Hamilton this weekend, but the Briton has a good record at Spa. That said, Mercedes may not quite have it all its own way if Williams makes the step forwards that many are expecting. “Valtteri Bottas, grand prix winner” has quite a good ring to it, no?

Further back, we have a wonderful subplot developing as Red Bull, Ferrari, McLaren and Force India duke it out for the positions following Mercedes and Williams (assuming Williams does indeed excel at this low downforce circuit). Daniel Ricciardo will still be beaming after his victory at the Hungaroring, but can Sebastian Vettel bounce back in the final eight races? It may be now or never for the defending world champion.

This weekend also marks the F1 debut of three-time Le Mans winner Andre Lotterer. From a story that came from left field, the German driver will deputize for Caterham’s Kamui Kobayashi this weekend. He completed some work in the team’s simulator on Monday, but his first run-out in the car will come in free practice one. It will be interesting to see if he can live up to the hype and impress in this one-off appearance.

2014 Belgian Grand Prix – Talking Points

Hamilton hopes to get back on top

After fighting from the back of the grid in the last two races, Lewis Hamilton undoubtedly has the momentum heading to Spa. If he can pick up his second victory in Belgium, and if Nico Rosberg comes unstuck, he could move back into the lead of the drivers’ championship. The gloves will be off at Mercedes for the final eight races of the season, and following the team orders debacle in Hungary, neither driver will be giving anything away.

Can the Iceman find his feet?

Kimi Raikkonen’s return to Ferrari has been a bit of a failure so far. With just 27 points to his name from the opening eleven rounds, he has done very little to justify his reported €22m yearly wage. However, Spa is ‘his’ circuit. He has won four times in Belgium, with his 2009 victory coming in Ferrari’s last truly awful year; it was against the odds, but he pulled through. Can Kimi rally here to secure his best result of the season so far? Keep an eye on the Finn this weekend.

Twelve months later, Seb’s in a very different position

At last year’s Belgian Grand Prix, Sebastian Vettel comfortably claimed his fifth win of the season and sparked his nine-in-a-row streak that lasted until the end of the season. One year later, he has just two podium finishes to his name in 2014 and everything is very different. Vettel will be hoping to find his feet at Spa to make up for the lost time and get himself back in business for 2014. Easier said than done, though…

Lotterer’s lottery

As mentioned above, Andre Lotterer’s surprise F1 debut came out of nowhere. It was a story that few predicted would kick start the second half of the season (and indeed silly season), but he now faces one simple question: why? This can go one of two ways. If Lotterer does indeed outperform Marcus Ericsson after only stepping in the car in FP1, then serious questions will be asked of the Swede. If he doesn’t, he’ll be thanked for his time before returning to his WEC commitments with Audi. This isn’t something Lotterer needs to do, but it’s most certainly something he wants to do.

F1 2014’s litmus test

Ever since the new cars and regulations were brought in for the 2014 season, many have pondered just how they will fare around Spa. Will Eau Rouge no longer be a flat corner? If indeed it is not, it will make the sport’s most famous turn the ultimate challenge once again. This will be the race at which many fans make their final decision on whether or not they like the new Formula 1. Let’s hope that they serve up a thriller on Sunday.

Belgium – Facts and Figures

Track: Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps
Laps: 
44
Corners: 19
Lap Record: Sebastian Vettel 1:47.263 (2009)
Tire Compounds: Soft (Option); Medium (Prime)
2013 Winner: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull)
2013 Pole Position: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 2:01.012
2013 Fastest Lap: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull) 1:50.756
DRS Zones: Main Straight (T19 to T1); T4 to T5

TV Times

Free Practice 1 – 22/8 4am ET Live Extra
Free Practice 2 – 22/8 8am ET NBCSN
Free Practice 3 – 23/8 5am ET Live Extra
Qualifying – 23/8 8am ET CNBC
Race – 24/8 7.30am ET NBCSN

Nearly 25 drivers already set for 2018 Indy 500… in mid-November

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Friday’s announcement that Danica Patrick would end her full-time driving career with a run in the 102nd Indianapolis 500, after also running the Daytona 500 in January, is another shot in the arm for the 2018 marquee event of North American open-wheel racing.

Surprisingly, it keeps the grid moving forward too to where nearly 75 percent of the 33 cars are already set… in mid-November, 2017.

Early confirmations of programs for the next year’s Indianapolis 500 aren’t new, but they’re seemingly coming earlier than normal this year, with a number of expected programs getting announced in the fall of 2017.

Coupled with the fact most of the IndyCar full-season grid for 2018 is set, it’s interesting to take a look at what’s already set for next year.

CONFIRMED FULL-SEASON (19)

The only things to add here are Dale Coyne Racing’s second driver in the No. 19 Honda, the road and street course driver for Ed Carpenter Racing in its No. 20 Chevrolet who may or may not be able to get an Indianapolis 500 extra seat in a third car, and the expected confirmation of Carlin’s graduation into IndyCar after three seasons in Indy Lights.

  • Team Penske (3, Chevrolet): Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power
  • Chip Ganassi Racing (2, Honda): Scott Dixon, Ed Jones
  • Andretti Autosport (4, Honda): Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi, Marco Andretti, Zach Veach
  • Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (2, Honda): Graham Rahal, Takuma Sato
  • Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (2, Honda): James Hinchcliffe, Robert Wickens
  • Ed Carpenter Racing (2, Chevrolet): Spencer Pigot, Ed Carpenter (ovals)
  • A.J. Foyt Enterprises (2, Chevrolet): Tony Kanaan, Matheus Leist
  • Dale Coyne Racing (1, Honda): Sebastien Bourdais
  • Harding Racing (1, Chevrolet): Gabby Chaves

CONFIRMED PARTIAL SEASON/INDY ONLY (4)

  • Team Penske (1, Chevrolet): Helio Castroneves
  • Andretti Autosport (1, Honda): Stefan Wilson
  • Juncos Racing (1, TBD): Kyle Kaiser
  • Team TBD (1, TBD): Danica Patrick

Here’s where it gets interesting. Castroneves is Team Penske’s confirmed fourth, and Juan Pablo Montoya could be a hypothetical fifth if the stars align – but it’s not in the immediate plans at this moment.

Patrick also makes her somewhat surprising Indianapolis comeback and with Penske, Andretti Autosport and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing not fielding her, the stars are aligned for her to drive with Chip Ganassi Racing in what would be a third car. Neither Patrick nor Ganassi said it’s happening today, but Ganassi acknowledged discussions, via NASCAR Talk.

Wilson finally gets his Indianapolis 500 shot with Andretti a year later as its fifth car. The team ran six last year, with the two Indy-only entries coming in separate partnership efforts between McLaren and Honda (Fernando Alonso) and Michael Shank Racing (Jack Harvey).

Jack Harvey is a very intriguing story for how he’ll be racing next year. NBC Sports understands a working relationship is being hatched between Shank and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, and with Harvey bringing a program on behalf of AutoNation/SiriusXM to grow his role into a third-to-half season of racing, this could slot in nicely as SPM’s third car. While not “officially” confirmed, it would not be a surprise to see news revealed from the concerned parties in December.

How could Harvey become SPM three when SPM three was already announced, you ask? With the Calmels Sport with SPM program reportedly on thin ice after negative press, the unlikely union of the French team owner Didier Calmels, one-time open-wheel driver turned-sports car veteran Tristan Gommendy and SPM appears set to join the “announced and dropped before ever turning a wheel” club.

Kaiser’s four-race program with Juncos Racing was announced last month and the Indy Lights champion will likely have Chevrolet power, given the team’s existing relationship from 2017.

WHAT’S STILL TO COME

Playing it out a bit with the usual, “how many engines can each manufacturer provide” story, we know Honda ran 18 cars this year and was stretched to capacity, leaving Chevrolet with the remaining 15.

Work the math from here. Provided Carlin officially announces its entry (it still hasn’t to this point, but is known to have hired IndyCar personnel) and with Honda already stretched between its 12 previously announced full-season cars (4 Andretti, 2 Ganassi, 2 RLL, 2 SPM, 2 Coyne), with a 13th engine available at some races, Carlin would have to be at Chevrolet.

For Indianapolis, Honda already begins to work its car count further beyond those 13 (if SPM 3 gets added for more races) with Ganassi 3 (a TBD, but would be Patrick if confirmed here) and Andretti 5 (Wilson) to get to 15, which leaves just three leases at play to get to 18… again, this is in mid-November.

Provided Pippa Mann can work towards her annual appearance with Coyne, factor in a possible sixth Andretti car and an 18th Honda lease – perhaps a third car at RLL or fourth at Ganassi, SPM or Coyne – and suddenly the Honda inn would already be booked up.

Chevrolet would have the rest, and you can figure out the math from there.

It may only be mid-November, but the race to secure a berth on the grid for next May is already well underway.