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Belgian Grand Prix restarts F1’s season this week on NBCSN

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The summer break is over at long last for Formula 1, with this week’s Belgian Grand Prix set to kick off a stretch of nine races over the next 14 weeks, and features three back-to-back runs.

The first of those races is the Belgian Grand Prix at the legendary Circuit de Spa-Francorhamps this weekend, with coverage on NBCSN, CNBC and the NBC Sports App.

NBCSN will feature live race (Sunday) and free practice two (Friday) coverage, with live qualifying coverage coming on CNBC (Saturday). The NBC Sports App will be the exclusive place to watch live for free practice one (Friday) and free practice three (Saturday), and streams all live sessions.

After three weeks off and the field’s rested, Spa presents an interesting test and a bit of varied history for the field.

Sebastian Vettel’s win at Hungary extended his points lead over Lewis Hamilton to 14 points, while Valtteri Bottas is a further 19 points back in third.

The Spa track should favor the Mercedes more than the Ferrari as more of a power circuit. Mercedes has won the last two races here with Nico Rosberg a year ago having kickstarted his championship season with a win here, and with Hamilton winning here in 2015.

Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull, 2014), Vettel (Red Bull, 2013) and Jenson Button (McLaren, 2012) make it five different Belgian Grand Prix winners in the last five years – none of which are Ferrari.

Ferrari’s most recent win here was in 2009 with Kimi Raikkonen, which also remains Raikkonen’s most recent Ferrari win – he hasn’t won a Grand Prix overall since the 2013 Australian Grand Prix at Melbourne with Lotus.

Raikkonen leads active drivers with four Belgian wins (2004, 2005, 2007, 2009) while Hamilton and Vettel have two apiece, Ricciardo has the 2014 win and Felipe Massa has a 2008 win here (albeit in controversial circumstances).

Beyond the top three teams, this track could play well for the Sahara Force India team, which has occasionally overachieved at this circuit. Giancarlo Fisichella scored a pole and second place finish for the team here in 2009 and there have been other fourth place finishes scored over the years. A big opportunity could present itself for the consistent points scoring pair of Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon. Williams, another Mercedes-powered team, will also look to have some success.

Hereā€™s the schedule, with stream links and TV network if applicable:

  • Practice 1: Friday, August 25, 4 a.m.-5:30 a.m. ET (Streaming)
  • Practice 2: Friday, August 25, 8 a.m.-9:30 a.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • Practice 3: Saturday, August 26, 5 a.m.-6 a.m. ET (Streaming)
  • Qualifying: Saturday, August 26, 8 a.m.-9:30 a.m. ET (CNBC)
  • Qualifying (Replay): Saturday, August 26, 12:30 p.m.-2 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • Pre-Race: Sunday, August 27, 7 a.m.-8 a.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • Race: Sunday, August 27, 8 a.m.-10 a.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • Post-Race: Sunday, August 27, 10 a.m.-10:30 a.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • Race (Replay): Sunday, August 27, 7 p.m.-9 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • Race (Replay): Monday, August 28, 3 p.m.-5 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • Formula 2: Sunday, August 27, 6 a.m.-7 a.m. ET (NBCSN)

The next race is the Italian Grand Prix, on September 3, for the second race in this back-to-back run.

INDYCAR announces several rules and protocol changes for 2018 season

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The 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series opener is still more than six weeks away (March 11, St. Petersburg, Florida).

But several rules and protocol changes that will impact much of the 17-race season were announced today by INDYCAR officials.

First is related to Indianapolis 500 qualifying on May 19-20, one week prior to the 102nd running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing:

* Driver and entrant points will be awarded to the top nine qualifiers for the race. The pole winner earns nine points and the second-fastest qualifier eight points, with awarded points decreasing by one point for each position down to one point earned by the ninth-fastest qualifier.

* Race points for the Indianapolis 500 and the 2018 season-ending Grand Prix of Sonoma on Sept. 16, will still pay double the normal points for driver and entrant.

There are several other changes on tap for the season, as well.

Hereā€™s a quick rundown of those changes (information courtesy of INDYCAR):

  • The qualifying order for all oval track events except the Indianapolis 500 will be determined by entrant points entering the event. The qualifying order will run in reverse order of entrant points, with the highest in entrant points qualifying last. A car without entrant points will be placed at the front of the qualifying line. If more than one car has no entrant points entering an event, a blind draw among those cars will determine their qualifying order at the front of the line. The qualifying order for the Indianapolis 500 will still be determined by a blind draw.
  • Times have been set for the series-wide open test at ISM Raceway (formerly Phoenix Raceway), scheduled for Feb. 9-10. The track will be open to all cars from 3-6 p.m. and 8-11 p.m. ET both days. INDYCAR has also added four hours of track time on Feb. 8 (3-7 p.m. ET) for rookie drivers to complete their oval test assessments.
  • The series-wide open test at Portland International Raceway will be held Aug. 30, a day prior to the beginning of the Grand Prix of Portland race weekend. Indy car racing returns to theĀ Pacific NorthwestĀ for the first time in 11 years in 2018.
  • A schedule change for the month of May will see the INDYCAR garages closed on May 13 – the day after the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course – to allow teams time off for Mother’s Day. The track will not be open to the public on this day. The garages will be open on May 14, but there will be no on-track activity.
  • Practice for the 2018 Indianapolis 500 begins Tuesday, May 15 on the IMS oval, with the first two hours open for rookie orientation and veteran refreshers, then to all cars. Practice continues May 16-18, ahead of qualifications weekend May 19-20.
  • INDYCAR is granting teams that did not participate in fall manufacturer testing with the universal aero kit an additional half day of private testing. The testing is limited to one car per team and must take place in conjunction with the team’s first on-track test of 2018. Each team is permitted five hours of track time and two sets of Firestone tires.
  • Working with Firestone, INDYCAR has increased the tire allotment at five events. The race weekends at ISM Raceway (Phoenix), the Raceway at Belle Isle Park in Detroit, Texas Motor Speedway, the streets of Toronto and Iowa Speedway will see teams receive an additional set of tires. In a related change, drivers outside the top 10 in the point standings will no longer have an extra set of tires available to them for the opening practice session of a race weekend.
  • The minimum car weight for 2018 has been increased by 10 pounds – to 1,620 pounds for road and street courses and short ovals, 1,590 pounds for superspeedways (both doĀ not include fuel, drink bottle and its contents, driver andĀ driver equivalency weight)Ā – to accommodate for new parts and additional on-car cameras related to the universal aero kit all competitors will run in 2018.