Getty Images

F1 Preview: 2017 Belgian Grand Prix

Leave a comment

With its summer break over, Formula 1 bursts back into life this weekend as the Belgian Grand Prix kicks off a run of nine races in the next 14 weeks to take us to the season finale in Abu Dhabi at the end of November.

Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari went into the holiday season on a high after a dominant victory in the Hungarian Grand Prix, taking a one-two finish as the rival Mercedes team was left firmly second best.

Lewis Hamilton sits 14 points back from Vettel in the drivers’ championship after only finishing fourth in Hungary, giving up third place to Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas on the final lap to honor an in-race deal.

With the legendary Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps awaiting the drivers upon their return and the new-style 2017 cars to play with, one of the most spectacular challenges on the calendar should do much to snap them out of their summer slumber.

Here are the main storylines to keep track of in Belgium this weekend.

2017 Belgian Grand Prix – Talking Points

Vettel, Ferrari out to build on Hungary momentum

A four-week gap between races is hardly the ideal way to get momentum going, but after such a convincing win in Hungary, Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari will be eager to build quickly and push back Mercedes once again at Spa this weekend.

The Ferrari SF70H car has worked pretty well everywhere, but looks particularly strong on the slower-speed tracks – so, the exact opposite of Spa.

That said, the ebb and flow of this title fight heading into the closing stages of the season will mean the title could be settled by opportunistic smash-and-grab wins. Throw in a smattering of rain, and Ferrari may well be able to push Mercedes all the way at Spa, even if the track should suit the German marque’s W08 runner better.

200 up for Lewis Hamilton at Spa

It may not seem all that long ago that a fresh-faced British kid was getting into his McLaren for the very first time as a rookie, but this weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix will, in fact, be Lewis Hamilton’s 200th grand prix start.

Hamilton has fitted an enormous amount into his double-century of races, including three world titles, 57 wins, 110 total podiums and 67 pole positions – the last stat being an important one for this weekend.

Hamilton has the opportunity to draw level with Michael Schumacher for the overall record of 68 F1 poles in Saturday’s qualifying, and given the strengths of the Mercedes W08 around Spa’s high-speed layout, he has a good chance of doing so.

Records aside, the bigger focus for Hamilton will be on beating Vettel and reeling the Ferrari driver back in at the top of the drivers’ championship, having lost ground in Hungary and slipped to 14 points behind in the standings.

“How do you eat your frites?”

This was a question put to Max Verstappen not long into his F1 career by a journalist quizzing him on whether he was Dutch or Belgian. While he races under the Dutch flag, Verstappen was born in Belgium to a Belgian mother, growing up on the border between the two countries.

National questions aside, this weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix will feel very much like a home race to Verstappen, whose loyal Dutch fans will make the short trip to turn the grandstands orange. The atmosphere was electric last year, so don’t expect 2017 to be any different.

But also remember there is an actual Belgian driver in the race: Stoffel Vandoorne (the first Belgian in his home race since Jerome d’Ambrosio in 2011 with Virgin). The McLaren youngster was formally confirmed by the team for 2018 yesterday, and will enter his home grand prix for the very first time this weekend – although he is due a hefty grid penalty due to Honda power units changes…

2017 cars come out to play at Spa

The revamped F1 cars for 2017 have received widespread acclaim from drivers and fans alike, thrilled by the added downforce and speed they have boasted so far this season.

But Spa will see the cars take on arguably the most exciting challenge yet, the circuit offering some of F1’s most iconic corners that should only become more spectacular this year.

As has been the case at a number of races this season, the lap record should easily be beaten this weekend – and while Eau Rouge may have been easy flat for a while, it’ll be all the more special with these new cars.

Driver market begins to shape up

The summer break is the perfect time for drivers and teams to begin to try and pin down their 2018 plans, as the market for next year begins to fall into place.

The confirmations of Kimi Raikkonen and Stoffel Vandoorne, while unsurprising, have tipped the dominoes that should help the remainder of the market to firm up.

Sebastian Vettel will likely be the next driver to move, with an extension at Ferrari for at least one more year expected, while Fernando Alonso’s plans remain a hot topic as McLaren considers its engine options.

After three weeks to think about things, will the drivers have any additional news for us this weekend?

2017 Belgian Grand Prix – Facts and Figures

Track: Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps
Corners: 19
Lap Record: Sebastian Vettel 1:47.263 (2009)
Tire Compounds: Ultra-Soft/Super-Soft/Soft
2016 Winner: Nico Rosberg (Mercedes)
2016 Pole Position: Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) 1:46.744
2016 Fastest Lap: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 1:51.583
DRS Zone: T19 to T1, T4 to T5

2017 Belgian Grand Prix – TV/Stream Times

F1 Preview: 2018 Australian Grand Prix

Photo: Getty Images
Leave a comment

Save for two occasions, in 2006, and 2010, the Australian Grand Prix has served as the season-opening event for the FIA Formula 1 World Championship since 1996, and this weekend’s event will be the 21st time that the city of Melbourne has kicked off the Formula 1 campaign.

The 2018 season is the fifth one of the current hybrid power unit era, the second season of the current aero regulations, and the second under Liberty Media’s guidance.

Last year saw titans Mercedes AMG Petronas and Scuderia Ferrari duel for supremacy for most of the season before Mercedes distanced Ferrari late in the season to take the constructor’s title and the driver’s title, with Lewis Hamilton, who is now tied with Sebastian Vettel on four world championships apiece.

Four drivers on the grid have Formula 1 world championships to their name: Hamilton, Vettel, Kimi Raikkonen, and Fernando Alonso. Scuderia Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley also has a world championship to his name as a two-time titlist in the FIA World Endurance Championship.

So, what can viewers expect from the 2018 curtain-raiser in Australia? A handful of things to watch are below?

2018 Australian Grand Prix – Talking Points

Does Anyone Have Anything for Mercedes?

Only on one day during pre-season testing did a Mercedes driver lead the way – Lewis Hamilton was fastest on the final day of Week 1 at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.

However, all indications were that was by design, with the team focusing the majority of the second week, if not the entire second week, on long runs with their W09 EQ Power+ chassis.

Such a decision is an ominous one, in that it indicates the team is very comfortable with the amount of speed in the car and did not see a need, or desire, to show their hand during testing.

With that in mind, the Mercedes duo of Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas may yet again have the best and fastest cars, and the team looks poised to potentially make it five constructor’s and driver’s championships in a row.

Ferrari and Red Bull Look to End Mercedes Reign

The biggest threats to Mercedes are undoubtedly Ferrari and Red Bull, the only other teams to win in 2017.

And both teams displayed a lot of pace during testing, particularly in the “one-lap speed” category. Ricciardo set a lap record around the Catalunya circuit during the second week, only for Vettel to supplant that mark later in the week. Teammate Kimi Raikkonen led the way during the final day of testing.

It is unknown how that pace will translate over the course of a race distance. Mercedes appeared to have an edge on both Ferrari and Red Bull over long runs and race simulations, but there is also a theory that neither Ferrari nor Red Bull had their true long-run form on display.

Still, if a team is going to knock off Mercedes, it will likely be either Ferrari or Red Bull.

McLaren on the Rebound?

Put simply, the previous three seasons for McLaren F1 Team were a bit of a disaster. Their partnership with Honda yielded point totals of 27 (2015), 76 (2016), and 30 (2017) in a three-year venture that was defined by poor reliability and underwhelming power.

The relationship hit a boiling point last year and both entities parted ways ahead of the 2018 season, with McLaren signing a new power unit deal with Renault.

Testing went better than in previous years, though the team continued to battle reliability problems. However, all issues appeared to be minor, needling issues rather than more significant, foundational problems, as the other Renault teams (Red Bull and Renault Sport F1 Team) had solid runs with few reliability issues.

The car does appear to have speed in it, so if the reliability problems are behind them, McLaren could be in for a rebound season.

Stuck in the Midfield Again

Formula 1’s battle amongst the midfield is set to be as fierce as ever as a host of a several teams have a chance at being “best of the rest.”

Sahara Force India has been the frontrunner from the the midfield teams each of the last two years, finishing fourth in the constructor’s title in both 2016 and 2017, though if the steady conflict between drivers Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez continues through 2018, it could hamper their efforts significantly.

Renault Sport F1 Team and Haas F1 Team look to improve on their 2017 form, while Toro Rosso is in a new partnership with Honda power units…and has experienced a surprisingly smooth pre-season as Honda’s 2018 platform looks significantly better, with the team enjoying a solid run of testing with few, if any, reliability problems.

Williams Martini Racing and Alfa Romeo Sauber appear to be at the back of the pack entering the season, but both could battle for points finishes if those ahead of them falter.