MotorSportsTalk’s predictions: Belgian GP

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The return of Formula One sees the return of MotorSportsTalk’s predictions which this week are particularly difficult given that we have lacked racing for almost one month now. Spa-Francorchamps is a track that often shakes up the pecking order, potentially firing a warning shot at Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull ahead of the rest of the season as both parties look for a fourth consecutive title. Alternatively, it could mark yet another spell of Red Bull dominance as per 2012.

Tony DiZinno (@tonydizinno)

Race winner: Kimi Raikkonen. Traditionally strong at Spa and motivated to get back to winning and close down further in the title chase.

Surprising finish: Adrian Sutil. More often than not he’s had poor luck on his return season but this is a track where Force India has done well. Could see a potential fifth or sixth place result in the offing for him, likely ahead of the McLarens and probably at least one Ferrari.

Most to prove: Romain Grosjean. After his La Source aerial attack a year ago, Grosjean needs a controlled, calm and full race at the legendary circuit.

Christopher Estrada (@estradawriting)

Race winner: Sebastian Vettel. At Spa, drivers spend 70 percent of a lap at full throttle, which puts emphasis on reliability. With that in mind, I’ll give the edge to Vettel in the consistent RB9; Mercedes certainly has a winning pace, but Nico Rosberg’s engine failure at Hungary makes me wonder if reliability could still be a question mark for them.

Surprising finish: Felipe Massa. Not sure if anybody else needed F1’s “summer vacation” more than the Brazilian. With his drive at Ferrari basically on the line in these next few events, though, I think he can rise to the challenge.

Most to prove: Paul di Resta. After Force India failed to score at either Germany or Hungary, di Resta needs to take advantage this weekend of what has been a traditionally strong track for the team.

Luke Smith (@LukeSmithF1)

Race winner: Kimi Raikkonen. The “King of Spa” will be looking to take a fifth victory this weekend, and with Lotus expected to run their passive DRS device, it is hard to look past the Finn.

Surprising finish: Paul di Resta. Force India traditionally run well at Spa, so there’s no reason why di Resta could not battle for the big points and potentially even a podium this weekend.

Most to prove: Esteban Gutierrez. He may claim a point is close, but actions speak louder than words. Gutierrez is in need of a good result with the Sirotkin story doing the rounds, also.

Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine)

Race winner: Fernando Alonso. It beggars belief that a driver of Alonso’s talent has never won at Spa in F1. I think Ferrari will come back strongly from their disappointing end to the first half of the season and get Alonso back into the title battle.

Surprising finish: Mark Webber. He always goes well on the proper circuits. Expect him to do something special on his last visit to one of the world’s great tracks in an F1 car.

Most to prove: Daniel Ricciardo. Rumours increasingly suggest he is going to get the call-up from Red Bull. But though he has often qualified well this year he’s not had the race results to go along with them, and there are questions over whether he’s ready to drive for the world champions.

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
Fatih Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
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Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed its new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with Ford Motor Co. in an event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and team principal Christian Horner.

It’s the first Formula 1 team to launch in the United States for 2023, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin, Texas, for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen already had wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts inevitably will turn to establishing a dynasty, and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his chief rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.