Hopes high at Williams for a successful Belgian GP

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With Formula One’s summer break now over, Williams is ready to start making their push for “best of the rest” status among the constructors behind the Mercedes works team.

First task at hand is this weekend’s Shell Belgian Grand Prix at the legendary Spa-Francorchamps, which emphasizes big speeds and good aerodynamics – and should play into the hands of the Merc-powered Williams camp.

Last time out in Hungary, Valtteri Bottas’ streak of podiums was snapped at three with an eighth-place showing, while veteran teammate Felipe Massa did somewhat better with a fifth-place result.

But both drivers believe that Spa will see them fighting a bit higher up on the leaderboard.

“The long straights should suit our car and we can kick the second half of the season off with some success,” said Massa of the beloved, notorious Spa. “I won here in 2008 and so I know what it takes to win.

“I have had a really nice summer break but am ready to get back to racing. We have some great tracks to look forward to and I hope we can carry on developing our car like we did the first half of the season, and continue to be near the front.”

Bottas also said that he too was ready to get back to business after the break.

“To be competitive in Spa, you need a car with efficient aerodynamics, so we expect to be strong and are aiming for a good result,” said the Finn. “The break has been long, so I am really looking forward to getting back in the car.”

The first half of the year was a well-received return to form for the Grove gang, which currently sits fourth in the constructors’ standings.

But if they’re to overtake Ferrari for third (+7 on Williams) and then reach their lofty goal of hunting down defending World Champions Red Bull for second (+84 on Williams), they can’t rest on their laurels.

“…Everyone is living and learning how to race back at the top again,” said Rob Smedley, Williams’ head of vehicle performance. “Hopefully, everybody has come back refreshed and motivated for the second half of the season.

“The objectives within the team are clear: We want to finish as high up in the constructors table as possible.”

You can see if Williams gets off to a good start on that mission by watching the Shell Belgian Grand Prix on Sunday at 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra.

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

Verstappen Perez United States
Jared C. Tilton / Getty Images
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Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed their new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with US-based Ford Motors in a press event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Team Principle Christian Horner. They are the only Formula 1 team to launch in the United States, 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 for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen had already 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 will inevitably 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 principle 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.