Following the month-long summer break, Formula 1 bursts back into life this weekend with the Belgian Grand Prix at the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps.
Spa stands as one of the most popular and fearsome tracks on the sport’s calendar, combining long straights with fast-sweeping corners such as Eau Rouge, which is widely regarded as being the best in F1.
The 20 drivers will have spent the last month relaxing and detoxing after a busy first half of the 2015 season, but will now be fully focused on the challenge that lies ahead.
A relentless run of nine races in the next 15 weeks will take the drivers from the classic circuits of Spa and Monza to the modern wonders of Singapore and Abu Dhabi, culminating with the latter’s grand prix on November 29.
Lewis Hamilton heads into the second half of the season as the championship leader after producing an escape act last time out in Hungary, but with Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg still within striking distance, there is everything to play for this weekend.
Here is our full preview of the 2015 Belgian Grand Prix.
2015 Belgian Grand Prix – Talking Points
Hamilton and Rosberg return to the site of their clash
One of the biggest turning points in last year’s championship battle came at Spa last year when, on lap two of the race, Nico Rosberg clipped Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton when trying to pass the Briton for the lead at Les Combes (pictured above). Rosberg bounced back to finish second, but ultimately caused Hamilton to retire, thus painting himself as the villain for the remainder of the season.
This time around, the tension between the two drivers has been defused. In fact, things have been rather tame since the Chinese Grand Prix when Rosberg last spoke out against Hamilton. With the Silver Arrows likely to lock out the front row once again though, all eyes will be on the duo when they head down to Les Combes for the first time on Sunday.
Can Ferrari surprise again?
Sebastian Vettel’s dominant victory in Hungary last month came as a shock to the majority of the F1 world as Ferrari genuinely outpaced and outclassed Mercedes in the race. All eyes will now be on the German driver to see if he can carry this form into the second half of the season at a track where he has won before.
The ban on driver aids for starts also comes into force for this race, placing even more pressure on Hamilton and Rosberg. As they found out in Hungary, it’s much, much harder to chase than be chased.
Pressure off, Kimi hopes to flourish at Spa
No driver racing in F1 can boast a more impressive record at Spa than Kimi Raikkonen. The Finn is a four-time winner of the Belgian Grand Prix, and could yet be a dark horse for this weekend’s race if Ferrari can upset Mercedes once again.
Yesterday we received the somewhat surprising news that Raikkonen would be staying with Ferrari for 2016, ending months of speculation about his future. With the pressure off, can Kimi rekindle some of his old form at his favorite track?
The driver market dominoes begin to fall
Speculation about Raikkonen’s future may have been nipped in the bud, but attention now turns to the rest of the field. Had the Finn left Maranello, we would most probably have seen a number of changes for 2016.
Now, it looks like the status quo will remain much the same. Valtteri Bottas would be foolish to race with anyone bar Williams, Nico Hulkenberg’s only option other than Force India appears to be Haas, and Jenson Button has less room for manoeuvre should McLaren opt to drop him for 2016.
Silly season may not be quite so silly in 2015, but it’s just about to heat right up.
McLaren hopes to build on Hungary success
After recording its first double-points finish of the season last time out in Hungary, McLaren arrives in Spa after the summer break with hopes of a repeat thanks to a number of engine upgrades from Honda.
Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button do not boast the best of records in the Belgian Grand Prix, yet both should not be ruled out of more points this weekend if the upgrades do deliver a sizeable pace increase.
At a track where the grunt of one’s power unit will be decisive, though, it will need to be a very big step for McLaren if it is to repeat its fifth-place finish from Hungary.
2015 Belgian Grand Prix – Facts and Figures
Track: Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps
Lap Record: Sebastian Vettel 1:47.263 (Red Bull, 2009)
Tire Compounds: Soft (Option); Medium (Prime)
2014 Winner: Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull)
2014 Pole Position: Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) 2:05.591
2014 Fastest Lap: Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) 1:50.511
DRS Zone: Main Straight (T19 to T1); T4 to T5
2015 Belgian Grand Prix – TV Times
Free Practice 1: NBC Sports Live Extra 4am ET 8/21
Free Practice 2: NBCSN 8am ET 8/21
Free Practice 3: NBC Sports Live Extra 5am ET 8/21
Qualifying: CNBC 8am ET 8/22
Race: NBCSN 7:30am ET 8/23