Formula 1’s summer break may have been a time for relaxation and restoration, but championship leader Lewis Hamilton showed few signs of rust as he stormed to his tenth pole of the 2015 season in qualifying for the Belgian Grand Prix on Saturday.
Hamilton dominated proceedings in Q3 to beat Mercedes teammate and championship rival Nico Rosberg by almost half a second, marking the Briton’s sixth straight pole.
The result also saw Hamilton clinch the FIA Pole Trophy for 2015, awarded to the season’s best qualifier, but he will be hoping to receive a far bigger prize at the end of the year: a third world title.
The Belgian Grand Prix remains one of the most popular races on the F1 calendar, taking place at the fearsome Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps in the heart of the Ardennes forest.
A mix of fast, sweeping corners and brutal straights makes this race the ultimate challenge for both man and machine, whilst the track’s notoriety for changeable weather is sure to keep everyone on their toes today.
Here are a few things to watch out for in today’s Belgian Grand Prix.
HAMILTON LOOKS TO TURN THE SCREW
After dodging a bullet in Hungary and extending his championship lead, Hamilton now has the chance to take his advantage over Rosberg to almost 30 points with a win at Spa on Sunday.
The Briton has a mixed history at the Belgian Grand Prix, and although he struggled to find much of a rhythm in practice on Friday, he will be hoping to stamp his authority on the race with a trouble-free performance.
And in truth, he needs it. He may have pulled away from Rosberg in recent races, but Hamilton has not had an ‘easy’ weekend since the Canadian Grand Prix two months ago. Now would be a good time for him to stabilize himself ahead of the run to Abu Dhabi.
LES COMBES v2?
It was on the second lap of last year’s Belgian Grand Prix when Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg clashed in an incident that had massive on their fight for the drivers’ championship. That day, it was Rosberg who emerged the villain – he would beat Hamilton just once more in the whole season.
Although the tension at Mercedes does appear to have defused in recent months, all eyes will be on the Silver Arrows once again on Sunday when they go side-by-side into the corner. Rosberg knows that another defeat cannot be afforded, though.
CAN FERRARI FIGHT THROUGH THE FIELD?
One of the biggest shocks in qualifying on Saturday was the struggle of Ferrari. Just four weeks on from Sebastian Vettel’s win in Hungary, the German driver will start today’s race from eighth place on the grid after a poor performance in qualifying.
There was worse news for Spa master Kimi Raikkonen in qualifying, though, as a loss of oil pressure caused the Finn to stop out on track. Ferrari has opted to change the gearbox on his car, meaning that he will start from P19.
THE BATTLE FOR THE PODIUM
Just three-tenths of a second separated P3 to P9 in qualifying on Saturday, which around the long lap at Spa is next to nothing. As such, we appear to be in for a thrilling fight to complete the podium.
Valtteri Bottas led the way in the race to be ‘best of the rest’ in qualifying, finishing third. However, Sergio Perez’s straight line speed has been highly impressive thus far this weekend. Daniel Ricciardo, Romain Grosjean, Pastor Maldonado and Felipe Massa are also likely to be in the mix, whilst the Ferraris should also be considered despite starting further back.
NEW START PROCEDURE
The new rules for race starts in F1 come into force for this weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix, preventing the drivers from changing the bite point on their cars on the formation lap or from communicating with their engineers about the settings on their clutch.
It will be intriguing to see which drivers have adapted best to the new ruling at the start of the race on Sunday. Mercedes claims to have done all that it can to prepare, but after making poor getaways at Silverstone and the Hungaroring, Hamilton and Rosberg will need to be on their guard on the run down to La Source.
STARTING GRID FOR THE 2015 BELGIAN GRAND PRIX
1. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
2. Nico Rosberg Mercedes
3. Valtteri Bottas Williams
4. Sergio Perez Force India
5. Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull
6. Felipe Massa Williams
7. Pastor Maldonado Lotus
8. Sebastian Vettel Ferrari
9. Romain Grosjean Lotus
10. Carlos Sainz Jr. Toro Rosso
11. Nico Hulkenberg Force India
12. Daniil Kvyat Red Bull
13. Marcus Ericsson Sauber
14. Felipe Nasr Sauber
15. Will Stevens Manor
16. Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari
17. Roberto Merhi Manor
18. Max Verstappen Toro Rosso
19. Jenson Button McLaren
20. Fernando Alonso McLaren
The Belgian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and Live Extra from 7:30am ET on Sunday.