Nico Rosberg will know that today’s Belgian Grand Prix is probably the best chance he’ll get to fight back into contention for the Formula 1 drivers’ championship.
After seeing his points advantage over Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton disappear through July and turn into a 19-point deficit, the German could move back into the lead on Sunday at Spa.
Hamilton will start the race from the last row of the grid after being hit with a 55-place grid drop for taking three new power units over the weekend, as forced by issues earlier in the season.
Rosberg, meanwhile, had a relatively untroubled run to pole on Saturday, seeing off the challenges from Max Verstappen and Kimi Raikkonen in Q3.
With the Mercedes drivers starting at either end of the grid, the race and title fight are finely-poised, which should make for a thrilling contest.
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Here’s what to watch for in today’s race.
2016 Belgian Grand Prix – What to watch for
Can Nico handle the pressure?
Rosberg’s title bid in 2016 has largely been built on the run of four race wins at the start of the year, all of which came after calm and well-executed displays. His form since then has been a little more erratic, allowing Hamilton back into the title fight.
Without his biggest rival for company at the front of the grid, Rosberg knows that victory should be his for the taking. Strategy will be key at Spa, and with Rosberg starting on softs as opposed to the quicker super-soft tires, he may struggle early on.
Nevertheless, this really should be Rosberg’s race to lose. And if he leaves Spa more than 19 points behind Hamilton, it would surely be a crushing psychological defeat.
Max Mania set to reach new heights
Spa is expecting its biggest attendance since 2002 on Sunday, bucking the trend of falling crowd figures that most European circuits are experiencing. Much of it is down to the success of Max Verstappen, who hails from the nearby Netherlands and lives in Belgium.
Tens of thousands of fans have made the trip across the border to cheer on Verstappen, turning the grandstands a shade of orange. Their support was rewarded with a charge to second place on the grid in qualifying, making Verstappen F1’s youngest ever front-row starter.
Starting on super-softs, Verstappen should have a pace advantage early on at Spa. Rosberg said that Red Bull’s long-run pace was concerning on Friday – could Verstappen charge to a second F1 victory?
Damage limitation the aim for Hamilton
While the penalty system may have looked somewhat farcical, Lewis Hamilton won’t care much. He now has three new power units that should see him to the end of the season barring any unexpected problems.
Hamilton has fought his way from the back of the grid before, most notably in Germany and Hungary in 2014. This time around though, it may prove more difficult. Mercedes is no longer way off in the distance compared to other teams – as such, it won’t be easy pickings.
Throw in a safety car period or two, and Hamilton could get into contention at the front of the pack. Otherwise, he needs to stay out of trouble and limit the damage of this weekend’s penalty.
All eyes on tires, both strategy and pressures
Tires are always a talking point at Spa, but this year they are proving to be particularly troublesome. Teams have been required to raise their tire pressures to prevent blow-outs, something that Felipe Massa called a “joke” earlier in the week.
That, combined with the variety of strategies on offer, could shake up the pecking order today. A three-stop race is most likely barring any safety car periods, and with temperatures higher than expected (sun at Spa? What is this sorcery?), it’s going to be a tough day for the pit wall. Lots to be lost and gained.
Opportunity knocks for lower midfield
The summer breaks appears to have done wonders for many of the teams in F1’s lower-midfield. Haas, Renault, Sauber and Manor all impressed in qualifying with their pace, and will be hopeful of repeating that kind of display in the race on Sunday.
For Haas, being on the right tire at the right time has been its biggest strength so far this season, making Spa a race where opportunities should be plenty. For Manor, today will see Esteban Ocon make his F1 debut – can he and/or Pascal Wehrlein add to its points haul this year?
2016 Belgian Grand Prix – Starting Grid
1. Nico Rosberg Mercedes
2. Max Verstappen Red Bull
3. Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari
4. Sebastian Vettel Ferrari
5. Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull
6. Sergio Perez Force India
7. Nico Hulkenberg Force India
8. Valtteri Bottas Williams
9. Jenson Button McLaren
10. Felipe Massa Williams
11. Romain Grosjean Haas
12. Kevin Magnussen Renault
13. Jolyon Palmer Renault
14. Carlos Sainz Jr. Toro Rosso
15. Pascal Wehrlein Manor
16. Felipe Nasr Sauber
17. Esteban Ocon Manor
18. Esteban Gutierrez Haas
19. Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso
20. Marcus Ericsson Sauber
21. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
22. Fernando Alonso McLaren