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F1 Preview: 2017 Belgian Grand Prix

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With its summer break over, Formula 1 bursts back into life this weekend as the Belgian Grand Prix kicks off a run of nine races in the next 14 weeks to take us to the season finale in Abu Dhabi at the end of November.

Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari went into the holiday season on a high after a dominant victory in the Hungarian Grand Prix, taking a one-two finish as the rival Mercedes team was left firmly second best.

Lewis Hamilton sits 14 points back from Vettel in the drivers’ championship after only finishing fourth in Hungary, giving up third place to Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas on the final lap to honor an in-race deal.

With the legendary Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps awaiting the drivers upon their return and the new-style 2017 cars to play with, one of the most spectacular challenges on the calendar should do much to snap them out of their summer slumber.

Here are the main storylines to keep track of in Belgium this weekend.

2017 Belgian Grand Prix – Talking Points

Vettel, Ferrari out to build on Hungary momentum

A four-week gap between races is hardly the ideal way to get momentum going, but after such a convincing win in Hungary, Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari will be eager to build quickly and push back Mercedes once again at Spa this weekend.

The Ferrari SF70H car has worked pretty well everywhere, but looks particularly strong on the slower-speed tracks – so, the exact opposite of Spa.

That said, the ebb and flow of this title fight heading into the closing stages of the season will mean the title could be settled by opportunistic smash-and-grab wins. Throw in a smattering of rain, and Ferrari may well be able to push Mercedes all the way at Spa, even if the track should suit the German marque’s W08 runner better.

200 up for Lewis Hamilton at Spa

It may not seem all that long ago that a fresh-faced British kid was getting into his McLaren for the very first time as a rookie, but this weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix will, in fact, be Lewis Hamilton’s 200th grand prix start.

Hamilton has fitted an enormous amount into his double-century of races, including three world titles, 57 wins, 110 total podiums and 67 pole positions – the last stat being an important one for this weekend.

Hamilton has the opportunity to draw level with Michael Schumacher for the overall record of 68 F1 poles in Saturday’s qualifying, and given the strengths of the Mercedes W08 around Spa’s high-speed layout, he has a good chance of doing so.

Records aside, the bigger focus for Hamilton will be on beating Vettel and reeling the Ferrari driver back in at the top of the drivers’ championship, having lost ground in Hungary and slipped to 14 points behind in the standings.

“How do you eat your frites?”

This was a question put to Max Verstappen not long into his F1 career by a journalist quizzing him on whether he was Dutch or Belgian. While he races under the Dutch flag, Verstappen was born in Belgium to a Belgian mother, growing up on the border between the two countries.

National questions aside, this weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix will feel very much like a home race to Verstappen, whose loyal Dutch fans will make the short trip to turn the grandstands orange. The atmosphere was electric last year, so don’t expect 2017 to be any different.

But also remember there is anΒ actual Belgian driver in the race: Stoffel Vandoorne (the first Belgian in his home race since Jerome d’Ambrosio in 2011 with Virgin). The McLaren youngster was formally confirmed by the team for 2018 yesterday, and will enter his home grand prix for the very first time this weekend – although he is due a hefty grid penalty due to Honda power units changes…

2017 cars come out to play at Spa

The revamped F1 cars for 2017 have received widespread acclaim from drivers and fans alike, thrilled by the added downforce and speed they have boasted so far this season.

But Spa will see the cars take on arguably the most exciting challenge yet, the circuit offering some of F1’s most iconic corners that should only become more spectacular this year.

As has been the case at a number of races this season, the lap record should easily be beaten this weekend – and while Eau Rouge may have been easy flat for a while, it’ll be all the more special with these new cars.

Driver market begins to shape up

The summer break is the perfect time for drivers and teams to begin to try and pin down their 2018 plans, as the market for next year begins to fall into place.

The confirmations of Kimi Raikkonen and Stoffel Vandoorne, while unsurprising, have tipped the dominoes that should help the remainder of the market to firm up.

Sebastian Vettel will likely be the next driver to move, with an extension at Ferrari for at least one more year expected, while Fernando Alonso’s plans remain a hot topic as McLaren considers its engine options.

After three weeks to think about things, will the drivers have any additional news for us this weekend?

2017 Belgian Grand Prix – Facts and Figures

Track: Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps
Corners: 19
Lap Record: Sebastian Vettel 1:47.263 (2009)
Tire Compounds: Ultra-Soft/Super-Soft/Soft
2016 Winner: Nico Rosberg (Mercedes)
2016 Pole Position: Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) 1:46.744
2016 Fastest Lap: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 1:51.583
DRS Zone: T19 to T1, T4 to T5

2017 Belgian Grand Prix – TV/Stream Times

Toyota No. 8 car wins the 24 Hours of Le Mans for third consecutive year

24 Hours of Le Mans

LE MANS, France — Toyota Gazoo’s No. 8 car comfortably won the 24 Hours of Le Mans by five laps Sunday to secure a third straight victory in the prestigious endurance race.

It was also a third consecutive win for Swiss driver Sebastien Buemi and Japan’s Kazuki Nakajima driving. Brendon Hartley was the other driver, having replaced two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso.

Buemi and Hartley sat on the side of the car as Nakajima drove toward the podium. Hartley won for a second time after tasting success with the Porsche LMP Team in 2017 before an unhappy season in Formula One.

The Swiss team’s Rebellion No. 1 featured American driver Gustavo Menezes and Brazilian Bruno Senna – the nephew of late F1 great Ayrton Senna.

It finished one lap ahead of Toyota Gazoo’s No. 7, with Rebellion’s No. 3 finishing in fourth place.

For much of the race it looked like Toyota’s No. 7 would win after leading comfortably from pole position. But late into the night the car encountered an engine problem and the 30-minute stop in the stands proved costly.

The race was first held in 1923. A total of 252,500 spectators attended in 2019, but there were none this year when the race started three months late because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“We miss the fans,” New Zealander Hartley said. “I look forward to seeing all the fans again.”

In other divisions:

United Autosports won the LMP2 division with the entry of Filipe Albuquerque, Paul Di Resta and Phil Hanson.

–In LMGTE Pro, the victory was claimed by Aston Martin Vantage AMR of Maxime Martin, Alex Lynn and Harry Tincknell (who drives for Mazda in the DPi division of IMSA).

–TF Sport won the LMGTE Am class.

The Toyota No. 7 took pole after former F1 driver Kamui Kobayashi narrowly edged out the Rebellion No. 1 team in qualifying.

In damp and humid conditions Mike Conway got away cleanly from the start, while Senna held off Buemi.

After nearly seven hours, Toyota’s No. 8 fell back after a 10-minute stop in the stands to fix a brake-cooling problem on Kazuki Nakajima’s car. Rebellion’s No. 1, driven by Frenchman Norman Nato, took advantage to move into second place behind Toyota’s No. 7.

Then came the decisive moment at 2:40 a.m. as the No. 7 – also featuring Argentine Jose Maria Lopez – encountered a turbo problem. When the car came back out it was back in fourth.

“We had a few problems early in the race,” Nakajima said. “Later they had a bigger issue than us.”

Rebellion’s No. 1 encountered a problem on the hood at around 9 a.m. and the change took six minutes, allowing the Rebellion No. 3 (Nathanael Berthon-Louis Deletraz-Romain Dumas) to close the gap.

It was becoming a tight battle between the two Rebellion cars behind Toyota’s No. 8.

At 12 p.m. Rebellion No. 3 with Dumas behind the wheel was only one second ahead of No. 1 driven by Menezes. Then both cars came in for a driver change with Deletraz swapping for Dumas on a lengthy stop, and Nato for Menezes as Rebellion No. 1 suddenly moved ahead of its team rival.

Dumas, a winner in 2016 with Porsche, appeared unhappy at the strategy decision to bring his car in first and the length of the stop. There were tense explanations in the team garage.

Colombian Tatiana Calderon, an F1 test driver with Alfa Romeo, was in the Richard Mille Racing Team in the LMP2 category. She was joined by German Sophia Florsch – an F3 driver – and Dutchwoman Beitske Visser. They placed ninth out of 24 in their category.