F1 Preview: 2018 Belgian Grand Prix

Photo: Getty Images

After the usual summer break, Formula 1 is back in action this weekend for the Belgian Grand Prix at the daunting Spa-Francorchamps. Nine races remain in the 2018 season, with only two being on European soil – from the Singapore Grand Prix to the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, races will be held away from the teams’ European hubs.

Spa represents the first of those two European rounds. And last year, it saw the beginning of the end for Ferrari’s championship hopes.

Sebastian Vettel entered last year’s race with a 14-point lead over Lewis Hamilton. Hamilton went on to win that day, and again one week later at the Italian Grand Prix.

Those wins vaulted Hamilton into the championship lead. And while Vettel captured the pole at Singapore, things completely fell apart on Lap 1, with contact between Vettel, Max Verstappen, and Kimi Raikkonen causing all three to crash out, leaving Hamilton to take the win.

Fast forward to 2018, and it’s Hamilton now with the edge on Vettel. He leads the Ferrari driver by 24 points entering Spa, with Vettel looking to emulate what Hamilton did last year: take a needed victory and use it to launch a championship run in the final nine races.

Talking points ahead of the Belgian Grand Prix are below.

The Seesaw of Momentum

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – MARCH 25: Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF71H leads Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes WO9 on track during the Australian Formula One Grand Prix at Albert Park on March 25, 2018 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Ferrari and Mercedes appear very evenly matched. Perhaps Ferrari has a slight advantage in outright speed, but it’s not enough to be noticeable, and it certainly has not resulted in a dominating performance from Ferrari – Vettel is second to Hamilton in the driver’s championship, and Ferrari is currently second to Mercedes in the constructor’s championship.

This is the result of a topsy-turvy season that has seen momentum shift almost at every other race. Vettel had back-to-back wins in Australia and Bahrain to start the year before stumbling in China – Red Bull and Daniel Ricciardo won that day – while Hamilton broke into the winner’s column at Azerbaijan and Spain.

Ricciardo won again at Monaco, with Vettel returning to his dominant form in Canada on the way to victory, while Hamilton languished in sixth.

Things swung back in Hamilton’s favor in France, where he led a Mercedes 1-2, but a disastrous outing in Austria saw both he and Valtteri Bottas DNF with mechanical failures while Ferrari finished second and third with Raikkonen and Vettel – Red Bull took another opportunistic win that day, this time with Max Verstappen.

Vettel won again in Great Britain, while Hamilton rebounded from a Lap 1 spin to finish second, but a Vettel crash in Germany opened the door for Hamilton to get back on top of the podium. A win in Hungary for Hamilton and a second place for Vettel capped a wild opening 12 races.

In short, the 2018 F1 season can best be described as unpredictable, and a track as daunting as Spa can add to that.

While the layout is challenging enough, its size and placement in the Ardennes Forest means weather can wreak havoc – rain has often hit one part of the track and left the remainder dry. And if weather intervenes this weekend, things can get turned completely upside down…again.

Silly Season in High Gear

HOCKENHEIM, GERMANY – JULY 22: Daniel Ricciardo of Australia and Red Bull Racing prepares to drive on the grid before the Formula One Grand Prix of Germany at Hockenheimring on July 22, 2018 in Hockenheim, Germany. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

There may not have been any races during the summer break, but there wasn’t a lack of news. Daniel Ricciardo kicked things off when he revealed a switch to Renault for 2019, and then Fernando Alonso stole the headlines by confirming his departure from F1 at the end of the season. McLaren then almost immediately confirmed Carlos Sainz Jr. as Alonso’s replacement, followed by Red Bull confirming Pierre Gasly for 2019 (per Formula 1’s website). In short, the silly season musical chairs are in full swing.

A number of drivers and teams are still yet to be confirmed for 2019, so more news on that front could be revealed in the coming weeks.

Home Races for Verstappen, Vandoorne

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY – JULY 26: Max Verstappen of Netherlands and Red Bull Racing talks to the media during previews ahead of the Formula One Grand Prix of Hungary at Hungaroring on July 26, 2018 in Budapest, Hungary. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Belgium also represents a home race for a pair of young guns.

Max Verstappen identifies as Dutch and races under the Dutch flag, but his mother is from Belgium, and Spa has been a defacto “home race” for the 20-year-old since he entered F1. And the enthusiasm behind him has grown every year since 2016, so expect a raucous crowd to back him, especially if he can contend for a podium.

Vandoorne does not have the same fanfare Verstappen does, but he’ll be no less motivated to have a strong outing this weekend.

After scoring points in three of the first four races, Vandoorne’s season has come unglued, and he hasn’t scored a point since Azerbaijan. Given that he also is not yet confirmed for the 2019 season, he’ll be looking to end that streak this weekend on home soil.


  • Force India came out of administration quickly after entering it, but they are now competing under a new name: Racing Point Force India (per Formula 1’s website). As such, the team’s standing has been reset – Racing Point Force India has zero points, and the old Force India entry has been excluded from the championship for failing to complete the season. However, drivers Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez retain their placings in the driver’s championship.
  • Sergey Sirotkin is the only driver yet to score a point in 2018. The Williams team has fallen on desperate times, but if a point can be had, it would do Sirotkin’s rookie campaign a world of good.


Cadillac confirms WEC driver lineup with Chip Ganassi Racing that will race Le Mans in 2023

Cadillac Ganassi Le Mans
Cadillac Racing

Cadillac and Chip Ganassi Racing announced their driver lineup for a 2023 entry in the FIA World Endurance Championship, the sports car series that includes the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The Cadillac V-LMDh entry will be driven by Earl Bamber and Alex Lynn, who were teamed on the No. 02 Cadillac that competed in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship DPi class this season and won the Twelve Hours of Sebring. The third driver will be Richard Westbrook, who will return to Ganassi after helping the team to a GT class win at Le Mans in 2018.

The team also will compete in the Rolex 24 at Daytona in the rebranded Grand Touring Prototype premier category, which is designed for crossover between the top prototypes in IMSA and WEC. Ganassi will field a second entry at Daytona with its No. 01 Cadillac that will compete full time in IMSA with Sebastien Bourdais and Renger van der Zande.

A Ganassi spokesman said the team hopes to run its second entry in the 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans but only its WEC team is confirmed (an AOC invitation would be required for the IMSA team). The team also is exploring options but currently plans to have the WEC’s team base of operations in Indianapolis.

Ganassi is the first American-based prototype team to confirm its entry in the 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans. It’s expected that Team Penske, which raced this year’s Le Mans with a full-time WEC entry in LMP2, also will race Le Mans with Porsche’s new LMDh car that is set for IMSA, but the manufacturer has yet to confirm its driver and team lineup.

Next year will mark the return of Cadillac to Le Mans for the first time since 2002.

Before joining Ganassi last year, Lynn made 28 WEC starts since 2016, winning the LMGTE Pro class at Le Mans in 2020.

“I’m absolutely thrilled to continue with Cadillac and Chip Ganassi Racing,” Lynn said in a release. “It’s a huge honor to drive for Chip in any capacity but certainly on a full factory sports car program, it’s seriously cool. Cadillac has so much heritage as a luxury North American sports car brand, so to be able to represent them is a huge privilege. I’ve had a lot of fun in my first year doing it and to continue that onto the World Endurance Championship stage is fantastic.

“For me, returning to WEC is sort of what I’ve always known and it’s a bit like going into my wheelhouse. This year in IMSA was a bit different with getting to know all-new circuits and a new style of racing so 2023 will be filled with a bit more of what I’m used to with more of a European focus. I think what’s significant about WEC is without a doubt Le Mans. As a sports car race, Le Mans is the crown jewel and everything that we want to win. To be able to take Chip Ganassi Racing and Cadillac back to Le Mans to fight for overall honors is a huge honor and that’s something that I’m going to work tirelessly to make sure we achieve.”

Bamber won the Le Mans overall in 2015 and ’17 with Porsche teams and also was a 2019 GTLM champion in IMSA.

“I am really happy to continue at Chip Ganassi Racing and Cadillac,” Bamber said in a release. “I’ve loved my first season in DPi and now to continue over into the LMDh era and WEC is super exciting. Looking forward to fighting for a world championship and another Le Mans victory.

“The World Endurance Championships gives us the opportunity to race at the world’s biggest race, which is Le Mans, the crown jewel of sports car racing. I’ve been lucky enough to win it before and it’s obviously a huge goal for Cadillac and everyone at Chip Ganassi Racing. To have that goal in sight is really exciting. It’s been great to have Alex as a teammate in 2022. We’ve been able to learn and grow together in the DPi, and we have a really good partnership going into WEC. We know each other really well and believe adding Richard will be a seamless transition.”

Said Westbrook: “After four really good years at Chip Ganassi Racing, I’ve got so many friends there and I’ve always dreamt to come back one day. It just worked so well between 2016 and 2019, and I’m delighted we found a route to come together again. I can’t wait, it’s an exciting era in sports car racing right now.

“I feel like I know Alex and Earl really well. I did Le Mans with Alex in 2020 and I’ve known him for years. It feels like I’m going back with an ex-teammate and exactly the same with Earl. Although I’ve never shared a car with Earl, we’ve always done the same sort of racing be it in WEC or in IMSA. We’ve had lots of battles, including this year in our dueling Cadillacs. We’ve always gotten along quite well, and I can say we’re going to have a great year together.”

The seven-race WEC season, which also includes a stop at Spa, will begin March 17 with the 1,000 Miles of Sebring at Sebring International Raceway in Florida.