Hopefully refreshed, after a couple of weeks off for summer break, the Formula One circus will reconvene at “The Drivers Track”, Spa Francorchamps in Belgium, to recommence the fight for the 2013 World Drivers and Manufacturers Championships.
During the first half of the season the number of genuine contenders has already thinned out to four for the drivers championship in the persons of championship leader Sebastian Vettel, Kimi Räikkönen, Fernando Alonso, and Lewis Hamilton.
In all probability there are just two contenders for the Manufacturers championship, that being Red Bull and Mercedes Benz, that is not to say, however, that there are not mathematical permutations for others but on present form these are the two that seem most likely.
Located in the Ardennes Mountains the Spa circuit is the track all the drivers want to win on. It’s the one win that earns respect among peers like no other with features such as the breathtaking turn know as Eau Rouge.
Spa was once run entirely on public roads, I stumbled across it in the middle of the night on a trans- European drive once, only recognizing where I was when I saw the bill boards on the old start finish straight, needless to say, I was in awe. Now the circuit is mostly run on a dedicated track.
Generally speaking even if the sun is shining the temperatures remain cool and this will almost certainly favor the man, on current form, most likely to alleviate Sebastian Vettel of a fourth consecutive World Drivers Championship, Lewis Hamilton.
Hamilton sits fourth in the table 48 points behind championship leader Vettel, but Mercedes Benz have momentum wining seven of the seasons ten pole positions, the last three to Lewis, and three of the last five races, with the final one going again to Lewis in Hungary.
With the introduction of new Kevlar belted Pirelli tyres in Hungary, it appears that Mercedes Benz problems with overheating rubber may at last be behind them, much to the chagrin of the other competitors.
Betting on anyone other than Lewis to win pole and the race would be akin to giving a casino a cash hand out. Lewis won on this circuit in 2010 and I’d put good money on his team-mate Nico Rosberg qualifying and finishing second as well.
If ability and experience alone were to boost ones chances of winning at Spa then Kimi Räikkönen will also be a contender. During the summer break he took time out to test a 400hp Dallara GP3 open wheel feeder series car for his friends Koiranen GP team.
Kimi did not just do ten or even twenty laps he drove 58 laps just eight short of a full Grand Prix distance at the Circuit de Catalunya which hosts the Spanish Grand Prix.
Kimi is bullish about his chances in Belgium where he has won four times, the last in 2009 for Ferrari, more than anyone else on Sunday’s grid. I’m not sure Kimi’s Lotus will have the pace of the Mercedes Benz cars, but I would not bet against Kimi finishing third on the podium.
The pressure on Sebastian Vettel, with his significant points lead, is not to win the race but to finish in the points at all costs and dropping 3 points to Kimi in the championship would not be a disaster by any stretch of the imagination. Sebastian will want to win this race but on current form his car does not have the outright speed of Mercedes Benz and he will not want or need to take any risks dicing over third place.
Which leaves the final championship contender Fernando Alonso to consider, on recent form the Ferrari has not been fast enough in qualifying to give Fernando any chance of fighting for the win and it is by his own admission simply Ferrari’s tyre strategy that has seen him finish 4th and 5th in the last two races, barring a miracle development over the holiday period I expect nothing more from Ferrari in Belgium.
Of the rest I expect, soon to retire, Mark Weber to finish sixth and console himself with his fourth fastest race lap of the season. Last years Belgian GP winner Jenson Button is likely to follow the Australian into seventh. The McLaren team with help from Mexican Sergio Perez will be disappointed to leave Belgium without a small points advantage over Force India in the manufacturers championship.
Force India drivers Paul di Resta and Adrian Sutil should be able to manage ninth and tenth place finishes on recent form. Such are the demands of the Spa Francorchamps circuit, which amplifies the differences between the best and worst cars it is hard to see anyone else scoring points unless by default.
The pressure will be on Ferrari and Lotus number 2 drivers Felipe Massa and Romain Grosjean, respectively, to deliver strong finishes but I suspect this will elude them here even though Massa won this race in 2008.
Failing an unusual amount of carnage or mechanical attrition Torro Rosso drivers Jean-Eric Vergne and Daniel Ricciardo should have an interesting battle between themselves ahead of Sauber Nico Hülkenberg with Pastor Maldonado and Valtteri Bottas in the Williams not too far behind.
The Caterhams of Charles Pic and Giedo van der Garde on current form have the pace to beat the Marussia’s driven by Jules Bianchi and Max Chilton, but Caterham will require a lot of luck to finish the race twelfth or better that’s required to pass the seasons wooden spoon over to Marussia.
In summary I expect the Silver Arrows to show some brawn, as in Ross Brawn….Mercedes Team Director… in Belgium and pull off their first 1-2 finish since Stirling Moss held off Mercedes Benz team-mate Juan Manuel Fangio to win the 1955 British Grand Prix, if they don’t I’ll be praying for Kimi to deliver and keep some semblance of pressure on Sebastian Vettel.
If I seem very sure of what will happen in Belgium make no mistake there is only one thing I am truly sure of, and that is the saying of long time Formula One commentator Murray Walker “anything can happen in Formula One and it usually does”. I hope you, like me, are looking forward in anticipation.