The Belgian Grand Prix is being touted as the place for Ferrari to finally record their first win of 2019.
In theory, it makes sense – Spa is a power-hungry circuit, and the Scuderia are good in a straight line but this script has been written a few times already this season and it is yet to be followed.
Ferrari are going into the Belgian GP totally void of momentum – Sebastian Vettel may well have finished P3 in Hungary, but that was a minute behind race winner Lewis Hamilton, while Max Verstappen was also miles up the road.
Vettel did of course claim victory around the 4.35 mile Spa circuit last season, breaking Mercedes’ three-year stranglehold on the venue, and this year the German racer returns more desperate than ever for a positive result, but will that desperation result in a Vettel of old display or another big mistake?
Verstappen has recently upgraded from battling Vettel’s team-mate Charles Leclerc to taking the fight to Hamilton.
We saw an exciting glimpse into the probable future of Formula 1 as Verstappen and Leclerc battled for the win in Austria while in Hungary we saw the present we are desperate to see before it’s too late.
Verstappen held off Hamilton to perfection for large parts of the race, but a Mercedes masterclass on the pitwall and some blistering pace from Hamilton saw him come good for win number eight of the season.
Spa is likely to be more of a challenge for Verstappen and Red Bull – Honda have made strides with their power unit, but it still has a deficit to Mercedes and Ferrari, which around Spa is going to be a problem.
We’re certainly not writing Max off though, only a fool would do so before a wheel has been turned, but another question that we will answer in Belgium is can Alex Albon be a match for Verstappen?
The former Toro Rosso man will make his Red Bull debut at the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps after the team finally said enough is enough for Pierre Gasly.
Like Gasly, Albon will be under great pressure and scrutiny from race one to provide some kind of threat to Verstappen, or at least get involved in his fights come race day, rather than trading shots with McLaren and Alfa Romeo which ultimately did for Gasly.
Gasly himself isn’t free of pressure though despite going back to Toro Rosso because we have seen this situation before – his new-team mate Daniil Kvyat in fact.
Kvyat got the boot from Red Bull in 2016, and after a strong start back at Toro Rosso his performances and mental state after that only nosedived further before he was dropped completely from the programme.
Gasly was the man who took over from Kvyat at the 2017 Malaysian Grand Prix after a run of poor form for the Russian, and Kvyat was unable upon his return in the United States to secure a 2018 drive.
But, Kvyat has bounced back since his reinstatement for 2019, securing Toro Rosso’s second ever podium with P3 in Germany, and Gasly will be desperate to avoid falling down the slippery slope that his team-mate did – perhaps having somebody with that experience of hitting rock bottom and rebounding beside him will help the Frenchman.
Toro Rosso need Gasly to score points if they are to reap the rewards of a very tight midfield pack, but currently McLaren are breaking away from that.
The summer break came at the wrong time for Carlos Sainz who scored back-to-back P5 finishes, but he will head to Spa with total confidence that he can target the hat-trick.
— Philip Duncan (@PhilDuncanF1) August 26, 2019
As for team-mate Lando Norris, we wait to see if the leg brace he’s been straddled with is only precautionary like McLaren are telling us – if not we may see a McLaren debut for Sergey Sirotkin.
The former Williams man splits his reserve driver duties between Renault and McLaren, but the former are not in a great place heading into the Belgian GP.
P6 in the Constructors’ Championship is not what they had in mind, while Nico Hulkenberg is looking likely to lose his seat to Esteban Ocon.
This could either give us a fired up Hulk in Belgium trying to save his drive, or a defeated one – we know the German is less than impressed with Renault’s lack of progress and he could even be pleased to have an escape route.
Haas resisted the rumours that they would make a change to their line-up over the summer break – Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen are still here and will both run the upgraded VF-19 after Grosjean’s recent experiments in the Australia-spec VF-19.
The next step for them both is to avoid hitting each other after the summer break allowed tensions to decrease, but over at Williams the tension is really ramping up.
George Russell has spoken out against the “hate” he is receiving from the Polish fans, claims which Robert Kubica didn’t take too kindly to, and indeed Russell pulled out of the Verva Street Racing event in Poland which the pair were scheduled to appear at together.
Kubica’s future is up in the air, something else he isn’t best pleased with, and all this is coming at the wrong time as Williams look to use Belgium to build on their best showing of the season in Hungary.
Away from all the politics, you have Kimi Raikkonen who is just loving life – as a four-time winner at Spa-Francorchamps expect him to be on form, Antonio Giovinazzi has his work cut out.