Formula One 2018
The mandatory F1 summer break – this year filled with a landslide of change – is finished. While very little will have functionally altered the lineup in Belgium this weekend, this summer will have major ramifications for the sport moving forward.
Rumours continue to swirl that there is more disruption on the horizon but the lone solid change at this point will be Force India’s name adjustment to Racing Point Force India, brought on by a change in ownership and emergence from administration.
There is also a bewildering deletion of their team points accumulated during the season thus far as a condition of this. But, being the political show that F1 is, it should be taken with the usual grain of salt. Aside that, everyone will line up for the anthems exactly as they have before.
Only a few hours remain before the pit lights turn green for the second half of the season. The question left to ask is: which line of history and trends do you trust?
Between 2004 and 2009, Kimi Raikkonen won four out of five grands prix held.
However, Lewis Hamilton has won two of the previous three – and three out of eight – with his former Mercedes teammate taking the outlier in 2016. Each of those three wins was decided by the dominant car of the day, as were Sebastian Vettel’s two victories during his Red Bull years.
What is different this year is that all three drivers have a dominant car and strong reasons for putting their best laps forward. All three are in a position to win the driver’s championship; Hamilton and Vettel each search for crown number five while Raikkonen continues to fight for his place at Ferrari, staving off the rumours surrounding young Charles LeClerc.
Fittingly, both teams are bringing engine and aerodynamic upgrades to best equip their drivers. This will also give the fourth man in the dominant team’s makeup, Valtteri Bottas, a machine capable of winning. That will be a high mountain to climb for him, given he faces three successful and fierce competitors.
Drama Across the Grid
The ebbs and flows of 2018 have been dramatic but confined at the top. Just when you expect Hamilton to win, Vettel comes from behind and leaves him in the dust (Britain).
Conversely, when those names are reversed the opposite has happened (Hungary). Luck has also been evenly placed, as the results in Austria and Germany demonstrated.
Further down the grid, the post-race classifications have been even more mixed this year; while Red Bull is a clear step behind the top two teams, they are also a clear step ahead of everyone else. Behind them, and their immensely talented duo, is a long line of debatable positions, each driver – outside of the Williams pairing – being capable of impressive things.
The unfortunate reality for the Williams Racing Team remains that they are the only sure bet on the grid – to finish at, or near, the back end of the race. Sauber will have a chance of points at Spa-Francorchamps, thanks to LeClerc and a factory-spec Ferrari engine also getting an update.
What will happen with McLaren is a giant question mark. Their form of late has been a steady downward trend and their practice pace leaves little room for optimism. I would count on Toro Rosso to continue to challenge, or surpass, them on track.
As mentioned, while Racing Point will now start this race with zero points it is not the reality of their team. Esteben Ocon and Sergio Perez are both enjoying credible seasons behind the wheel and should have no problem hauling their team out of the basement and back into a position they deserve.
Last year, their season-long feud culminated in massive disappointment during a classic iteration at Spa; multiple clashes between the teammates ended with fitting losses of earned points. However, 2018 has seen none of this and that rivalry is not expected to reignite in Belgium. The serious midfield curiosity centres around the Haas team and the Renault squad they are chasing.
With Romain Grosjean starting to bag points combined with Kevin Magnussen’s excellent and gritty form, Haas has the potential to make a serious push at overhauling their French rivals. But, Renault will not be an easy catch; their factory backing is likely a strong factor in convincing Daniel Ricciardo to move teams and has kept them solidly in the top midfield spot.
Considering that the team already has two superior drivers, it is doubtful the leapfrog will take place over the remainder of the season. Interestingly, Spa and the next race in Monza may be the best chance for Haas to chip away at the lead. Both are power-focussed circuits and the American team undoubtedly has the better engine.
Knives Clenched Between Their Teeth
The victory this Sunday will be a straight fight between the top two teams. Ferrari has led the in-season development race and arguably has the better car overall, with a few of Vettel’s mistakes overshadowing both slim championship leads favouring Mercedes.
The momentum currently also leans the Brackley team’s direction, though it has already seen considerable swings this season.
Should Ferrari’s trend of effective updates continue, Vettel keep his race clean, and Raikkonen enjoy the solid form that the fast and flowing Spa track has always provided him, it should be a very crimson Sunday.