After a long summer break, F1 returns to action this weekend at the legendary Spa-Francorchamps. Spa has thrown up a lot of drama in the past, so could F1’s exciting run continue in the Ardennes forest? The intriguing storylines going into the weekend certainly indicate so.
Unusually for Spa, constant sunshine is expected, but the temperature is expected to vary throughout the weekend. Friday and Sunday are expected to be at around 20 degrees centigrade, whilst Saturday is expected to be near the 30s. That is a massive difference and could mean Parc Ferme causes some headaches for Mercedes, who need to really adapt to cool their car.
The common opinion is that Ferrari will be the team to beat this weekend, and that is a logical opinion. Their strong point has been straight line speed due to their more powerful engine, and this track rewards that. The big question is how much can Mercedes close the gap in the corners, with the Bus Stop Chicane and La Source hairpin where the car will come into its own. They could be closer than many think. The other question will be whether Ferrari will falter in anyway. They have had a pace advantage in many races but haven’t capitalised due to poor strategy decisions, reliability issues or driver errors.
Red Bull and Verstappen cannot be counted out of the fight as well. I believe they will be a lot faster than they have been in recent years at this track. The Honda engine, although not as powerful as the Ferrari and the Mercedes, is a step up from the Renault they had last year. Red Bull have proven in the past they are very good at setting their car up for this particular track to counter the engine deficit. So Verstappen, with the sea of orange in the stands and banks behind him, will be there. Alexander Albon’s first race for Red Bull has already taken a knock through an engine penalty which will mean he start at the back of the grid. Quite a challenge in his first race for Red Bull.
The midfield is going to be intriguing as many teams will have brought upgrades. Despite the power deficit with the Renault engine, I am expecting McLaren to head that battle as usual this weekend. Alfa Romeo and Haas, with the Ferrari engine will likely be faster than usual due to the increased straight line speed, but that will account for nothing for Haas if they cannot fix their tyre issues. Racing Point I am expecting to fight for points, they are typically strong round here and will probably have updates. Renault I fear will struggle more than usual this weekend due to their ongoing issues they have had along with the power deficit of the Renault engine. Toro Rosso will likely be in the fight for points especially if Pierre Gasly hasn’t had his confidence damaged too much by his demotion. Williams have been getting closer to the pack and a summer break will help them. However despite that they will likely be bringing up the rear.
F1’s leading feeder series also are back in action this weekend. Formula 2 is set to be a fascinating one with just four weekends to go. Championship leader Nick De Vries and Spa have proven to be a pretty formidable combination, especially last year, where he dominated the feature race. Nicholas Latifi, his main rival was victorious in the sprint race, could we see a repeat of last year with the winners? Could Mick Schumacher, who got his maiden Euro F3 win at this track last year repeat his Hungary triumph? UNI-Virtuosi and DAMS cannot be underestimated either.
F3 is set to be fascinating as well, as Juri Vips is looking to be a real challenger to the Prema drivers for the championship. Jehan Daruvala won the first F3 race at this track last year, but this car is a different beast. I am expecting Prema to be strong but despite looking less competitive in Hungary, momentum is with him so he will likely be very strong. The reverse grid race is harder to predict as there are so many drivers who can win by benefiting from reverse grid pole. It will all depend on how they finish on Saturday when it comes to who has the best shot.