Refreshed from the summer break, the Formula One season continues this weekend in Belgium at the famous Spa-Francorchomps circuit.
One of the drivers’ favourite tracks, Spa is always a highpoint on the Formula One calendar, and a race that tends to produce drama. The 2019 season has come alive in recent races after a predictable, Mercedes-dominated start. Lewis Hamilton’s pursuit of Max Verstappen, and eventual victory, at the Hungarian Grand Prix last time out was the latest thrilling finale.
Hamilton’s victory extended his lead atop the Drivers’ Championship to 62 points over his teammate Valtteri Bottas with Verstappen sitting a further seven behind the Finn. The Brit is barrelling towards a sixth title – it’s a question of when, rather than if.
While Hamilton will fancy his chances of victory this weekend, it’s the two Ferraris that deserve the favourites tag. Level with Mercedes at +100 to be the winning team, Ferrari’s power unit should put their noses in front at Spa. Sectors one and three will see Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc go quickest, but they could have a trickier time in sector two, where slower corners will give Red Bull and Mercedes an advantage.
A combination of driver error, misjudged strategy and bad luck have seen Ferrari suffer a pretty miserable 2019 to date. The Belgian Grand Prix marks a year since Vettel’s last race win. Vettel will have benefited as much as any driver from the break, giving him an opportunity to recharge his batteries after a testing last few months.
Sugar House have both Vettel and Leclerc at +300 to win the race. Splitting the two isn’t easy. Leclerc has, at times, shown greater pace than his vastly more experienced rival, but the Monegasque youngster has made his fair share of mistakes.
The pressure is on Vettel. With a battle for top spot on the team, finishing behind his teammate this weekend would be a blow not just to this season, but his Formula One career. Leclerc’s aggressive driving, and difficulty managing tyres, could turn the race in Vettel’s favour this weekend. Spa eats up tyres, and if Leclerc isn’t careful, it could be the difference between victory and disappointment.
The biggest news of the summer break was Red Bull’s decision to drop Pierre Gasly to Toro Rosso and replace him with rookie Alex Albon. Off the back of a magnificent drive in the rain in Germany, and a 10th-placed finish in Hungary, Red Bull have given Albon the final races of this season to earn the seat alongside Verstappen for 2020. His pace has been impressive, and the Red Bull is improving, but this could be a tough weekend against the more powerful Ferraris and Mercedes.
The longest lap in Formula One at just over seven kilometres and with 18 varied corners, Spa is unlike any other track. It’s not uncommon that part of the lap is wet and the rest is dry. With most of the grid going for the same tyre selection, we are unlikely to see much variation in strategy, though rain could change everything completely.
With degradation expected to be high, Pirelli selected the three hardest sets of tyres, the C1, C2 and C3 compounds. Most teams loaded up on soft tyres, but Mercedes opted to bring two extra sets of the medium for both Bottas and Hamilton. McLaren drivers Lando Norris went for the same approach as Mercedes sets while his teammate Carlos Sainz picked one additional set.
Eau Rouge and Raidillon in particular will make tyre management challenging. Mercedes and McLaren could have an advantage on Sunday if they can find sufficient pace in the medium tyres while others are trying to eke out the last of their soft sets.
The two McLarens have been excellent this season. Norris has thrived in qualifying but has been unlucky on race days. Sainz continues to impress on Sundays. BetStars have Sainz at +125 for a top six finish, but Norris at +180 is the better price.
Kimi Raikkonen is another driver that will be eyeing a top six finish. Powered by Ferrari, the Alfa Romeo will be flying through sectors one and three just like Vettel and Leclerc. Raikkonen has been superb of late, cruising to four top 10 finishes in the last five races. The 2007 world champion will be a force if rain arrives – he’s a good bet at +260 to finish in the top six. There’s also the safer option of a points finish at -225.
Vettel at +300 to end his race win drought is the best bet of the weekend. This might be Ferrari’s best chance of victory all season – Vettel is set up to finally get his 53rd career victory.
By Sam Cox