Cape Town - The Belgian Grand Prix – with its famous Eau Rouge, Blanchimont and the Bus Stop – sets the stage for the 12th instalment of the Sebastian Vettel versus Lewis Hamilton title race, with Valtteri Bottas waiting in the wings.
Last time out in Hungary, Vettel led home a Ferrari 1-2 to extend his all but obliterated lead over Hamilton back up to 14 points. It put a brief halt to cries – mainly from the Italian media – of “crisis”, but could yet prove to be a small plaster on a gaping wound with F1’s next stops being the fast-flowing, power-hungry Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium and the Monza circuit in Italy.
Although Ferrari have gone a long way towards narrowing the deficit with Mercedes in the engine department, the Scuderia’s power unit/aero combination is no match for the W0s when it comes to high-speed circuits.
As such, Mercedes have dominated Spa for the past two years, with wins for Hamilton and his former team-mate Nico Rosberg, while Ferrari haven’t managed a single top-three result in that same time.
But while many pundits are predicting a Mercedes win, and probably a 1-2 for the Brackley squad, Ferrari can draw some encouragement from the fact that they have designed a race-winning car this season – it’s just struggling to maintain that level on the high-speed circuits.
Ferrari have tried to hedge their bets by adopting different tyres from Mercedes. However, it is Red Bull who have really embraced the ultrasofts this weekend. The Milton Keynes team last won at Spa back in 2014, the first year of the V6 engines, and, with a host of purple Pirellis at their disposal, they’ll be hoping to get the jump on their rivals through a two-stopping strategy bookended by runs on the ultrasofts.
However, with Renault still lagging behind Mercedes and Ferrari in terms of power, even the Bulls’ tyre gamble may not be enough to put Daniel Ricciardo or Max Verstappen (who considers the Belgian Grand Prix to be his home race) in the mix for a podium finish. They, like many of their rivals, may have to rely on a safety car or the off-chance that current showers may linger through to today.
One man who will be hoping to beat the odds – and they are firmly stacked against him – is Stoffel Vandoorne. The McLaren driver hails from Belgium and will be looking to become the first of his countrymen since Thierry Boutsen in 1989 to score in his home Grand Prix. But, with a 35-place grid penalty – and perhaps even more – Vandoorne is facing an uphill battle. – TEAMtalk Media