Aug 21, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT
Following the three-week summer break, Formula 1 makes its long-awaited return this weekend with the Belgian Grand Prix. The Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps has a special place in the heart of the sport’s following, being one of the few truly classic tracks left on the calendar. From the fearsome Blanchimont to the behemoth that is Eau Rouge, this is a circuit that rewards the brilliant and the brave.
Spa not only heralds the return of F1, but it also begins the run to the end of the season. Over the next fourteen weeks, there will be eight grands prix in three different continents before culminating with the probable championship decider in Abu Dhabi – double points and all.
Championship leader Nico Rosberg will be hoping to extend his advantage over teammate Lewis Hamilton this weekend, but the Briton has a good record at Spa. That said, Mercedes may not quite have it all its own way if Williams makes the step forwards that many are expecting. “Valtteri Bottas, grand prix winner” has quite a good ring to it, no?
Further back, we have a wonderful subplot developing as Red Bull, Ferrari, McLaren and Force India duke it out for the positions following Mercedes and Williams (assuming Williams does indeed excel at this low downforce circuit). Daniel Ricciardo will still be beaming after his victory at the Hungaroring, but can Sebastian Vettel bounce back in the final eight races? It may be now or never for the defending world champion.
This weekend also marks the F1 debut of three-time Le Mans winner Andre Lotterer. From a story that came from left field, the German driver will deputize for Caterham’s Kamui Kobayashi this weekend. He completed some work in the team’s simulator on Monday, but his first run-out in the car will come in free practice one. It will be interesting to see if he can live up to the hype and impress in this one-off appearance.
2014 Belgian Grand Prix – Talking Points
Hamilton hopes to get back on top
After fighting from the back of the grid in the last two races, Lewis Hamilton undoubtedly has the momentum heading to Spa. If he can pick up his second victory in Belgium, and if Nico Rosberg comes unstuck, he could move back into the lead of the drivers’ championship. The gloves will be off at Mercedes for the final eight races of the season, and following the team orders debacle in Hungary, neither driver will be giving anything away.
Can the Iceman find his feet?
Kimi Raikkonen’s return to Ferrari has been a bit of a failure so far. With just 27 points to his name from the opening eleven rounds, he has done very little to justify his reported €22m yearly wage. However, Spa is ‘his’ circuit. He has won four times in Belgium, with his 2009 victory coming in Ferrari’s last truly awful year; it was against the odds, but he pulled through. Can Kimi rally here to secure his best result of the season so far? Keep an eye on the Finn this weekend.
Twelve months later, Seb’s in a very different position
At last year’s Belgian Grand Prix, Sebastian Vettel comfortably claimed his fifth win of the season and sparked his nine-in-a-row streak that lasted until the end of the season. One year later, he has just two podium finishes to his name in 2014 and everything is very different. Vettel will be hoping to find his feet at Spa to make up for the lost time and get himself back in business for 2014. Easier said than done, though…
As mentioned above, Andre Lotterer’s surprise F1 debut came out of nowhere. It was a story that few predicted would kick start the second half of the season (and indeed silly season), but he now faces one simple question: why? This can go one of two ways. If Lotterer does indeed outperform Marcus Ericsson after only stepping in the car in FP1, then serious questions will be asked of the Swede. If he doesn’t, he’ll be thanked for his time before returning to his WEC commitments with Audi. This isn’t something Lotterer needs to do, but it’s most certainly something he wants to do.
F1 2014’s litmus test
Ever since the new cars and regulations were brought in for the 2014 season, many have pondered just how they will fare around Spa. Will Eau Rouge no longer be a flat corner? If indeed it is not, it will make the sport’s most famous turn the ultimate challenge once again. This will be the race at which many fans make their final decision on whether or not they like the new Formula 1. Let’s hope that they serve up a thriller on Sunday.
Belgium – Facts and Figures
Track: Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps
Lap Record: Sebastian Vettel 1:47.263 (2009)
Tire Compounds: Soft (Option); Medium (Prime)
2013 Winner: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull)
2013 Pole Position: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 2:01.012
2013 Fastest Lap: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull) 1:50.756
DRS Zones: Main Straight (T19 to T1); T4 to T5
Free Practice 1 – 22/8 4am ET Live Extra
Free Practice 2 – 22/8 8am ET NBCSN
Free Practice 3 – 23/8 5am ET Live Extra
Qualifying – 23/8 8am ET CNBC
Race – 24/8 7.30am ET NBCSN
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