Many school kids will have just received their GCSE results this week but for the F1 grid the summer holidays are off and the battle for the title starts once again with the Belgian Grand Prix taking place this week.
The second half of the season begins like last year – with Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel locked in wheel to wheel combat, as the Briton holding a 24-point lead after his win at a wet and wild Hungary.
The victory was essentially sealed when a delayed Ferrari pitstop saw him come out behind Valtteri Bottas, with Vettel having to fight back to pass Bottas with just five laps left as Hamilton streaked clear. There was also more danger for him, as the pair collided when Bottas misjudged an attempt to defend from Vettel, who passed on the outside on the run to Turn Two and then locked a wheel before hitting the front wing.
The strategy of waiting for their second pitstop – the race pace and excellent tyre performance of Vettel’s car had allowed him to take the lead and stay in front by lap 30 – titled the balance back into the hands of Mercedes, who were ready and waiting to pounce once again.
The pair – as is the norm now – are 6/4 joint favourites at Ladbrokes for the win before the first practice, and precious little separates them bar accident and team strategy. A big factor this weekend will be the looming presence of yet another wet weather Grand Prix; Friday looks to be the only dry day of the Grand Prix weekend.
Rain is forecast before qualifying and also just before the race as well, meaning it is unlikely we will have a fully dry session of racing on either Saturday or Sunday, with the race highly likely to start on a wet track.
That will be no bother to Kimi Raikkonen, who has now finished on the podium in his last four races. The Fin has benefited from the better Ferrari car this season to gain personal success whilst also being an excellent foil for Sebastian Vettel and Spa is the perfect track for the former World Champion to showcase his skills in the wet. 4/5 for another podium at Paddy Power looks fair.
Things have been extremely hectic at Red Bull, with Daniel Ricciardo moving to Renault and Pierre Gasly replacing him. There have been rumours abound about why he left – some think that Riccardo doesn’t trust the Honda engine to hold up next season, whilst others were pointing to a strained relationship between him and the Red Bull top brass – but for the rest of this season he and Max Verstappen have one of the fastest cars on the grid and 9/10 on a double points finish makes a great deal of appeal.
Riccardo fought back from 12th on the grid to finish fourth in Hungary two weeks ago whilst Max Verstappen ended up swearing into the radio after a series of engine problems took him out of the race when he was riding high in fifth. The pair are clearly in the third quickest car on the grids by a distance, and one which ought to be well suited by Spa’s long sweeping straights.
Ricciardo has a strong record here; The Australian won here in 2014 before he finished on the podium at Spa in both 2016 and 2017, whilst Verstappen held the record for youngest front-row starter ever here in 2016 before he was been beaten by Lance Stroll. It would be a shock if they were not fifth and sixth at the very least and their card performs very well in the wet.
Haas, who have managed to build a car with a great deal of pace, are also interesting in this market if both of their cars can avoid crashing although the wet weather is a put off for that bet at just 6/5 at the top F1 betting sites.
One of the most iconic tracks in world motorsport, Spa is loved by drivers for its high speed yet technical nature, often described as the ultimate challenge of motor racing. The length of the track, combined with the local climate, also makes tyre choice fiendishly difficult as some parts of the track can be wet whilst others are dry. The presence of Eau Rouge, Pouhon and Blanchimont push downforce and handling to the limit, but some of the longest straights in F1 push engines to the extreme.