Spa's a must-win for Lewis Hamilton and four other talking points ahead of the Belgian GP

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Formula One roars back into life at Belgian’s famous Spa-Francorchamps circuit this weekend following its four-week summer break.

Lewis Hamilton will head to the Ardennes bidding to get his title charge back on track after finishing only fourth at the last round in Hungary.

Here, Press Association Sport takes a look at the major talking points ahead of the 12th round of the championship.

Spa’s a must-win for Hamilton as he celebrates double ton

Hamilton will mark the 200th grand prix of his career on Sunday, and the Englishman will be hoping to celebrate the landmark race with a much-needed victory.

Hamilton’s impeccable sporting gesture to move aside for his Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas at the final corner in Hungary means he is now 14 points behind Sebastian Vettel in the title race.

The high-speed nature of the Spa-Francorchamps circuit in Belgium should suit Hamilton and his Mercedes car, but his boss Toto Wolff is not taking a victory for granted.

“On paper, people will assume that Spa should suit our car,” Wolff said. “But assumptions are dangerous and we have seen too many times already this season that the form book can be rewritten from one weekend to the next.”

Lewis Hamilton.

Lewis Hamilton.

Raikkonen in place at Ferrari… so, what next in the driver market?

One piece of the 2018 driver line-up puzzle fell into place on Tuesday after Ferrari announced that Kimi Raikkonen will remain at the Italian team next season.

Raikkonen, 38 in October, is an eye-watering 86 points behind team-mate Vettel in the championship, but has proven an able deputy to the German in this year’s title battle.

While there remains no news on Vettel’s status for next year, Ferrari’s decision to stick with Raikkonen could be viewed as a clear sign he is staying.

Vettel enjoys a strong relationship with Raikkonen, and will know that the Finn’s stay affords zero threat to his number one status within the team.

On the same token, would Ferrari not announce both Raikkonen and Vettel at the same time if they were staying? Mercedes could yet be an option – albeit a slim one – for Vettel, and it will be fascinating to see how it all plays out.

Kimi Raikkonen.

Kimi Raikkonen.

So, what about Bottas?

Bottas is only 19 points behind team-mate Hamilton after a strong start to his Mercedes career.

The 27-year-old Finn has already won twice, and out-qualified Hamilton on a number of occasions, too.

Wolff has admitted that Bottas has exceeded the team’s expectations, but a contract extension is yet to be announced, and it is understood there will be no further news on that front this weekend.

So, why the hold-up? One can only assume that Mercedes are waiting for Vettel to move before they confirm what action they will take with Bottas for 2018 and beyond.

Valtteri Bottas.

Valtteri Bottas.

Palmer staying put… for now

Robert Kubica’s remarkable return to F1 action at the two-day test which followed the conclusion of the Hungarian Grand Prix placed doubt over Jolyon Palmer’s future at Renault.

Indeed some within the paddock even suggested that Kubica could replace Palmer after the summer break.

That idea seemed fanciful and Palmer, who scaled Mount Kilimanjaro during the summer break, will race in Belgium and looks set to be retained for the second half of the year.

The 26-year-old Englishman now needs to turn in a stellar remaining half of the year to prove to Renault, and indeed any potential suitors, that he warrants – what at this stage – would appear an unlikely third year on the grid.

Jolyon Palmer.

Jolyon Palmer.

Green light for Massa

Felipe Massa will be back in the Williams cockpit this weekend after missing the Hungarian Grand Prix through illness.

Britain’s Paul di Resta deputised for Massa at the 11th hour at the Hungaroring, but Massa, providing he passes a medical check-up by the FIA on Thursday, will be given the green light to return.

Veteran TV pundit Martin Brundle will also be back for Sky Sports after missing the last two races with a virus.

Felipe Massa.

Felipe Massa.

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Kimi Raikkonen agrees new contract with Ferrari until the end of 2018

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Kimi Raikkonen holds on to his Ferrari seat for 2018.

Kimi Raikkonen has signed a new contract to remain with Ferrari next season.

Raikkonen’s current deal was due to expire at the end of the year but the Finn, who turns 38 in October, will be handed at least one more year with the Italian team following their announcement on Tuesday.

Sebastian Vettel, who leads Lewis Hamilton in the championship by 14 points, is out of contract with Ferrari at the end of the year, but is yet to confirm his whereabouts for 2018.

“Scuderia Ferrari has renewed its technical and racing agreement with Kimi Raikkonen,” the Italian constructor said in a short statement ahead of this week’s Belgian Grand Prix.

“The Finnish driver will therefore race for the Maranello team in the 2018 Formula One World Championship.”

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Fernando Alonso says he is open to staying at McLaren beyond 2017

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On this month’s episode of ‘The Circuit’, CNN’s Amanda Davies sits down with McLaren’s two-time world champion Fernando Alonso.

Depsite finishing sixth at the Hungarian Grand Prix last month, the Spaniard has not been able to challenge for a world title since winning the championship in 2006.

As we pass the midway point of the season, question marks remain over whether he will stay with McLaren beyond the current campaign.

He said: “I’m very open. I’m talking to McLaren, of course, because it’s my team and I think we have unfinished business together to win Formula 1… What we need [is] to be competitive, if that happens I will consider for sure to stay on and win with the car.”

With widespread speculation about the 36-year-old retiring from the sport following his formidable debut at the Indy 500 earlier this year, he insisted that he will look at another team first before making a decision on his F1 future.

“I will look at another team first. Formula 1 is still my priority, my life and winning this World Championship is what I’m hoping for.

“If I don’t see any project that will allow me to fight for the win I will look outside Formula 1 but that’s more like in November or December and I will try all the possibilities before that.”

Watch the full episode here!

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