Three-time world champion Lewis Hamilton will start his 200th Grand Prix in Belgium this weekend, seeking to match German legend Michael Schumacher’s record of 68 pole positions.
With the summer break out of the way, the British driver will be chasing his fifth win of the season as he bids to claw back points on title-race leader, four-time champion Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari.
Back in Europe after spending F1’s now-traditional European summer break in the Caribbean, Hamilton, who gave up third for his Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas in Hungary, lies 14 points behind Vettel.
Hamilton won at Spa in 2015, but was beaten by team-mate and 2016 world champion Nico Rosberg last year and has had mixed results at the famous old sprawling and high-speed circuit.
In 2008, when he won his first title, he was relegated from first to third for cutting a chicane, and he has suffered in other incidents including a collision with Rosberg, that left him with a puncture, in 2014.
Seeking his third Belgian win, Hamilton will be the pre-race favourite to win again, but knows that Ferrari have regained the momentum in the title race following their dominant one-two finish led by Vettel in Hungary.
Mercedes team chief Toto Wolff has already warned his squad not to take anything for granted.
“Assumptions are dangerous,” he said. “We have seen too many times already this season that the form book can be rewritten from one weekend to the next.
“So we will be making no assumptions.”
The race may also be affected — as often in the past — by the capricious micro-climate of the region, which can mean parts of the track are under water in rainfall while others remain dry.
That, for Max Verstappen, may be a bonus as he bids to put a mixed season to date back on the road.
“I just love the track and it’ll be nice seeing so many orange fans in the stands,” said Red Bull’s Belgium-born Dutch driver.
“Spa is my favourite track — you have to get everything right, but when you get a good lap, it’s very rewarding.”
That could also be said of Ferrari’s second driver Kimi Raikkonen, a four-time Spa winner, who has been confirmed on the team’s roster next year.
“It will not be easy for us, as Mercedes has the horsepower, but we will do what we can and who knows? Let’s see what happens.”
A big crowd is expected to camp out and herald Formula One’s “return to work” from the beach at this weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix where Stoffel Vandoorne will hope to mark his retention by McLaren with a strong showing in front of his home fans.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”