After F1’s three-week summer break, racing resumes this weekend at Spa for the Belgian Grand Prix.
The rest period will have the drivers refreshed and ready to fire with nine races left on the season’s calendar.
Here’s some storylines that will define the rest of the year.
LEWIS CLOSING IN ON TITLE NO6
Barring a remarkable turn of events, Lewis Hamilton is going to win a sixth world championship and move within one title of Michael Schumacher’s all-time record of seven.
The Briton is also closing in on the German’s grand prix win tally of 91. He is currently on 81 victories.
With eight wins from the first 12 races, Hamilton says this has been his best-ever start to the season and the numbers certainly back that up. But it has not been perfect and Mercedes have very much benefitted from Ferrari’s litany of errors.
There is still room for improvement this campaign. Hamilton ranked himself as 8.9 out of 10 so far.
The 34-year-old was majestic for the second half of last year, winning six of the last nine races. And even if he is to clinch four or five victories in the remaining nine races, he would close to within five or six of Schmuacher’s record grand prix win tally.
Inevitability, it will raise the same discussions: is the Englishman the greatest-ever F1 driver?
There’s no clear answer and that is something that will be up for debate is Hamilton can secure seven world titles and hold the record for most grand prix triumphs.
MERCEDES’ SECOND DRIVER SITUATION
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff looks like he is about to break the silence on who will partner Hamilton for 2020.
The choice is between Valtteri Bottas and development driver Esteban Ocon, widely regarded as one of the most talented drivers on the grid.
Wolff is expected to take up the option of keeping the Finn for a fourth successive season.
Bottas produced a sizzling start to the season to win in Melbourne and Baku, but has not tasted victory since April 28. Crashes in Germany and Hungry leave him 62 points behind Hamilton with nine races remaining.
If Mercedes do decide to extend Bottas’ deal, then Ocon would surely be snapped up by another team. He is simply too good to be just a development driver at Mercedes.
Rumours of him being linked with Haas at the expense of Romain Grosjean and Renault for Nico Hulkenberg have circulated around the paddock. And there’s even a question of whether he could team up with Kimi Raikkonen at Alfa Romeo.
RED BULL’S ALBON GAMBLE
It seemed like a bold move for Red Bull to promote Alexander Albon from the team’s sister outfit Toro Rosso mid-season, with many expecting Pierre Gasly to have the rest of the year to prove himself after a poor start.
F1 is a results business and the impressive Albon now has the chance to showcase his strong driving abilities, but these next few months could make or break the 23-year-old’s fledgling career.
Albon will not be expected to beat his new teammate Max Verstappen who – on form – is the second-best driver in the championship. But for two men in the exact same car, one would expect Albon to have closer results than the staggering differences that previously existed between Gasly and the Dutchman.
If he can score the results Gasly was unable to in the RB15 he will stand a solid chance of retaining the seat for 2020.
For Gasly, a demotion to Toro Rosso may puncture his confidence at first, but it could turn out to be a good thing for his career and self-belief.
A season or two back at Toro Rosso, with improved results, will also put him in the shop window for a switch across to another team in future seasons.
Where to start with Ferrari?
With sharper operational decisions, better reliability and fewer errors from Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc, the Italian marque could still be in with a slight shot at clinching a first constructors’ title since 2008.
That, however, would require a combination of Mercedes having a series of off-days and for Ferrari to fire consistently between Spa this weekend and Abu Dhabi in November.
They have somehow got to this stage of the season without a victory – they had four wins at this point in 2017 and 2018 – but wins in Belgium and Italy would add some gloss to what has been a disappointing season so far.
The mistakes from both team and drivers are too long to list compared to their rivals Mercedes and Red Bull. But the truth is that the SF90 is not capable of winning at every track like the Silver Arrow and when it has been capable, a Vettel error or some sheer unluckiness from Leclerc has denied them victory.
Chances will come their way but it would be a disastrous season to end winless for the Maranello outfit.
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