Formula 1 2019 is BACK! We removed our resident F1 writer from storage, dusted him off and set him to work so he could bring you this F1 Preview Belgium 2019.
The summer holiday for the F1 circus has come to an end and the spectacle restarts with back-to-back race weekends, involving the two most iconic circuits on the calendar: Spa and Monza.
Spa-Franchorchamps, Belgium, is a street/road circuit that is steeped in motorsport history ranging from F1 to world endurance racing and even motorcycle Grand Prix world championship events (125/250/500 cm3 GP bikes). There have been legendary races, serious accidents and deaths at one of the most demanding “old school” circuits. Spa is rated highly by the drivers as it demands high levels of commitment and extreme bravery.
The circuit is legendary for its first corner, La Source, which is taken at a mere 40 km/h, before accelerating downhill towards, arguably, the most intimidating switchback in motorsport lore: Eau Rouge. It twists uphill and drivers strive to take the corner sequence flat out… which resulted in Jacques Villeneuve and teammate Ricardo Zonta famously destroying their BAR-Supertecs in qualifying in 1999, after Villeneuve dared Zonta to take the complex flat out. There are many incidents and memories one can mention.
Another that always comes to mind is the battle for the lead in the closing stages of the 2000 Belgian Grand Prix between Michael Schumacher and Mika Hakkinen, with the Finn pulling off one of the most spectacular and daring passes while carving up a backmarker (Zonta) up the hill before braking for Les Combes… (view that incredible move here)
Of the current drivers, Kimi Raikkonen has won at Spa four times (although his last victory here was 10 years ago), while Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel have won three times each and Daniel Ricciardo once. It is said that this circuit and Monza will suit the Ferraris better than the Mercedes, however, the Italian marque is coy and downplaying their chances. Vettel won ahead of Hamilton last year and he will be looking to repeat that result, with teammate Charles Leclerc in tow.
Mercedes has been particularly strong this season and world championship leader, Lewis Hamilton, will be looking to extend his points gap over his rivals. Teammate Valtteri Bottas has just been re-signed by the team for 2020 and he will be far more relaxed as a result. Expect the Finn to continue fighting for victory for the remainder of the season.
The big news during the summer break, though, concerns Red Bull Racing. Despite the ongoing reassurances from Messrs Horner and Marko, their “support” of the struggling Pierre Gasly resulted in the Frenchman receiving news that he was ousted from the team and relegated to Toro Rosso in favour of F1 rookie, Alexander Albon. While it is well known that working for the Red Bull outfit is a cutthroat business, this behaviour from management indicates the team isn’t true to their word after all…
Of course, Max Verstappen will ensure that all eyes are on him this weekend as he tries to topple the might of Hamilton and Vettel, but many an eye will be observing Albon, too. The Thai driver will have his work cut out for him on debut for his new team, though: he will take an upgraded Honda power plant and be relegated to the back of the grid (along with Toro Rosso pilot Daniil Kyvat) in the process.
More interesting news leading into the weekend is that Marcus Ericsson replaces Antonio Giovinazzi at Alfa Romeo for the Belgian GP. It remains a mystery as to the reason behind the move, as Ericsson, who races in Indycar, was scheduled to race in the American-based series this weekend.
Renault also took the opportunity to announce that it has secured the services of Esteban Ocon for the 2020 season. The 22-year-old Frenchman will oust Nico Hulkenberg from the team and take up station alongside Daniel Ricciardo. Ocon, a former Renault test/reserve driver, has signed a two-year deal.
Spa-Franchorchamps is an incredible circuit and there are interesting changes in the paddock that are untested. This adds to the anticipation of the weekend after the summer break, so I doubt fans will miss this.