As the summer break draws to a close and the second manic half of the season begins, Lewis Hamilton now holds in his hands a 24-point lead over Scuderia Ferrari German driver Sebastian Vettel and a finger tip lightly grazing a possible fifth world title. However, one of the most historic circuits on the calendar, the majestic Spa-Francorchamps is the perfect setting for a first-class battle to reconvene, and the ideal place for Sebastian to strike back and to reduce the point-difference to the current leader. Ferrari have every right to feel like they should be leading both championships. The car is fast enough and they have had plenty of chances.
They’re widely-accepted to have the best car in most races, but a driver error for Vettel at the German Grand Prix and opportunism in changeable conditions at both Hockenheim and Budapest from Lewis Hamilton means the Mercedes driver heads to Spa-Francorchamps with a 24-point lead in the drivers’ championship.
Long straights mixed with the challenge of fast, sweeping corners, this 7km track located in a valley of the Ardennes mountains is as picturesque as a wish-you-where-here postcard, yet as brutal a test as any Formula 1 driver will face.
Rewind to 2017 in Belgium and the roles were reserved in the hunt for glory between Hamilton and Vettel, with the German this time flying high with a 14-point advantage after victory in Hungary. But it was the Mercedes man who seemed to be recharged the most after the holiday recess. Equalling Michael Schumacher’s career record of 68 pole positions was the first strike, then a tense afternoon of cat-and-mouse chasing between the pair on race day finally ended in a Silver Arrows win and a title deficit cut by seven points.
That victory was the catalyst for Hamilton to claim three chequered flags in a row and Vettel to mourn the eventual loss of joining the five-time title winners’ club. This season could be different and the title is still winnable with the car the Maranello team has. Sebastian Vettel is better-equipped to succeed in the quest for title number five, starting with the power-hungry circuits of Spa-Francorchamps and Monza.
Festivities around Spa should be doubly raucous this weekend, as the twentieth anniversary of one of the most memorable races ever is celebrated. Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen could be the driver to keep an eye out for as the Finn has notched-up five consecutive podium finishes since the French Grand Prix in June. He also has the honour of being joint third in the all-time winners’ list at Spa, with four victories.