By Neil Leverett
- Formula 1 resumes this weekend with the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps
- Lewis Hamilton leads World Drivers’ Championship by eight points over Max Verstappen
- Red Bull looking for first win in three, after losing early-season momentum
SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS – As Formula 1 resumes after its summer break this weekend, can Max Verstappen and Red Bull return to winning ways at the Belgian Grand Prix?
Reset in Belgium
After its annual summer hiatus, Formula 1 revs back into top gear this weekend for the Belgian Grand Prix, at Spa-Francorchamps.
On the heels of the best part of a month off the grid, what better venue for the paddock to reconvene on than the storied environs of Stavelot in the western region of country.
In what will be the 76th running of the Belgian GP, Spa has often seen many a classic a race throughout its annuls, with elements of both speed and often inclement weather providing a powder keg for explosive racing.
Eau Rouge; La Source; Pouhon. All iconic sectors on the F1 calendar and once more this weekend, the Belgian GP is poised to write the latest chapter of the 2021 season thrill ride.
And you guessed it, yes, rain is forecast once more across the weekend.
Hamilton eyeing Spa repeat
At what is figuratively the half-way mark in the F1 campaign, for Lewis Hamilton to be leading after 11 races of the season, for him, will read as a job well done.
Not least of course, after having to enduring his darkest period for some time, with a barren run of five-straight races without a win, during which time he saw Max Verstappen evolve from not only a pretender to his throne, into now his main rival for an historic eighth F1 crown.
Going winless between early May and mid-July, the concerns were beginning to show for not only he but for his fraying Mercedes team, but after wrestling back the podium top spot at Silverstone, Hamilton then grabbed P2 in at the Hungaroring last time out also.
Overhauling a deficit of 32 points after the Austrian GP, given the ominous form both Verstappen and Red Bull were in at that time, it scarcely seems possible that it is the Briton leading the points standings into the weekend.
However, after a two-race period that saw Christian Horner‘s team pick up just a single point in Britain and Hungary, that is the state of play.
With Hamilton holding what could still prove a precious eight-point advantage ahead of Belgium, the Briton lines up on the grid this weekend having won at Spa last season, and with three other Belgian GP wins to his name, only Michael Schumacher and the Great Ayrton Senna have won here more.
Hamilton will be looking to cement his status at yet another F1 venue in the coming days.
Can Red Bull go again?
With three back-to-back race weekends to come, another pivotal point in the season lies ahead for Red Bull.
Though their tribulations of the last two rounds will be keen to be erased, Verstappen in particular knows that realistically, everything remains fully up for grabs this season.
A native of Hasselt himself, a return to Belgian roots could be the perfect tonic for the 23-year-old, but whose best result to date at Spa is the bottom spot of the podium, both last season and in 2018.
Not only will Belgium be vital for Verstappen however, but for teammate Sergio Perez.
After his first victory for his new team in Baku and then a third spot in France, the Mexican’s season has rather taken a nosedive alas, with a P16 at Silverstone and an enforced retirement at the Hungaroring.
With that said however, that has not stopped Perez securing his drive for next year as was announced on Friday afternoon and with the return of the Dutch GP at Zandvoort next weekend, should the Milton Keynes outfit claim their seventh win of the season on Sunday, everything will be rosy once more for messrs Verstappen, Perez and indeed, Horner.
But the stakes will again be high in Belgium this weekend for Red Bull.
Alonso keen to reward loyalty
Another man celebrating his new deal for the 2022 season is Fernando Alonso, who signed on for the first season in the sport’s new era earlier this week.
Making his return to F1 this season with Alpine, the two-time world champion has not missed a beat after two years out of the cockpit and has impressively recorded a points finish during his last six races.
The French manufacturer, also buoyed by Esteban Ocon’s sensational win in Hungary, are looking to build on a blossoming partnership between the two drivers, and establish their own era.
Alonso is a big part of that, and as he explained to F1.com, the Spaniard had little hesitation in penning a new deal:
“I am very happy with the team, I’m very happy with the comeback, and I’m looking forward so much to next year and the team apparently is happy as well with my job as well, so we took one minute to make the decision”
Alonso is evidently a man in his element once more back home in F1. After a 1-4 finish for Alpine last time out, could Alonso now reward his new team’s loyalty once more this weekend?
The 2021 Rolex Belgian Grand Prix takes place this weekend, at Spa-Francorchamps.
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