Formula 1: Belgian Grand Prix Thoughts and Predictions

Neil James@NeilosJamesFeatured ColumnistSeptember 1, 2012

Formula 1: Belgian Grand Prix Thoughts and Predictions

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    The Belgian Grand Prix takes place on Sunday at the stunning Spa-Francorchamps circuit, deep in the Ardennes Forest.

    Championship pace-setter Fernando Alonso takes a 40-point lead into the weekend, while the battling Red Bulls, Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel, are seperated by just two points in second and third, respectively.

    Lewis Hamilton and Kimi Raikkonen are one point apart in fourth and fifth, respectively, and the battle for sixth is just as close.

    Michael Schumacher has a record six victories at Spa to his name. Kimi Raikkonen is the next-best of the current field with four wins.

    Felipe Massa, Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel have one win apiece. Will one of those men add to his total, or will we see a new winner this weekend?

Are Any Surprises Likely?

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    No one got any good dry running in the Friday practice sessions, so all the teams will be going into the one-hour Saturday practice with much to do and very little time to do it in.

    This could leave the door open for one of the midfield runners to shake up the order.

    The Williams was very good around Catalunya, which is considered one of the true all-rounder circuits. Spa also needs a strong overall package, so watch out for Pastor Maldonado in qualifying.

    Sauber have an extremely quick car too, but it doesn't seem to qualify too well. Sergio Perez and Kamui Kobayashi will probably have to wait until Sunday to make an impact.

Will Double DRS Make a Difference for Lotus?

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    Maybe, but only when they use it.

    Lack of running in Friday practice means the competitive debut of the system has been pushed back to (at the earliest) next weekend at Monza.

    McLaren, another team known to be working on a similar system, will also be DDRS-free at Spa.

Pastor Maldonado Watch

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    Pastor Maldonado finished in Hungary, but on the way he received a drive-through penalty for a collision with Paul di Resta. It was his third penalty in four races and without it he would have recorded his third points finish of the season.

    But that wasn't to be, so his run of races without a point stretched to six.

    Last year, Maldonado drove a very good Belgian Grand Prix (if we pretend his qualifying incident with Lewis Hamilton didn't happen), coming from 21st on the grid to finish 10th in the woefully uncompetitive Williams FW33. It was his only point of the year.

    On paper a points finish this Sunday is a no-brainer, but the circuit isn't made of paper.

    Nonetheless, I think the law of averages will finally swing a race in his favour, and somewhere in the region of sixth place is a distinct possibility.

Pole Position

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    All signs point to a dry qualifying session, so big surprises here are unlikely—but not impossible

    Spa has the longest lap of the season and this may give a slight boost to the quick race cars with (relatively) poor single-lap pace—Lotus and Sauber, for example.

    But the favourites have to be McLaren and Red Bull, and on current form that means Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel. Ferrari probably don't have the ultimate pace to challenge for P1, and Mercedes seem to have dropped back.

    Red Bull appeared to have lost a little bit of pace in Hungary after their engine maps were deemed unsuitable before the race, and for that reason I'll side with their silver rivals.

    Hamilton will probably be on pole.

Race Winner

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    Lotus should have at least three races this season, and after second and third in Hungary I think they'll finally get their win in Belgium.

    Qualifying may or may not go their way, but Spa (unlike the Hungaroring) is a circuit on which passing should be relatively easy. With their famously benign tyre wear and a lot of raw speed, any grid position higher than sixth should give them a chance of victory.

    Kimi Raikkonen has won every race he's finished at Spa since 2004. In the one race he retired from (2008), he crashed while battling for the lead. That's an impressive record and would look even better with a fifth victory.

    Raikkonen is a better overall driver than Grosjean, and with his apparent expertise at this circuit, I think he'll be the man on the top step come Sunday.