Belgian Grand Prix 2015: 5 Bold Predictions for Spa Race
Formula One's long summer break is drawing to a close, and we'll finally get a chance to see the cars in action again at this weekend's 2015 Belgian Grand Prix.
Sebastian Vettel goes into the race on a high following his brilliant victory in Hungary. Red Bull, Fernando Alonso and Max Verstappen will also be looking to build on their fine displays at the Hungaroring.
But the title-challenging Mercedes duo of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg will have spent the summer break trying to forget the events of July 26. Despite starting together on the front row, both men saw their 100 per cent podium records come to an end after their worst drives of the year.
Kimi Raikkonen also lost out on a podium—though in his case, the car shouldered the blame.
Spa is a very different circuit than the Hungaroring, and a number of teams will arrive with substantial upgrades on the engine and aerodynamic fronts. A small shakeup in the running order seems almost inevitable—and the unique Ardennes microclimate could also have a say.
Belgian Grands Prix are always tough to predict, but there's no harm having a go. Here's how we see the weekend panning out.
Kimi Raikkonen to Beat Sebastian Vettel
Regardless of the duo occupying the cockpits, the team-mate battle at Ferrari has been something of a one-sided affair in all but two of the last 20 years.
Most recently, Kimi Raikkonen has been the man on the receiving end of a pasting. Fernando Alonso did the deed in 2014, and Sebastian Vettel has taken over Kimi-bashing duties in 2015.
But if there's one circuit at which the fading Finn can turn the tables, it's Spa.
Raikkonen's record around the Belgian track is mighty. He has four wins there and has never finished the race behind a team-mate. The Belgian Grand Prix was the scene of his only win in both the 2004 and 2009 seasons; it was also the only race in which Raikkonen finished ahead of Alonso in 2014.
The famously unpredictable Spa weather could prove his undoing—Raikkonen is not at his best in the wet and lost a likely win in 2008 when he spun two laps from the end.
But if it stays dry and his SF15-T remains reliable, he has every chance of being the first Ferrari home.
Pastor Maldonado Won't Get Any Penalties on His Way to a Points Finish
Pastor Maldonado's disappointing year hit a new low in Hungary. Just 35 minutes after being given a drive-through penalty for hitting Sergio Perez, he had another one for speeding in the pit lane.
Fourteen minutes after that he was awarded a 10-second time penalty for speeding behind the safety car—completing what will probably always be the fastest hat-trick in F1 history.
He eventually crossed the line in 14th, the eighth time he has failed to score so far in 2015. Though blameless for most of his pointless outings, Maldonado has a habit of attracting trouble—if he doesn't create his own accident, he'll invariably find himself at the scene of someone else's.
Things have got so bad that Autosport's Dieter Rencken reports he could well lose his Lotus drive at the end of the year.
If he wants to extend his career into 2016 and beyond, he needs to start performing now—and where better to kick off his renaissance than Spa?
Maldonado has won at the famous old circuit in GP2 (taking his first double podium in the series here in 2008), Formula 3000 and Formula Renault 3.5. Spa was also the venue at which he scored his first F1 point back in 2011.
He was set for an even better result after qualifying an excellent third on the 2012 grid (he started sixth after a penalty) but was taken out in the first-corner melee sparked by Romain Grosjean.
For all the jokes and in spite of his dismal statistical record, Maldonado is a very fast racing driver with a proven track record at Spa. He'll be on his best behaviour after Hungary—and we think he can have a trouble-free weekend in Belgium.
At Least 1 McLaren in Q3 and in the Points
McLaren celebrated their best result of the season in Hungary, where a combination of safety cars, retirements and strong drives from Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button saw the team add 12 valuable points to their tally.
The result—and the lap times—proved the team's car is, while not world-beating, at the very least heading in the right direction. Sky Sports reports it should make another step forward at Spa when Honda spend some of its seven upgrade tokens.
It won't transform their season. Even with this boost, the McLaren will be down on power in comparison to Mercedes- and Ferrari-powered teams like Lotus, Sauber and Force India.
But in spite of the high-speed nature of the Spa circuit, being down a few dozen horses may not be as much of a handicap as it sounds. Daniel Ricciardo's 2014 victory proved an underpowered car can compete here if it's better than its rivals in the corners.
And the MP4-30 is a very capable chassis—being driven by two of the best drivers around.
If Alonso and Button can come out of the Eau Rouge-Raidillon complex carrying four or five kilometres an hour more speed than the other drivers fighting for the lower reaches of the points, the time loss they suffer on the long Kemmel Straight that follows will not be as great.
Ricciardo, second-quickest in the 2014 race speed traps, could confirm this.
McLaren aren't going to win this weekend, but we fancy them to be quick enough in the twisty bits and coming out of Eau Rouge to beat at least some of their nearest rivals.
So expect one of the drivers to appear in Q3—and if the car makes it to the end, at least one McLaren to finish in the points.
Top Rookie: Max Verstappen
Felipe Nasr's efforts in this category of late have been hampered by his team's inability to keep up in the development race. Motorsport.com's Adam Cooper reports Sauber will at last have the latest Ferrari engine upgrade for Spa, but their much-needed aerodynamic updates won't arrive until Singapore at the earliest.
Like Roberto Merhi of Manor, he's unlikely to have the machinery to compete this weekend.
It'll once again come down to a straight fight between the two Toro Rosso kids—and we think Max Verstappen's prior history at the track suggests he'll have the upper hand.
The young Dutchman arrived at Spa last season with a single Formula Three win under his belt. He left as a four-time winner having dominated all three of the weekend's races.
It'll be a close-run thing—Carlos Sainz Jr. also has a very good record at Spa with two wins at the track in Formula Renault 3.5 and further victories in FR2.0 and F3.
But his 100 per cent record here—plus that excellent drive to fourth at the last race in Hungary—tips the balance in Verstappen's favour.
Nico Rosberg Will Claim His 1st Formula 1 Hat-Trick
Sebastian Vettel may have won in Hungary, but had both Mercedes drivers got the most out of their package it would have been a one-two for the German team.
Of course, neither had a good race—Lewis Hamilton made a number of mistakes, while Nico Rosberg failed to get anywhere near the car's potential. The result was a Mercedes-free podium for the first time since the 2013 Brazilian Grand Prix.
Vettel is now just 42 points down on championship leader Hamilton and 21 behind Rosberg. Both men know they need to deliver the goods in Belgium, and we think it'll be a German on the top step for the second race in a row.
Rosberg beat Hamilton to pole in the wet last season and—for the lap and a quarter they were on the same piece of track—was clearly quicker in the race.
The now-infamous collision he caused at Les Combes on Lap 2 was foolish, but the fact he was able to get close enough to have a go, without the aid of DRS, says a lot for the pace he had at that stage of the grand prix.
F1Fanatic's lap charts show Rosberg also looked good in the 2013 race, despite Hamilton starting from pole.
The No. 6 man knows that if he finishes behind his team-mate at Spa, he'll almost certainly be more than 25 points—a full race win—in arrears. There may be no way back from there.
So we're backing Rosberg to not only be quicker in the race, but to also pull out one of his 2014-style qualifying laps to take pole—and cap off his weekend with the fastest lap to claim the first hat-trick of his F1 career.