Clash of the Titans

August 30, 2012 1:00 pm

Formula One blasts back onto our television screens this weekend with the Belgian Grand Prix at the classic Spa Francorchamps circuit in the Ardennes.

The extended, month-long summer break has given the teams and drivers a chance to regroup after the first leg of the season, and with eleven races gone, there are nine rounds to go until the eventual champion is crowned.

It could, of course, come sooner than that, if one team and driver were to seize the initiative; but with the factories closed by FIA rules during summer few improvements, if any, will have been added to the cars so the picture will probably remain the same as it was in Hungary last time.

To that end, who is looking competitive?

Top of the pile, at the moment, is Ferrari golden-boy, Fernando Alonso, who took three wins in the opening half of the year.  He currently sits 40 points ahead of nearest rival, Mark Webber. If he can keep his customary cool and Ferrari can provide him with an upgraded car to match his talent, he will surely maintain, or even extend, the gap to the chasing pack. He came agonisingly close in 2010 before enduring a year in the wilderness in 2011; could 2012 be Fernando’s year?

Red Bull duo Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel have placed their team in a quandary, with both men neck and neck in the championship. Vettel is the reigning World Champion, however, there is a sense in some quarters of the team that Mark is owed something; he joined Red Bull in 2007 and thus helped it through some difficult times before the young German upstart muscled in and reaped the benefits of Mark’s hard work. He suffered a raw deal in 2010 and 2011 really did not go his way. He may only be 2 points ahead of team-mate Vettel, but Webber is holding the high ground. The only problem is, Sebastian is clawing at the brow of the hill and wants that illustrious third straight title.

Mclaren lost their way earlier in the year, and excluding victories in Australia, Canada and Hungary, they have looked a shadow of the team that once dominated Formula One. Jenson Button would have been Champion if it had not been for Vettel last year; 2012 is a very different story. Realistically, he knows the title has slipped beyond reach again this season, but his bid for wins has not been helped by some truly baffling Mclaren pitstop errors and strategy calls. Lewis Hamilton has not fared much better – he is closer to the championship lead but still has a significant gap to close if he is to repeat his 2008 title. All things considered, however, Mclaren looks to be regaining some of their early-season form in Hungary and both drivers will be going all guns blazing to win.

One man who cannot be accused of giving his maximum is Kimi Raikkonen; the 2007 World Champion often seems entirely unflustered by anyone who dares to come close.  However, his lack of response to the pace shown by rookie team-mate Romain Grosjean is rather odd. Kimi has not been embarrassed by his new Franco-Swiss partner, but hasn’t exactly demolished him in true ‘Iceman’ style yet. With Lotus yet to win a race, will it be Kimi’s wily experience or Romain’s youthful exuberance that takes the black and gold machine across the line first?

And what of the others? The Chinese Grand Prix must seem like a long time ago for Mercedes and Nico Rosberg, but the young German does, at least, still have the best of veteran Michael Schumacher in the Silver Arrows outfit. Likewise Paul Di Resta, who seems to have the brains and cunning to fend off a strong challenge from team-mate Nico Hulkenberg in the second half of this enthralling season. Williams and Sauber will, as always, be going head-to-head to claim 5th place in the constructor’s championship, while 2010 debutantes Caterham will be making their own bid for a maiden points finish.

Kimi Raikkonen won the 2004 race, but Ferrari star Michael Schumacher claimed his 7th World Title by finishing 2nd behind the Finnish driver

And the Belgian Grand Prix?

Once again, it is anyone’s guess. Kimi Raikkonen looks a strong contender, given his previous scintillating record in his ‘first’ F1 career around the place. Wins in 2004, 2005, 2007 and 2009 may be added to this weekend by the ‘Iceman’. No-one will make it easy for him though; Michael Schumacher, Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton have all won the race before so they know it takes, while Mark Webber and Jenson Button will also be keen to add it to their CV. Bad weather often sweeps the circuit and makes famous corners such as Eau Rouge, Pouhon and La Source a daunting challenge, but such conditions could equally provide a chance for any of the smaller teams to spring a surprise, the way Sergio Perez did in Malaysia earlier this year.

Spa is a classic track.

Let’s hope we get a classic race to match it.

Anthony French


Live TV coverage is available of all practice sessions, qualifying and the race itself on both BBC One and SkyF1HD. Radio coverage is courtesy of BBC Radio 5 Live.

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