Lewis Hamilton is in pole position, with Sebastian Vettel next to him on the front row.The Racing Point Force India drivers, Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez, are on the second row. The wet final qualification session threw up some surprising results on Saturday. The race on Sunday is expected to be dry with track temperatures higher than it has been so far this weekend.
Belgian GP – What Lies Ahead?
The Spa-Francorchamps circuit is a track that makes it easier to overtake than any other track in the Formula 1 calendar. The Pirelli tyre choices are the white-striped medium tyres, yellow-striped soft tyres, and the red-striped supersoft tyres for the race. The teams can opt for a one-stop or two-stop pit strategy. On the more durable tyres this season, a one-stop strategy is most likely in dry conditions.
The drivers in the top 10 will start on the red-striped supersoft tyres on which they set their fastest laps in Q2. But some of the drivers outside the top 10 will probably start on the more durable soft tyres and go long in the first stint.
The whole weekend has seen cool conditions, but higher temperatures are predicted for the race on Sunday. This could affect the performance of the supersoft tyres in the first stint.
The start is going to be crucial, but the driver who leads into Turn 1 (La Source) will not be necessarily leading at the end of lap 1. The long run at full throttle through the iconic Eau Rouge, Raidillon and the Kemmel Straight lasts for over 20 seconds. It gives the driver behind the lead driver a chance to slipstream and overtake him.
Vettel could well be leading at the end of lap 1. This could be crucial with the Ferrari cars showing better long run pace than Mercedes during the practice sessions. Kimi Raikkonen starts P6 with the other Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas starting on the last row with engine penalties.
So Ferrari can use Raikkonen to undercut Hamilton and give Vettel an advantage. Mercedes, on the other hand, do not have the luxury of using their second driver Bottas to counter this strategy.
But with the two Force India drivers and Romain Grosjean ahead of Raikkonen at the start, it will depend on how quickly the Finn can get ahead of them in the race. The two Red Bull Racing drivers, Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo, starting on the fourth row will also hope to make a good start and progress quickly.
Given the long straights and the superior straight-line speed of both the Mercedes-powered Force India cars and the Ferrari-powered Haas car, overtaking them will not be easy for Raikkonen and the Red Bull drivers.
Ferrari had better race pace in the long runs during the practice sessions. If Raikkonen had been there with Vettel in the front rows, the two cars could have made life very difficult for the lone Mercedes driver Hamilton.
But with Raikkonen starting sixth, the Finn has to get past the Force India drivers and Grosjean as quickly as possible. The Force India drivers during the practice sessions in the dry were quick and will not be that easy to overtake.
Verstappen (P7) and Ricciardo (P8) will also have a real battle on their hands trying to get past the Force India cars with their superior straight-line speed. It will be interesting to see the progress Bottas can make from the back of the field and if he can get close to a podium finish.
The Safety Car (SC) and Virtual Safety Car (VSC) have played a role in giving an edge to one or the other championship contender in some of the races in 2018. On this fast and challenging track, a SC is distinctly possible. This could help one of the top drivers to roll the dice and take the lead.
Sebastian Vettel needs a win at this race to cut into the 24-point lead Hamilton has in the drivers’ championship. If Hamilton wins and extends his lead, it will give him a cushion of more than a race win. So it is vital for Vettel to win and lay down the marker for the second-half of the season.
But Raikkonen, a four-time winner at Spa, has been on form all weekend-long and could surprise the two championship contenders. Can one of the Force India drivers make use of their unexpected starting positions on the grid and convert it into a podium finish?
It would be sweet for Ocon to clinch the first podium of his career even as he looks set to lose his Force India seat shortly. The young Frenchman might be replaced by Lance Stroll, the son of new owner Lawrence Stroll, mid-season.
A quick shower during the race can change all the equations and throw up a major surprise. A lot is at stake in the championship battle on Sunday. Who among Hamilton or Vettel will emerge as the winner? Or will Raikkonen or some other driver steal a win?
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