152 kilometres outside the Belgian capital of Brussels in the middle of the Ardennes Forest sits one of the most beautiful and historic circuits in Formula One: Spa-Francorchamps.
Spa has been home to the Belgian Grand Prix since 1925 and it is the longest track on the calendar at just over seven kilometres. For this reason, the race is only 44 laps long.
Though the track has changed considerably over the years – there were a lot more high-speed and adrenaline-filled corners before – one thing which has always been there is the brilliant Eau Rouge.
Spa did not appear on the calendar in 2006 due to radical changes to both the circuit and surrounding infrastructure, including a change to turn one and the addition of the bus-stop chicane.
The area’s unpredictable weather has given us some fantastic races over the years, most notably in 2010, 2008, and of course the crazy race in 1998, which saw an almighty multi-car pile-up at the start, and a crash between Michael Schumacher and David Coulthard which led to a heated confrontation in the pits afterwards.
Speaking of Schumacher, he is the most successful driver at Spa with six wins, and Ferrari are the most successful team. That being said, Mercedes have won the last three races at Spa, courtesy of Lewis Hamilton in 2015 and 2017, and Nico Rosberg in 2016.
What’s happened in the summer break? Quite a lot, really. First of all, Daniel Ricciardo announced he is leaving Red Bull at the end of the season and joining Renault for 2019. The biggest news of the summer, however, came from Fernando Alonso. The Spaniard announced that he will be leaving F1 at the end of the season after a frustrating three-and-a-half years with McLaren. His compatriot Carlos Sainz, currently at Renault, will take his seat after being displaced at the French manufacturer by the inbound Ricciardo.
The favourites for Spa? Well, that is a tough one. Ferrari and Mercedes will be very well matched, with the power gains Ferrari have made this season coupled with the tight middle sector being more suited to Mercedes making this a seemingly very competitive weekend.
That is exactly what Sebastian Vettel will need. the German lost the win at his home race in Germany after crashing on a damp track, while champion Lewis Hamilton, who started fourteenth, took the win along with the championship lead. Hamilton’s win in Hungary gave him a 24-point lead in the championship coming into the last nine races, which means Vettel needs to hit the ground running upon F1’s return.
This will be the home race of McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne, and expect plenty of Dutch support for Max Verstappen of Red Bull as well, who retired from last year’s race with an engine issue.
Fernando Alonso is well acquainted with the track in 2018 already, having won there for Toyota in WEC earlier on in the year, although it’s safe to say a win is not quite on the cards for him this weekend.
What is also safe to say is that we are all very happy to see the return of Formula One after a four week break that has felt like an age, as the championship battle between Lewis Hamilton and Sebastan Vettel resumes.
Featured image courtesy of Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool