By Steve Aibel, Senior F1 Writer
The wait is over!
The traditional summer break has passed and the Formula 1 paddock returns to action this weekend at the spectacular Spa-Francorchamps circuit in Belgium. If there is an event worth waiting for it is Formula 1 at Spa. Filled with history, this circuit has been a part of the World Championship every season since Formula 1 was born in 1950. The circuit brings forth more than one could ask for in a Formula 1 racetrack. Cut through the rolling terrain of the Ardennes Forest in Belgium, Spa challenges every aspect of of a driver and every aspect of the car. It is truly a diamond in the Formula 1 arsenal of venues.
There are essentially three stories that will carry us through the remainder of the 2016 F1 season. The battle between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg for the Driver’s Championship. The second and third position race between Red Bull and Ferrari in the Constructors Championship, and finally the rotation of drivers for 2017 race seats.
The primary focus remains steadfast on the battle for the Driver’s Championship between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg. While Rosberg got off to a spectacular season start, winning the first four races, his teammate Lewis Hamilton has won the last four and 6 of the last 7. This gives Hamilton the edge over Rosberg in the championship standings by 19 points and the all important momentum of recent race victories.
Will it carry over into the second portion of the season?
Hamilton will begin the race to the finish with an engine penalty at Spa which gives advantage immediately to Rosberg. It has yet to be determined how large a penalty Hamilton will receive as the team has not decided how many engine elements they will be changing. If Rosberg can parlay this advantage into a significant gain in points, we will truly have a battle worth watching. In turn, if Hamilton continues to run the table and control races from the front, Hamilton will have his 4th World Championship.
In addition to watching the battle for superiority at Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari will be battling hard for second position in the Constructors Championship. In what is certainly a surprise, Red Bull Racing has taken over second place in the Constructors battle, clearly outpacing rival Ferrari. Ferrari, who was expected to battle with Mercedes, is struggling to keep up with the revived Red Bull Tag-Heuer (Renault) outfit. This is a huge disappointment for the Scuderia and one that must be addressed if the red cars are to be considered championship contenders in the future. There are issues at Maranello and one must wonder if the right people are calling the shots for Ferrari.
McLaren is eager to return to the track and expectations for the team continue to escalate. Honda is bringing engine upgrades in the form of internal combustion engine and compressor elements intended to improve the efficiency of the power unit. McLaren have been very vocal about the quality of their chassis, and with these upgrades, they are hoping to continue moving forward with the quality of their engine. The team has certainly worked its way into the mid pack and they will hope to be a consistent presence in Q3 for the reminder of the season. It would be a pleasant surprise to see McLaren back in the picture with Red Bull and Ferrari.
We shall see!
Throughout the remainder of the season, more and more focus will shine on driver placement for the 2017 championship. As the teams place more emphasis on the 2017 car builds, drivers line ups are starting to get priority with many teams projecting September for announcements. With the rides for Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari virtually secure, the seats at Williams and McLaren are creating a lot of the buzz.
Williams line up is in question as neither Valtteri Bottas or Felipe Massa are confirmed and many names have been bantered around as possible replacements. Jenson Button is the prime name for a Williams ride but interestingly, Daniil Kvyat is also a named possibility for the race seat.
Thats assuming Williams changes drivers at all.
The line up of Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas is very strong and Williams loses nothing by retaining both drivers. Button could also remain at McLaren, but with Stoffel Vandoorne highly touted for the McLaren seat, the odds are that Button will move on.
Williams and McLaren are not the only teams looking at their driver line-up. Renault, Haas F1 Team, Toro Rosso, and Force India will all play in the rotation of Formula 1 drivers. Manor has already started the wheel in motion as Esteban Ocon has replaced Rio Haryanto. Haryanto ran out of sponsorship dollars and his contract was ended when the Indonesian government failed to deliver payment to the team. Ocon, a 19 year old Frenchman, has been competing with Mercedes this season in DTM and is the reining GP3 champion. Ocon will make his F1 debut at Spa this weekend.
Spa will be the ignition that starts all of these balls in motion as 2016 is looking to deliver on an exciting F1 season.