The summer shutdown is over. Formula One is back. Spa-Francorchamps is the venue as a chaotic three months until the season end gets underway, with nine races jam-packed in.
The stories of 2016 that are to be written could go down in F1 folklore, legends could be formed in the remaining nine races, reputations raised, reputations ruined. At a track regarded, as a ‘driver’s track’, there could be no better place for someone to make the paddock sit up and take note.
In thirteen weeks, we will either have crowned the 33rd man to become World Champion – Nico Rosberg or have witnessed F1 history, as the crown is claimed for the fourth time by driver, for just the fifth time in 67 seasons – Lewis Hamilton.
The latter currently holds a 19-point lead over the former, following a blistering run of six wins in seven races, and only dropping 15 points since that collision.
However, the Brit will take an engine penalty this weekend, probably starting from last, the legacy of the early season when his Mercedes W07 abandoned its diet and munched through two Turbo’s and MGU-H components, in just four races.
Mercedes have elected to take the penalty here, owing to the friendly overtaking nature of Spa, as opposed to somewhere like Singapore or Japan.
Therefore, Rosberg will need to take pole and win for the first time since Azerbaijan, and hope Hamilton finishes seventh or lower to go into Monza, next weekend, in the championship lead.
As for the rest, Ferrari will be hoping that the break has halted the march Red Bull have over them, which included the former taking P2 in the constructors from the Scuderia in Germany last time out. The long-blast through the Ardenne forest will probably suit the Ferrari better, but “anything can happen in Formula One, and it usually does”, to quote Murray Walker.
The rest of the grid could struggle this weekend, as either their chassis hasn’t enough downforce, or pure engine grunt. Down at Manor, Esteban Ocon makes his debut, alongside Pascal Wehrlein, replacing Rio Haryanto. Ocon will become the 77th French driver in F1, and carry the number 31 on his MRT05.
What happened last year?
The 2015 edition saw a Mercedes 1-2, although Rosberg was made to work for his P2 finish, dropping to P5 at the start, as the new complex start regulations were brought in for the first time.
Engineers were no longer allowed to tell their drivers how the practice start on the formation lap went and what to change to optimise launch, in order to add an extra unpredictability factor to the start.
Behind them, Max Verstappen, in just his 11th race, went around the outside of Felipe Nasr at Blanchimont, one of the fastest corners on the calendar, whilst McLaren received a record 105 grid place penalty for numerous engine penalties.
Romain Grosjean claimed an emotional third for Lotus, at the scene of the horror 2012 La Source pile-up he caused, after Sebastian Vettel’s rear tyre exploded on the Kemmel straight, just after Eau Rogue, leading to him to claim he could’ve been killed “had it happened 200m earlier”.
Where will there be some overtakes?
Turn 1 (La Source), Turn 7 (Les Coombes), Turn 10 (Bruxelles), Turn 13, and the run from Turn 16 (Stavelot), through ‘Courbe Paul Frere’ and Blanchimont, can lead to a move through the final turn at the bus-stop chicane, although an overtake is achievable almost anywhere, Eau Rogue included.
The two DRS zones will be on the pit-straight, and down the Kemmel straight, between turns 5 and 7. Turn 6 is nothing, little kink in the road, which the drivers ignore.
What tyres are Pirelli brining?
The SuperSoft tyre will be used at Spa for the first time, with Pirelli going for the second softest range available, alongside the Soft and medium tyres. As always the Intermediate and Wet tyres will be on duty.
An interesting strategy race could develop, as Mercedes have opted to select only four sets of the SuperSoft, compared to the seven of Ferrari and Williams and six of Red Bull.
Moreover, Rosberg has opted for four sets of the medium tyre, to Hamilton’s three, and five sets of the soft, to the Brit’s six.
Will it rain?
Well, typically the weather radar is useless, owning to the rapidness the conditions can change in. However, this weekend, Spa is forecast in a heatwave, with temperatures expected to be in the mid to high 20’s all weekend.
When is it on?
The familiar European schedule to weekend is once again used, with FP1 underway at 09:00am on Friday morning, and Qualifying and the Race underway at 13:00pm UK time on their respective days.
Sky Sports F1 will, as ever, show every session live, as well as the GP2 and GP3 support races. Channel 4 will be offering alternate viewing for freeview viewers, with live coverage of every session.
First Practice – 09:00am – 10:30am – Friday
Second Practice – 13:00pm – 14:30pm – Friday
Third Practice – 10:00am – 11:00am – Saturday
Qualifying – 13:00pm – 14:00pm – Saturday
Race – the 44 laps of the 2016 Belgian Grand Prix get underway at 13:00pm on Sunday.
All times BST.