IT'S RACE WEEK: 5 storylines we’re excited about ahead of the 2023 Belgian Grand Prix
A run of four races in five weeks comes to a close with a trip to one of Formula 1’s most recognisable venues ahead of the mid-season break. So here are a few topics we expect to be doing the rounds ahead of this weekend’s trip to Spa-Francorchamps.
How far can Red Bull extend this run?
I know not everyone is going to be a fan of dominance (in fact, unless you’re the most diehard Max Verstappen supporter I imagine you’re hoping for a bit of variety at the front of races) but it really is immensely impressive what Red Bull have achieved.
Twelve straight victories in Formula 1 is unprecedented, so on Sunday you saw history made and now the question becomes how high will the final benchmark be? Red Bull’s form shows little sign of dropping off and Sergio Perez – after an impressive recovery drive in Hungary – expects Spa-Francorchamps to suit the updated car even more…
But the chasing pack has been one of the most intriguing parts of this season and, with McLaren also firmly in the mix now, there are four teams that could put pressure on at any given time.
McLaren will certainly expect to be closer than they were in Budapest, and Mercedes showed signs of being a bigger threat with Lewis Hamilton’s pole position on Saturday, although the race pace deficit was still significant on Sunday.
Piastri after a maiden podium
McLaren’s step forward has added some extra energy to the battle for the podium, and Lando Norris has capitalised on it twice in a row now with a pair of second-place finishes in the last two races. But on both occasions Oscar Piastri can count himself a little unfortunate.
At Silverstone, Piastri was looking set for a first trophy as he ran comfortably in third place for much of the race until a Safety Car saw him slip to fourth through no fault of his own, and then an excellent start in Hungary resulted in a comfortable opening stint in second place.
From there, his race unravelled slightly as strategy allowed Norris to jump his team mate and then floor damage hampered his race pace, so second place on Lap 18 and third on Lap 42 ended up becoming fifth by the chequered flag.
But, after twice backing up Norris with qualifying performances that have seen him line-up directly alongside his team mate since getting the updated car, Piastri is showing he has all of the potential to convert McLaren’s newfound pace into a top-three finish and is likely to be a factor again this weekend.
Alpine needing a clean weekend
So much of the talk has been about McLaren’s step forward and after Sunday’s race in Budapest both drivers stated that “we got new competitors”, in reference to their fight now being with Mercedes, Ferrari and Aston Martin.
Previously, Alpine were the target after a strong start to the year in terms of pace from Otmar Szafnauer’s team, but the results didn’t always match and outright performance has appeared to be lacking slightly in recent rounds.
But all of that was compounded by a massively unfortunate start to the last race, where Zhou Guanyu ran into the back of Daniel Ricciardo, in turn triggering light contact with Esteban Ocon. As the Frenchman tried to correct his car after the impact, it forced him into team mate Pierre Gasly and both Alpine drivers retired through no fault of their own.
There was a lot of promise around Alpine in the early rounds and there have been some flashes of extremely competitive pace – culminating in Ocon’s podium in Monaco – but the team haven’t had the smoothest time of things for a few races and will be focused on executing a clean weekend at Spa-Francorchamps to head into the summer break with a bit more positivity.
Williams a threat for points
Of course, no team will have it easy as they all eye up a strong finish to the first part of the season, and Alpine could well have some stern competition from Williams when it comes to the fight for points.
The update brought to the Williams in Canada proved to be particularly effective at many of the following tracks including Austria and Silverstone - the latter where Alex Albon beat both Ferraris and was pushing Fernando Alonso all the way to the flag - while Hungary was still a solid showing.
But one of the strengths of this Williams car is its aerodynamic efficiency, allowing the team to run higher downforce levels without the same penalty that others would face in terms of drag. And that will certainly be a bonus at Spa-Francorchamps where there is often a trade-off between one or the other given the demands of each sector.
While that will pose a challenge to the likes of Alpine, and potentially Aston Martin and Ferrari too, it also makes it a tall order for Daniel Ricciardo to target his first points since returning with AlphaTauri, even if the team is hoping to show better performance than in Hungary.
An impressive first race back saw Ricciardo outqualify and then finish ahead of Yuki Tsunoda, and that will be the main point of focus for the Australian once again as he looks to retain the upper hand over his team mate in order to try and impress Red Bull.
A Sprint weekend at an iconic track
Another thing Williams has done well in recent races is hit the ground running quickly, and it will need to given the schedule at Spa-Francorchamps. With the third Sprint of the season taking place this weekend, there will be just one free practice session before qualifying, and then Sprint Saturday’s two competitive sessions.
It means all teams will need to make that choice in terms of aerodynamic set-up within just the one hour of track running and won’t have Friday night to react and make significant changes, so it poses a fresh challenge.
But for so many drivers it is one that they will relish as it will demand that bit more from their skill on a track that can be really rewarding to drive.
The track gets the utmost respect from those behind the wheel, and that’s what makes a perfect qualifying lap or race win all that more rewarding for those that achieve it.