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F1 returns with Belgian GP

FORMULA ONE: The 2016 Formula One season resumes this weekend at the classic Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps for the Belgian Grand Prix on Sunday (Aug 28).


Michael Lamonato

Saturday 27 August 2016, 02:53PM


Reigning champion Hamilton now has a credible 19-point advantage over his teammate Nico Rosberg. Photo: Attila Kisbenedek/AFP
Reigning champion Hamilton now has a credible 19-point advantage over his teammate Nico Rosberg. Photo: Attila Kisbenedek/AFP

Fresh from their four-week midyear break, the sport’s 11 teams and 22 drivers will begin a gruelling nine-race campaign to the finish of a championship with plenty still to play for.

Mercedes, the dominant constructors leader with a 159-point lead, is bracing for the fight between drivers Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg.

Rosberg surrendered a hefty 43-point lead two rounds before the break, giving reigning champion Hamilton a credible 19-point advantage.

Though the momentum remains firmly on the side of the Briton, early season unreliability means he will have to make an unscheduled engine change, which penalises him with a back-of-grid start, in the next two races, giving his teammate a window of opportunity to close the gap.

Mercedes has signalled the next round in Italy could be its preferred circuit to take that penalty given the ease of overtaking on Monza’s long straights will offer Hamilton a chance to limit the damage.

Though few pundits are tipping Rosberg to regain the lead, the German has kept impressively calm in the face of his points catastrophe, and 225 points are still available.

Chasing drivers Daniel Ricciardo, Kimi Räikkönen, Max Verstappen, and Sebastian Vettel remain distant bit-players in the drivers championship, but the race for the lucrative second place in the constructors title remains hot.

Ferrari, billed as being Mercedes’s chief challenger after almost taking the year’s first victory in Melbourne, has been helplessly moribund as Red Bull Racing, aided by an upgraded Renault engine, has vaulted past in pace and points.

The Italians lost second place in the constructors championship for the first time in 2016 at the German Grand Prix, and team personnel and drivers alike cut dejected figures in the paddock afterwards.

Ferrari also bid farewell to highly rated technical director James Allison amid rumours he and Ferrari CEO Sergio Marchionne couldn’t see eye to eye, meaning any unlikely resurgence will come against a background of a complex technical team reshuffle.

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Just 14 points separate Ferrari from the Red Bull Racing’s second place, and with the pair closely matched, the fight for third place on the track will be fierce.

Off the track the driver market is poised to burst into life – or fizzle out anticlimactically – depending on two key drivers deciding on their futures in the next two months.

Jenson Button is being evaluated against rising star Stoffel Vandoorne for McLaren’s second seat alongside Fernando Alonso.

Button is valued for his experience in building McLaren-Honda out of its disastrous partnership, but McLaren knows the 36-year-old world champion has a shorter shelf life than the 24-year-old highly prized Vandoorne.

Sergio Perez holds the other key, with the Mexican’s lucrative sponsors keen to see their charge move up in the F1 pecking order after three seasons with powerful midfield team Force India.

Perez has been linked to seats at Force India’s fourth-place rival Williams and rebuilding works team Renault, though no decision has yet been made.

Force India principal Bob Fernley believes if his team can close the 15-point gap to Williams in fourth, it can keep hold of the skilled 26-year-old by virtue of making a move to any other team either a sideways or backwards one.

The final word goes to Manor, which has dropped Indonesian Rio Haryanto, who ran out of crucial sponsorship money, for Mercedes-backed Esteban Ocon.

The switch means Manor will host the straight fight between Ocon and fellow Mercedes protégé Pascal Wehrlein, with both drivers eyeing a full-time Mercedes drive post-2018.

 

 

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