Lewis Hamilton's ominous form as Red Bull put Alexander Albon on trial: Belgian Grand Prix talking points
Formula One returns after the summer break at Spa-Francorchamps
Formula One returns from its short summer break this weekend at the Belgian Grand Prix on Sunday. Ahead of the race at Spa-Francorchamps, here are some talking points to watch for at the 13th round of the 21-race season.
Hamilton's ominous warning to rivals
Lewis Hamilton dominated the first part of the season, the five-time world champion winning eight of the 12 events so far this year.
The ominous news for the rest of the F1 grid is that traditionally we are now entering the strongest part of the calendar for Hamilton.
Hamilton collected 195 points, with six wins, in the final nine races of 2018. In 2017 he claimed 175 points and five wins, and he has won at least four races after the break every year since 2014.
So, the fact Hamilton comes into the latter half of 2019 after his best ever start to a F1 campaign is bad news for teammate Valtteri Bottas’s hopes of catching him in the title race.
Hamilton is 62 points clear of the Finn and 69 ahead of Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen in third.
If Hamilton repeats his 2018 form he will finish with 445 points, which would smash his own points record of 408 set last year.
The challenge for Bottas, Verstappen and the Ferraris is to somehow slow his momentum, but that will be easier said then done at Spa, a track where Hamilton has three wins.
Albon on trial at Red Bull
The biggest change over the summer was the news that Red Bull had demoted Pierre Gasly to sister team Toro Rosso with Alexander Albon going the other way.
It is a big chance but a challenging one for Albon, who is in his rookie season and has only competed in 12 races. He is effectively on trial to claim the seat permanently for 2020.
What does he have to do to earn the seat full time? Be closer to teammate Verstappen and beat the Ferraris where possible to assist Red Bull in the constructors’ championship will do him no harm.
If he can out-qualify or out-race Verstappen then that would definitely get him the job, but only the most optimistic Albon affiliate would expect that. Verstappen is driving at a high level right now and his pace humiliated poor Gasly.
When Verstappen won in Austria in June, he was a lap ahead of Gasly at the end, and it was the same story in August when the Dutchman was runner-up to Hamilton in Hungary. That was the final straw for Red Bull and led to the switch.
Red Bull will hope Albon is closer on pace to Verstappen and for him to be a factor in races to give the team more strategic options.
A number of times this year both Mercedes and Ferrari have been able to be creative with race tactics as they have had two cars in the mix. Red Bull, due to Gasly often being way back down the road, have not had that and Verstappen has been left isolated.
If Albon can be competitive and can keep Verstappen on his toes then he has a cracking opportunity to stay with the team for 2020.
Ranked: from Gasly to Vettel and Verstappen - Red Bull's 10 drivers since 2005
Raikkonen’s favouite track
The midfield battle has often been one of the highlights of a grand prix weekend, with little to separate Renault, Toro Rosso, McLaren, Alfa Romeo and Haas at most races.
Alfa Romeo may have the edge at Spa due to the fact that Kimi Raikkonen historically goes well at the venue. The 2007 world champion is a four-time winner at the race, and has finished in the points nine times in 14 attempts.
Given the car at his disposal, the 39 year old will be not expected to fight for a fifth win this weekend. But with eight points finishes from his 12 races this season, he has clearly not lost too much speed despite being the oldest driver on the grid.
A top-six finish is certainly not out of the question for Raikkonen on Sunday.
Updated: August 29, 2019 03:50 PM