x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Spa is no place for drivers to relax

This weekend's Belgian Grand Prix represents a watershed moment for Jenson Button.

This weekend's Belgian Grand Prix represents a watershed moment for Jenson Button. After rushing into what seemed like an unassailable lead earlier this season, Jenson has struggled since. Mark my words, he will be looking to Spa as his turning point. Jenson retains a healthy lead, but he needs solid points; the next few days will be key to his championship aspirations. From now until Abu Dhabi, Jenson needs podiums. Anything else and the pressure will grow. It is coming at him from ever-changing corners. His Brawn team-mate, Rubens Barrichello has taken on the mantle of principal challenger, but if Red Bull duo Mark Webber and Sebastien Vettel perform well, the pressure will only intensify.

Brawn has the speed, we saw that with Rubens' win in Valencia last week, but Red Bull will be strong. They are guaranteed to be at the front. When you add in Lewis Hamilton's improving McLaren and a reinvigorated Kimi Raikonnen in his Ferari, you have all the ingredients for another classic race. Spa's an unbelievable circuit. Vitally, the high speed corners and numerous straights will illustrate the difference in characteristics of the cars. On slower tracks, there is more downforce and drivers need wing - this is where aerodynamics come into play. At Spa, less wing reduces the importance of aerodynamics. Lewis's McLaren, which has been upgraded for the slower, twistier circuits, may struggle - rumours abound it is not best suited to the track.

That said, the front-of-the-grid cars are closer now than at any other point in the season, and Spa's fast-flowing corners should see a gaggle of cars battling for the top six spots. While I think a win is beyond him, I can see Kimi springing a surprise. There is no reason why he can't repeat the speed he showed in Valencia. The Finn seems to have woken up and his "attack, attack" philosophy will serve him well at Spa.

I can see a lot of permutations unravelling, but whatever happens, Button and the Red Bulls need to get their acts together. Rubens does well at Spa, and he will be on a high after winning his first GP in five years. I hope Jenson can get back in to the thick of it. Now is the time for him to get aggressive. You cannot rule the Red Bulls out and their car has always - last week excluded - been there or thereabouts this season. Spa should suit them too.

The Eau Rouge is Spa's most famous section, and while I think recent track modifications have taken the edge off its bite, it is still an awesome corner. You need to hold top speed through it to hit the straight flat-out. It is one of Formula One's most demanding challenges, but in truth, challenges litter Spa. One of which is the variable weather. The Ardenne region's forecast changes from hour-to-hour and intermittent changes could have a huge bearing on the race. Brawn will be hoping it is sunny. Their tyre temperature issue may raise its head again if it is cold. Should it rain, Brawn's performance in China earlier this year proves they can compete in the wet. The weather will be crucial and it is certainly going to add to an already complicated race.

I'm expecting a pressurised, cagey situation for the championship contenders. Spa is never an easy test for drivers and the extra burden of pushing for a title may tell. Get ready, the business end of the season is beginning and there is no better place to sort out champions and challengers than Spa. sports@thenational.ae