With qualifying completed and the grid formed, here are 5 things to watch out for at today's Belgian Grand Prix around the iconic Spa-Francorchamps…
Lewis Hamilton's charge from the back of the grid
We knew it was coming but Lewis Hamilton's back row start at Spa-Francorchamps is still keenly anticipated. Naturally, the sheer strength of the Mercedes W07 means Hamilton is expected to make swift work up the order, but there are disputes over how far he can go. With some suggesting he could win from 21st on the grid, Hamilton says he would be very surprised if he reaches the podium. It's not mere modesty either, the Mercedes seemingly more sensitive than most with the higher-than-expected temperatures in Belgium this weekend. Though it didn't stop Nico Rosberg from taking pole and he remains the race favourite in clear air, the smaller than usual advantage over Mercedes' rivals may end up affecting Hamilton more as he attempts to claw back ground.
Summer it may be, but few – least of all Pirelli - expected to be bathing in the excessive heat at Spa-Francorchamps this weekend, a race better associated with showers and storms than sun cream and heat! With air temperatures reaching 35 degrees alone, the super-soft allocation – coupled to high tyre pressures – have been wilting very quickly. As such, Rosberg, both Ferraris and Daniel Ricciardo opted to complete their Q2 times on soft compound tyres, which they will duly start the race on. Significantly, Max Verstappen will start on the super-soft and will therefore stop earlier than his rivals. Despite going against-the-grain, the Dutchman is confident his disparate strategy will work in his favour…
Can Max Verstappen benefit from fan power?
…and there are plenty in the crowd hoping he is right! The Verstappen-effect has already been in evidence this year as a large contingent made the journey to Hockenheim to support their new hero, but even more seem to have turned out in Belgium. With orange-tinted queues stretching well beyond the gates on each day of the event, it's welcome to see so many people turning out for one of F1's best-loved rounds. Better still, if (when) Stoffel Vandoorne makes it to F1, the hardy Belgian fans are likely to come out in force for their own hero as well!
Manor vs. Manor
Speaking of F1's future, Esteban Ocon has commanded plenty of attention this weekend as he prepares to make his debut with Manor Racing. Though few are expecting miracles in the minnow team, many – not least Toto Wolff – are nonetheless using the promotion as a chance to measure Ocon against team-mate and fellow Mercedes junior Pascal Wehrlein. Naturally the burgeoning 'rivalry' was stoked before they have shared the same circuit, but listening to both drivers at Spa this weekend there is a sense that each really wants to get the better of the other. Better still, with Manor showing well at Spa-Francorchamps this weekend, both Wehrlein and Ocon feel an eye-catching result – maybe even points - in the offing… definitely one to watch.
Renault eyeing first points since Russia
With Manor enjoying a competitive weekend and Sauber taking a step forward with its new update, few were giving Renault much hope at Spa this weekend having admitted pre-event that it has halted development on its already lacklustre RS16. However, not only would Kevin Magnussen and Jolyon Palmer reach Q2 – the first time both Renaults have done so this year under his format -, they would go on to 12th and 14th. With the RS16 often proving more competitive in race conditions than it is over a single lap, the French team is well placed for what would be only its second points' finish of the year.
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