Formula 1 is back!
The summer break was a long, long time for those of us who enjoy spending their Sundays watching racing. Still, it’s over now and the circus that is F1 is back, and with a vengeance. F1 heads to the Ardennes forest this weekend, to the glorious old Spa-Francorchamps circuit and the Belgian Grand Prix.
Spa is one of the most demanding tracks on the calendar, at 7 km (4.35 miles) long, with 20 turns (or 19, depending on who you ask), it is the kind of circuit that can make or break drivers, and really show who has the mettle needed to compete at the highest level.
Which makes it a particularly poor circuit to return to after a four-week break for those in bad form or with a lot of pressure on their shoulders. There are several drivers in the paddock who need a good performance this weekend, but some needs are far more desperate than others. Let’s start with the most obvious and highly scrutinized driver in F1 this year…
Jolyon Palmer, Renault
It’s safe to say I’m not a fan of Palmer. His dour attitude and incessant negativity have served to make him a deeply unlikeable figure. After all, it can’t all be the fault of the car or your mechanics when the sister-Renault is a second a lap faster than you, Jolyon.
Palmer comes into the second half of the season having watched Robert Kubica continue his journey back to Formula 1 with a test of the 2017 car in Hungary. The popular Polish driver is effectively racing with one arm, using a custom-designed steering wheel to both upshift and downshift on the same side due to the nerve damage in his right arm.
There has been a huge movement of support for Kubica’s return to Formula 1, and Palmer’s status as one of just two drivers to race the whole season and not score a point is certainly a black mark against his continued presence in F1, as his 0-fer against teammate Nico Hulkenberg in qualifying.
Palmer has been royally outperformed all season by his teammate all year, he needs to come into the second half of this season and find a way to out-qualify Hulkenberg and pick up a point.
Marcus Ericsson, Sauber
The other driver yet to score, Ericsson, has also been thoroughly dominated by his teammate, the young German Pascal Wehrlein.
Having a good performance in a Sauber is pretty tricky these days, as they are firmly attached to the back of the grid with little hopes of advancing. What he needs to do is simply beat Wehrlein and stay out of trouble. It won’t be easy with such a long and demanding lap, but he has scored points around Spa before, and he could again if everything falls right. Even if it doesn’t, simply staying ahead of the other Sauber could be enough.
Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes
The Finn has had a solid first half-season in a championship car. He has a pair of poles and two race wins, but he has come out and said that the season so far has only been “average”. He is in a position to fight for the championship this season, but at 33 points behind leader Sebastian Vettel he needs a good race this weekend to narrow the gap and put himself in position to really pounce. He has the car to compete, and the Mercedes is well-suited to the blast up the Kemmel straight to defend his position should he get his nose in front on Sunday.
Stoffel Vandoorne, McLaren
His first home Grand Prix in Formula 1 may be something of an odd affair for Vandoorne. Spa is expected to be overrun with Dutch fans, and with the Oranje out to support Max Verstappen, it will feel more like a foreign race than one in his home one.
Still, Vandoorne needs to take whatever energy he can from the crowd and the setting and put down a strong weekend. His first full year has not gone as well as expected, and while a lot of that is down to the engine being uncompetitive and unreliable, there is a second McLaren out there being driven by an ageing Spaniard, and Vandoorne needs to do a better job of competing with it.
Trying to keep up with Fernando Alonso is no easy task, even at age 36, but Stoffel still needs to do a better job of competing. Vandoorne came into this season with huge expectations. After Max Verstappen’s exploits, he was supposed to be enormously competitive, but it hasn’t been so easy. This weekend needs to be the start of another chapter, and where better to do that than at home?
Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari
Very much the second driver for the Scuderia, Kimi has cut a rather dejected figure this season. While he has put in some good performances, he has also been rather lacklustre in wheel-to-wheel action in 2017. Kimi has taken one pole (Monaco) this year but has frequently been well behind teammate Sebastian Vettel. As a result, he is 86 points behind Vettel, and a lone point behind Daniel Ricciardo in the Drivers’ World Championship standings.
What this means is that Ferrari are 39 points behind Mercedes in the Constructors’ World Championship. After almost ten years without a championship of any kind, Ferrari are desperate to take home the Constructors’ title, and Kimi needs to start pulling his weight.
Which driver do you think needs to have an impressive weekend in Belgium? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!
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