Max Verstappen will return to work with a spring in his step this weekend when he bids to tighten his grip on the Formula One world championship with a second triumph at the Belgian Grand Prix. In the first of two ‘home’ races for the 24-year-old Dutchman, as part of a testing post-holiday triple-header, Red Bull’s defending champion will delight in racing at his favourite, old-style circuit in the Belgian Ardennes. “I am feeling ready to race again after a good break,” he said.
“I’ve definitely got the itch again to get back into it – it will be a busy triple-header, but it will be ok to manage as we have all had a rest.”
After wins in France and Hungary, Verstappen could also complete a hat-trick of consecutive victories as Ferrari flounder in pursuit having seen seven pole positions produce only three wins for Charles Leclerc.
Formula One’s annual European summer closedown began after the Hungarian Grand Prix on July 31 and ended earlier this week as teams began preparations for the much-loved race at the spectacular circuit in the forests.
With a luxurious lead of 80 points ahead of Leclerc in the title race, Verstappen can afford to ease off and finish second in all of the remaining nine races – in 12 weeks – that make up the second half of the season.
But, after securing his first win in the land of his birth, at Hasselt, in last year’s race, he will be pushing for another this weekend in front of an orange army of fans due to arrive from the Netherlands.
A victory would set him up perfectly for his second home event seven days later at Zandvoort, where he won last year en route to the drivers title.
However, he will hope for a different outcome in the third race of the triple-header at Monza where he collided with Lewis Hamilton in last year’s Italian Grand Prix.
“The upgrades to the track here have made it a little more old school with the gravel traps, which I think is a good idea,” said Verstappen.
“It’s my favourite track so I’m looking forward to racing there and it looks like there might be rain around too, which will make it more tricky. Luckily, as a team, we like a challenge.”
The gravel traps have been added at four corners, including the high-speed Eau Rouge-Raidillon sequence, in a bid to improve safety for a race which will see the introduction of controversial new rules to curb ‘porpoising’ and ‘bouncing’.
The moves are thought to be favourable to Mercedes, the team that suffered most from ‘porpoising’ during the first half season, their worst for a decade.
Mercedes showed marked improvement before the break and scored their first double podium in Hungary where Leclerc and Ferrari endured another tactical flop.
Seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton will be bidding for his fifth Belgian win and his first this season to maintain his record of winning in every year of his career.
“We’re getting closer,” said team boss Toto Wolff. “We need to keep the momentum going and the pressure on.”
This weekend will also see Sebastian Vettel racing at Spa for the final time, 31 years after his hero Michael Schumacher made his F1 debut in the same team – now known as Aston Martin, but originally Jordan, and both painted green.
As a three-time Belgian winner, who loves the history of the classic circuits, it will be an emotional weekend for Vettel who will retire at the end of the season.
It will also be an important weekend for Daniel Ricciardo after McLaren on Wednesday announced the termination of his contract at the end of this season.
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