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  1. F1

Formula 1: Lights Out - What to look for at the Belgian GP

Following the traditional summer break, Formula 1 returns to action this weekend with the ever-popular Belgian Grand Prix taking place at Spa-Francorchamps.

Often cited as the most challenging and thrilling circuit on the F1 calendar, the return from the summer shutdown marks the countdown towards the season's conclusion.

Max Verstappen leads the world driver's championship by 80 points ahead of Ferrari's Charles Leclerc, with Red Bull team mate Sergio Perez 85 points adrift.

Wins in each of the last two races have put Verstappen in a very strong position as he seeks to claim back-to-back titles.

What

Belgian Grand Prix

Where

Spa-Francorchamps

When

Friday 26th August-Sunday29th August

How to watch

Sky Sports F1

Odds

(race win): Max Verstappen 5/6, Charles Leclerc 7/2, Lewis Hamilton 5/1, Carlos Sainz 8/1, George Russell 10/1

Verstappen seeking timely hat trick

The 2022 F1 season has ebbed and flowed with Ferrari and Red Bull each enjoying strong spells where they have held the clear pace advantage over their rivals.

The season looked to be swinging in the direction of the Scuderia following the Austrian Grand Prix as Leclerc managed to just hold off Verstappen despite enduring problems with his throttle pedal in the final stages.

However, it is Red Bull who have emerged stronger from the last two races with Verstappen winning the French and Hungarian races to give himself a very healthy cushion.

Red Bull's strategy has worked to perfection and Verstappen's more mature driving style means he will almost do well to not win the title this season.

Aside from last year's two-lap race debacle, the Austrian team haven't won at Spa since 2014 but in almost all departments, the Red Bull cars are the class of the field and they should be the team to beat this weekend.

Can Ferrari salvage their season?

On the basis of pure pace, Leclerc should be much closer to Verstappen in the title race given how often he has out-qualified the Dutchman.

Leclerc has been on pole position seven times this season compared with just three for Verstappen but Ferrari have been heavily criticised for their tactical blunders on race days - ruining the raw pace their car possesses on Saturdays.

It has been estimated that Leclerc has lost around 50 points alone on the basis of poor calls from the team and reliability issues means he will need a storming end to the season to overhaul Verstappen.

However, Verstappen had to overcome a sizeable gap to win the title last season so Leclerc can look to his rival for inspiration.

He knows his car is very quick in qualifying and starting on pole position has been something of a regular occurrence in 2022.

However, he has to be able to trust his team not to strategically mess up as they did in Hungary when they bafflingly decided to put hard tyres on Leclerc's car towards the end of the race which saw his pace plummet.

Ferrari have not won a title since 2007 and it will be a source of embarrassment if poor calls by the team prevent them from ending that 15-year dry spell.

They won this race in 2018 and 2019 and will be looking for Leclerc and Carlos Sainz to perform strongly and repeat the feat.

Related Formula 1 News

Chequered Flag - Hungarian GP Review

Chequered Flag - Race review - French GP

Chequered Flag - Austrian GP Review

Ricciardo set for farewell tour

On Wednesday, it was announced that Daniel Ricciardo will leave McLaren at the end of the season with compatriot Oscar Piastri widely expected to replace him at the Woking-based manufacturer.

The Australian was expected to take on the role of the number one senior driver when he was partnered with Briton Lando Norris at the start of the 2021 season.

However, he has been consistently outpaced and outscored by Norris with Ricciardo only scoring 19 points this season compared to Norris' 76.

Ricciardo did score McLaren's last win in F1 after winning the Italian Grand Prix at Monza last year but, by and large, it hasn't worked out for the energetic 33-year-old.

In some senses, the pressure is off as he knows he doesn't have to drive for his McLaren future but, on the other hand, he will want to put himself in the shop window.

Ricciardo won the Belgian race in 2014 and has also had two other podium finishes, so starting his farewell tour with a bang will be on his mind.

What will the weather be like?

Spa has always been a venue for changeable weather, meaning races have often been very unpredictable and chaotic - the start of the 1998 Belgian GP will go down in his history as one of the worst opening lap pile-ups in the history of the sport.

Last year saw the elements at their most extreme as the rain lashed down, meaning only two laps were "raced" behind the safety car before a result was declared - Verstappen taking a hollow chequered flag.

It was a sorry chapter in the history of the Belgian race though forecasts indicate so far that there is virtually no chance of rain on Sunday.

However, there is a 40 per-cent chance of rain on Saturday for qualifying so a topsy-turvy grid could be a possibility.

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