Four weeks on from a poignant and incident-packed Hungarian Grand Prix, the Formula One circus is back this weekend with defending champion Lewis Hamilton aiming to increase his lead in this year’s title race at the classic Belgian Grand Prix.
The 30-year-old Briton, who has a 21 points advantage over his Mercedes teammate German Nico Rosberg in the drivers’ championship after 10 of this year’s 19 races, wants not only to stay on top, but to erase all memories of last year’s events with a confidence-boosting win.
After the sadness of losing Frenchman Jules Bianchi, who died shortly before last month’s Hungarian race won by resurgent German Sebastian Vettel for Ferrari, Hamilton and the rest have taken a break and returned recharged for the action that lies ahead.
Last year, Hamilton and Rosberg collided in a controversial and spectacular incident that overshadowed the race and led to disciplinary action by the team, a sequence of events that team chief Austrian Toto Wolff is keen not to see repeated.
“Any mistake we make is a gift to our rivals and we cannot afford to do that,” he said. “With 10 races down and nine to go, we enter the second half of the season with a stronger points total than at this stage last year and yet our margin to the competition is actually smaller.”
“In F1, there is never a moment you can take your foot off the gas and Hungary proved once again that any slip is an opportunity our rivals can grab with both hands.”
“We have all enjoyed a chance to recharge over the summer, but we have also kept our minds focused on what lies ahead. I think we know what is needed and we have to remain relentless.”
Hamilton finished sixth last time out in Hungary after a scruffy race littered with mistakes and has been in Barbados and New York during his holidays.
“It’s been good to relax, train and recharge the batteries,” he said. “There’s always that flame in the back of your mind that just wants to get back out there and get on it – especially after a race like Hungary.”
“For me, Spa is a great track to kick off the second part of the season. It’s one of the really great, old-school circuits with so much history. It’s mostly medium to high speed corners, so you’re pretty much pedal-to-the-metal the whole way round, which is a lot of fun.”
Rosberg, who finished eighth after a late collision, said: “Hungary was such a big disappointment and I’ve been itching to get back to racing ever since. When you’re in such a close battle for the championship, any opportunity to gain points is crucial and it’s up to me to take those chances – but also to make them for myself.
“That’s definitely the target for the second half of the year for me. It’s all still to play for.”
Mercedes have won eight of the 10 races to date, but have some concerns about the introduction of rule-changes that reduce the ‘driver aids’ in use at the start of the race and hand greater responsibility to the man in the cockpit.
Williams technical chief Pat Symonds, however, said he believed the changes won’t make much difference at all when the lights go out again on Sunday.
Given that Mercedes were beaten comprehensively at the start at the last two races, it is Wolff who will have most to worry about this time.
He may need to take special note of the form of Finn Kimi Raikkonen who is not only a Spa specialist, but also a driver boosted by being told on Wednesday that he will stay with Ferrari next year.
“What can I say?” he said. “For me, to be able to stay another year it means that the dream goes on. The Scuderia is my family, as I always said, it’s here I want to end my career.”