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F1 returns from its summer break with the Belgian Grand Prix at the iconic Spa circuit. With rain forecast, can anyone spring a surprise from further back in the pack?

Here’s what to look out for at the 2022 Belgian Grand Prix!

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Will rain affect this year’s Belgian Grand Prix?

Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps is one of Formula 1’s most-loved circuits, yet this could be the final time the pinnacle of motorsport races around the famous track. While F1 has confirmed new races in Las Vegas and Qatar for 2023, Belgian Grand Prix organisers are yet to secure a deal to keep their race on the calendar next year. It would be a great shame to lose such an iconic event from the schedule.

The gloom of contract negotiations is unlikely to be the only dark cloud lingering over the circuit this weekend, at least if the weather forecast is to be believed. Last year, no racing action took place at Spa due to the weather conditions, with the result declared after just a handful of laps completed behind the Safety Car. Fingers crossed there will be no repeat of that this year – though rain is forecast for Sunday afternoon.

Such is Spa’s micro-climate, located in the Ardennes Forest, rain is always a factor when considering how to tackle the Belgian Grand Prix. Add to that the fact that the circuit is the longest on the calendar – at 4.3 miles long – and it’s feasible to see half of the track wet and the other half bone dry. A spectator’s dream, but a driver’s nightmare!

As George Russell proved last year by securing a front row start with Williams, should there be mixed conditions over the Belgian Grand Prix weekend, expect the unexpected.

Ricciardo to leave McLaren – how will he fare in Belgium?

Since F1 last raced there has been plenty of movement in the driver market. Ahead of the Hungarian Grand Prix, Sebastian Vettel announced that he is to retire from the sport at the end of 2022. Fernando Alonso was quick to fill the vacated Aston Martin seat, while Oscar Piastri was subsequently announced as Alonso’s replacement at Alpine.

However, Piastri made headlines by announcing he would, in fact, not be joining Alpine, with speculation rife that he will instead replace Daniel Ricciardo at McLaren in 2023. Ricciardo’s departure from McLaren was confirmed on Wednesday, with the official announcement of his replacement pending.

With potential future employers watching on, Ricciardo will be keen to impress on-track at a venue where he has previously taken victory. Since winning the 2014 Belgian Grand Prix, Ricciardo has taken two podium results at Spa and has finished fourth here in each of the last two seasons. The Australian is yet to finish in the top five in 2022 and has scored points on just four occasions. Amid uncertainty over his F1 future, is a strong result on the cards for Ricciardo this weekend?

The front row starters have a strong chance of victory in Belgium

If you want to win at Spa, you generally need to start from the front row of the grid. Of the past twelve races at the circuit, Ricciardo’s 2014 win, a race in which he started from fifth, is the only one which was not taken from the front row. Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc are the most
frequent front row starters so far this year, with the Hungarian Grand Prix being the only race in 2022 at which neither have started from the top two positions.

The polesitter has won all but one of the seven races here since Ricciardo’s 2014 victory and in the last two Belgian Grands Prix, the top three drivers have finished in the same order as they started. The fact that there was no racing action last year, of course, slightly skews the latter statistic.

Despite the majority of recent Spa successes coming from the front of the grid, heroics from further back are not so rare in Belgium. In 2019, both Alex Albon and Daniil Kvyat brought home top seven finishes from the back two rows of the grid, while in 2016, Lewis Hamilton drove from 21st to the podium. This will be welcome news for any drivers who may take engine-related grid penalties this weekend.

Curiously, the driver starting fourth has never won a race at this venue. In fact, the last win from the second row of the grid came all the way back in 1998, when Damon Hill won having started third.

Can Gasly return to the points on his 100th start?

Pierre Gasly makes his 100th Grand Prix start this weekend. The Frenchman’s F1 career so far has featured three podium finishes, including victory at the 2020 Italian Grand Prix. However, good results have been harder to come by in 2022 for Gasly. He has scored only three times this year,
with a best result of fifth in the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

The Baku race in June remains the last time that Gasly has scored, meaning that he will equal the longest point-less streak of his career unless he finishes in the top ten on Sunday. The good news is that he has never failed to score at Spa in any of his four previous visits – and that’s despite qualifying in the top ten only once. Can AlphaTauri provide the goods to put Pierre back in the points?

Sainz’s bad luck at Spa

Carlos Sainz has not had much luck at the Belgian Grand Prix in the past. The Spaniard has scored almost 700 points in his career to date, but only two of those have come at Spa-Francorchamps. He’s finished tenth at the track twice, in 2017 and in 2021, those being his only points-scoring appearances. His first two appearances here resulted in non-finishes, he failed to make it away from the grid in 2019 and he failed to even get to the grid in 2020.

Sainz’s qualifying record is not particularly strong here either. He’s qualified in the top ten only twice previously – in 2015 and 2020, recording his best qualifying result of seventh in the latter season. A qualifying result as low as that this weekend would be an anomaly for Sainz in 2022, given that he has qualified outside of the top four only three times this year.

Sainz has not finished on the podium since taking his maiden win at the British Grand Prix. Can he return to the top three and turn around his Spa fortunes in 2022?

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