F1 schedule: How and what to watch at the Belgian Grand Prix (Spa)

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After three weeks away Formula 1 is back from the summer break. And if you haven’t kept up with F1 news since the Hungarian Grand Prix, let’s quickly catch you up. First, four-time champion Sebastian Vettel announced his retirement and exit from Aston Martin at the end of the season. And before we could begin to theorize who will fill the open seat, two-time champion Fernando Alonso make the shock announcement that he was leaving Alpine (currently 4th) for Aston Martin (currently 9th).

His open seat at the French team seemingly would make way for the Formula 2 champion and current Alpine reserve driver, Oscar Piastri to move into the first team. Alpine made the announcement … and then Piastri posted to social media that he had no agreement with Alpine and would not be driving with them. Elsewhere on the grid, Williams rewarded Alex Albon with a new two-year contract thanks to his strong season in a weaker car (9 finishes in the top 14).

Why would Piastri turn down a seat in Formula 1? The answer appears to have been clarified on Wednesday when McLaren announced they would be parting ways with Daniel Ricciardo at the end of the season. Reports indicate Piastri is in line to join Lando Norris at McLaren. Driver lineup drama, new regulations taking effect starting at the Belgian Grand Prix (more on that later), and just nine races to go. Welcome back to F1.

Where Things Stand

With both Charles Leclerc (178) and Sergio Perez (173) finishing off the podium in Hungary, Max Verstappen (258) extended his lead in the Drivers’ Championship to 80 points. With just nine races left, while it is still mathematically possible, Leclerc would need an incredible run to overtake Verstappen. George Russell’s (158) third in Hungary, his fifth third place this season, lifted him above Carlos Sainz (156) and remains 12 points ahead of his teammate Lewis Hamilton (146).

Red Bull (431) holds an even greater lead in the Constructors Championship, 97 points, thanks to back-to-back wins by Verstappen and a continuation of Ferrari’s (334) strategy and mechanical woes. Meanwhile, with Mercedes (304) landing at least one driver on the podium in seven of the last eight races, they are now just 30 points back of the Italian team. The race for 4th (Alpine, 99, and McLaren, 95) will be of huge interest, not just because they are four points apart, but the ongoing drama with Alonso, Ricciardo, & Piastri.

The Circuit

This circuit was first run in 1950, with Spa-Francorchamps since becoming synonymous with the Belgian Grand Prix. However, the debut of the venue came back in 1925 when the track was twice as long, a 9-mile circuit. The modern Spa is a perfect mixture of fast straight, speedy corners, and a tight hairpin corner at Turn 1 as the circuit climbs through the mountains. Add in the constant threat of rain and you have one of the most challenging tracks on the F1 calendar. There are two DRS zones, one right after turn 1 and the other as the end of the circuit back onto the start/finish line.

How To Watch (all times ET)

  • Practice 1 – Friday 8/26 – 7:55 am – ESPNU/ESPN Deportes/WatchESPN
  • Practice 2 – Friday 8/26 – 10:55 am – ESPN2/ESPN Deportes/WatchESPN
  • Belgian GP Preview Show: Friday- 1:05 pm – ESPN3/WatchESPN
  • Practice 3 – Saturday 8/27 – 6:55 am – ESPN2/ESPN Deportes/WatchESPN
  • Qualifying – Saturday 8/27 – 9:55 am – ESPN2/ESPN Deportes/WatchESPN
  • Grand Prix Sunday (Pre-race Show) – Sunday 8/28 – 7:30 am – ESPN2/ESPN Deportes/WatchESPN
  • Grand Prix Race – Sunday 8/28 – 8:55 am – ESPN2/ESPN Deportes/WatchESPN

DraftKings Sportsbook is offering odds on the race. Max Verstappen is the clear favorite at -115 as he looks to push toward his second straight title. Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc follows at +350 and then Lewis Hamilton at +400. A sign of Ferrari’s recent issues, as well as the continual progress Mercedes have made. Hamilton has yet to win in 2022 and has never had a season in Formula 1 without a victory. The unpredictable nature of Spa means that most drivers in the field have a reasonable chance of finishing in the points. Only Nicholas Latifi has odds greater than +330 to be inside the top 10.

What to Watch For

  • Silly Season. Three F1 seats for 2023 have already changed, an F2 Champion waiting to be officially announced, and six seats are still to be determined for next season. How will the drivers planning to leave their teams perform after the break? Can one of the unconfirmed drivers secure their spot for next season with a strong run in Belgian and at the Dutch Grand Prix next weekend?
  • Car setup. Will the Red Bull straight line advantage win out or Ferrari’s dominance in the corners? If weather conditions are uncertain will teams opt for a predominately wet or dry setup? In modern F1 it’s very hard to change the full setup of a car on race day.
  • Rain. Weather is always a risk at Spa and the conditions have created some dramatic races throughout the years. However, everyone will be fearful of a repeat of the 2021 Grand Prix. After three hours of delays the cars took to the track behind the safety car and on the third safety lap the race was called off with Verstappen declared the winner thanks to his pole position. Currently, the forecast calls for rain on Friday and Saturday mornings but is clear for the race on Sunday.
  • Technical Directive. Due to the excessive bouncing throughout the grid Formula 1 is introducing new rules starting this weekend related to the floor of the car and the vertical lift. The porpoising effect seen this season and the concern over the long-term health of the drivers led to this change. It’s been speculated that this could bring the likes of Red Bull and Ferrari back towards the pace of the Mercedes a bit, but the next few weeks will tell if this initial ruling has any impact.
  • Can Mercedes get that elusive win? Clearly, the Silver Arrows are making up ground. Hamilton’s damage at Imola that left him in 13th and Russell’s crash at Silverstone are the team’s only finishes outside the top 10. However, they’ve turned points finishes into regular podiums over the past few rounds. Hamilton has been on the podium himself for the last five races. And Mercedes still believe there are improvements and gains to be seen on track this season. Without a win this season and Hamilton facing the prospect of his first year in F1 without a victory, can the Belgian Grand Prix be their day?

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