While the midseason summer break has given everyone associated with Formula One the chance to breathe after a whirlwind first half of the season, events reconvene this weekend in Belgium with just as many unanswered questions as when the curtain fell on action in Hungary.
Sebastian Vettel’s lead at the championship was extended to fourteen points at the Hungaroring as the German claimed his fourth victory of the season. Perhaps the most revealing aspect from the events in Hungary was the stark difference between the leading manufacturer’s and their approach to imposing team orders. Having not registered a Grand Prix victory since the season-opener in 2013 when driving for Lotus, Kimi Raikkonen seemingly surrendered a realistic chance for the win in Hungary as the team instead chose to deploy him as a buffer for the onrushing Hamilton.
It was therefore no surprise at all when Ferrari announced the 37-year-old Finn had extended his contract by another year this week. The news will be music to the ears of Sebastian Vettel, whose renewal announcement must surely be now imminent, as the support role that Kimi offers is invaluable to the German’s success.
The clarity of Ferrari’s hierarchy was not mirrored across the paddock with the Mercedes team though. Lewis’ plea to allow him to pass Finnish teammate Valtteri Bottas was heard as he then embarked on an assault on the two Ferrari’s. Unable to make the pass, Hamilton kept his word as he relinquished a podium place and three championship points as he exchanged positions with his teammate on the final corner. I know that Hamilton would have been lambasted had he not have complied but I can’t help but thinking such was the gap that Hamilton had created between himself and Valtteri that it was he who should have been departing Hungary with a podium finish.
Like always, away from the front half of the grid, the second half of the season will be dominated by drivers and manufacturers looking to make a statement as the driver market hots up. To date, only Haas and Red Bull have confirmed their 2018 driver line-ups and the renewal announcements of both Kimi and Stoffel Vandoorne at McLaren this week are surely the first signs that the merry-go-round is kicking into gear.
One story which cannot be ignored relating to this is the remarkable potential return of Robert Kubica to the sport. For this to even be a consideration is testament to the astonishing recovery that the Polish driver has made and his performance in the post-Hungary test was another step in one of professional sport’s most amazing journeys. Heading into the test, it was yet to be seen how Kubica would handle the updated 2017 car and how he could physically cope. It is safe to say that the Pole delivered on both counts as he posted the fourth fastest lap time and delivered over 100 laps in the second day. His performance means we are another step closer to see him returning to the grid.
Looking ahead to the weekend itself, the long, high-speed corners of the infamous Spa-Francorchamps circuit should suit the Mercedes this weekend and I am backing Lewis to dominate events as he did earlier in the year at Silverstone.