Belgian GP: Charles Leclerc restarts Max Verstappen chase with Lewis Hamilton on the rise as F1 returns

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As Formula One prepares to return in Belgium after the summer break, look back at how Max Verstappen has built an 80-point lead over title rival Charles Leclerc.

As Formula One prepares to return in Belgium after the summer break, look back at how Max Verstappen has built an 80-point lead over title rival Charles Leclerc.

The Formula 1 season restarts at one of its most iconic circuits this week, with the Belgian Grand Prix the first of nine races that will determine the outcome of 2022’s world championship battles.

After two victories heading into the summer break and two woeful rounds for his closest rival, Max Verstappen heads into the Spa-Francorchamps resumption with a mighty 80-point lead as he looks to retain his title.

But can Charles Leclerc hit back? Are Mercedes, and Lewis Hamilton, back in contention? And what on earth is going on in the driver market?

Ahead of the Belgian GP, with every session live on Sky Sports F1, we’ve rounded up the essential talking points which could shape the weekend, and indeed the rest of the season as we get ready for nine races in 15 weeks.

Is there any way back for Leclerc?

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Take a look at the most enthralling battles between Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen so far this season in their hunt to become world champion.

Take a look at the most enthralling battles between Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen so far this season in their hunt to become world champion.

The runaway leader at the start of the season and the driver with far more pole positions than anyone else, Leclerc has been rapid in 2022 – but his title challenge is in danger of falling apart. If it hasn’t already.

Leclerc has had a woeful run ever since his engine went bang at May’s Spanish GP – as the table below demonstrates – and Verstappen has been there to profit, stretching his lead to 80 points heading into August.

Charles Leclerc’s miserable run

Race Finished Problem
Spanish GP DNF Engine failure
Monaco GP 4th Ferrari strategy
Azerbaijan GP DNF Engine failure
Canadian GP 5th Engine penalty
British GP 4th Ferrari strategy
Austrian GP 1st N/A
French GP DNF Crashed – unforced error
Hungarian GP 6th Ferrari strategy

That advantage, the largest a driver as enjoyed at the summer break in over a decade, means Verstappen can actually afford to finish second behind Leclerc in all of the remaining nine rounds and still defend his crown.

Why, then, is there still hope, even confidence, in the Ferrari camp?

Because they have had a faster package than Red Bull over the summer.

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Felipe Massa says Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc must remain patient with the team and resist the urge to publicly voice his frustrations.

Felipe Massa says Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc must remain patient with the team and resist the urge to publicly voice his frustrations.

Indeed, the difference between Verstappen and Red Bull, and Leclerc and Ferrari has been mistakes, not outright pace. Verstappen and Red Bull have been near-faultless when it comes to strategy and driver errors, Leclerc and Ferrari have been more than clumsy… with more reliability failures, too.

Big points swings can happen very quickly in F1 – Verstappen was 46 points behind Leclerc after three races earlier this year – but it would take a seamless run between now and the end of the season for Leclerc to mount a title challenge from here, and the Belgian GP is the first of nine must-wins.

Can he do it? More importantly, can Ferrari?

Can Mercedes continue strong run?

By their sky-high standards over the last eight years, it has been a well under-par first half of the season for Mercedes, with no race wins, big question marks over their car, and a whopping 127-point title deficit.

But still, they probably head into this weekend’s return with more optimism than most.

That’s because of their recent form, with Mercedes slowly beginning to understand their unpredictable W13 car and thus able to bring upgrades and improvements, and the results have been promising.

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Lewis Hamilton said he is feeling really excited about the second half of the season after finishing P2 at the Hungarian GP.

Lewis Hamilton said he is feeling really excited about the second half of the season after finishing P2 at the Hungarian GP.

The reigning world champions were in the hunt for the win at the British GP, had a pole chance in Austria, claimed their first double podium of the season in France and repeated that result in Hungary, where they also enjoyed their first pole through George Russell. Since their last uncompetitive weekend in Azerbaijan, the team have scored 143 points – compared to Red Bull’s 152 and Ferrari’s 135.

A more stable car has also seemingly revitalised Lewis Hamilton, who while still behind Russell in the standings has claimed five straight podiums, finishing ahead of his team-mate in all those races.

Mercedes have promised more upgrades to come in Belgium and their return to contention – which Verstappen has welcomed so they can “steal points off Ferrari” – adds more spice to the title run-in.

What effect could new porpoising directive have?

‘Porpoising’ has been an often-used word in F1 2022 – and this weekend we have a new technical directive aimed at reducing that phenomenon, while it could also have an impact on team’s performances.

The directive is mainly centered around safety and trying to reduce the porpoising of cars with a new metric. But the FIA are also introducing measures to stop teams from flexing their floors, following speculation that some were exploiting a loophole to boost performance.

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Red Bull driver Max Verstappen says he prefers the challenge of Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc compared to last season’s rivalry with Lewis Hamilton, adding that the drivers are from ‘different generations’.

Red Bull driver Max Verstappen says he prefers the challenge of Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc compared to last season’s rivalry with Lewis Hamilton, adding that the drivers are from ‘different generations’.

Mercedes, F1’s previous dominant force, believe Red Bull and Ferrari, 2022’s fastest teams, have more flexible floors than the rules intend, with the focus on the wooden plank and skid blocks underneath the cars.

The technical directive focuses on the stiffness of said planks and hints that the FIA, too, believed some teams were gaining an aerodynamic benefit, which would be achieved by running the car lower to the ground.

Toto Wolff, Mercedes’ team boss, has been adamant there is a performance impact in the changes.

How much? We’ll find out this weekend.

Will we get answers to F1’s transfer saga?

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With Daniel Ricciardo’s future at McLaren appearing to be in doubt, take a look back at his greatest race victories for Red Bull.

With Daniel Ricciardo’s future at McLaren appearing to be in doubt, take a look back at his greatest race victories for Red Bull.

F1 silly season has well and truly begun, and the Belgian GP provides the first time drivers – we’re looking at you Daniel Ricciardo and Fernando Alonso – will face the media to have their say on what exactly is going on.

Need a refresher? Well, Sebastian Vettel announced his Aston Martin over the Hungarian GP weekend, and on the Monday afterwards Alonso revealed he would be replacing his fellow world champion in 2023.

That was a shock in itself, but then we got a bigger one.

Alpine thought they had an in-house replacement sewn up and announced reserve driver and F2 champion Oscar Piastri as Esteban Ocon’s new team-mate, although the Australian retorted that claim on social media hours later and insisted he would not be driving for the team next season.

It is believed Piastri and his management have been negotiating a deal with McLaren for 2023, which seemingly would be in place of Daniel Ricciardo, and there are reports that McLaren have told Ricciardo he will be moving.

For now, we are in limbo as teams haven’t provided any updates since, with Alpine believing they will still have Piastri driving for them next season, while Ricciardo has been adamant all along he is staying at McLaren.

Thursday’s media day should shed a lot of light on this saga.

The summer break is over and the Belgian GP is all live on Sky Sports F1 this weekend, with Sunday’s race at 2pm

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