SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS, Belgium, Aug 29 – Sebastian Vettel hopes to re-boot his and Ferrari’s season this weekend in pursuit of his first victory in more than a year as Formula One returns to action at the Belgian Grand Prix.
The four-time world champion won last year’s race at the majestic Spa-Francorchamps circuit, but has been without a victory since and needs to make the most of Ferrari’s power advantage to add to his career total of 52 triumphs.
“This is a legendary track and it is definitely one of my favourites,” said the German ahead of Sunday’s race after he and the rest of the F1 circus re-grouped following the now-traditional mid-season European summer break.
“It has climbs and drops and so much of it runs through forests – once you learn it and you know it, it is impossible not to love it.”
To win, however, Vettel knows he must not only overcome his fast Ferrari team-mate Charles Leclerc, but also series-leading defending five-time champion Lewis Hamilton.
Hamilton holds a 62-point advantage ahead of Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas, who was 30 on Wednesday and is expected to be confirmed as staying with the team next year, in the title race.
Last year, he pulled off a victory, but then plunged to defeat to Hamilton in a fiercely-fought Italian Grand Prix, Ferrari’s home event.
Monza hosts the next race again a week after the Belgian showdown.
For Vettel, there could not be a more critical scenario than these two Grands Prix, as he battles to save his season, his reputation and, perhaps, his career.
His Ferrari team boss Mattia Binotto allowed himself a glimmer of hope when he said: “I think that Spa is more power-sensitive, but there is nothing that is given, of course.
– Ferrari pin hopes on power –
“And I think the situation will be very different to Budapest so we will try to prepare the best we can to seek our first victory.”
While Hamilton and Mercedes revelled in delivering a tactical master-class in Hungary, Ferrari were again left trailing and will pin their hopes on their greater power and straight-line speed paying off.
Vettel and Hamilton have each recorded three previous wins at Spa where Kimi Raikkonen of Alfa Romeo has won four times, the most of the current grid.
Hamilton, however, has also won eight of this year’s 12 races to control the title contest. Bottas has won twice and Max Verstappen of Red Bull also has two wins.
Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff, relieved at the Hungarian recovery of form after what he called their “Armageddon” in Germany, said they will be taking nothing for granted now as they go into the final nine races of the 21-race season.
“We’re approaching the start of the second half of 2019 more like the start to a new season,” he said. “And we are looking forward to the fight.”
That fight is as likely to come from Verstappen, who welcomes a new team-mate in Thailand’s Alex Albon – promoted from Toro Rosso in a swap with Pierre Gasly – as from anyone.
The Dutchman will again have massive support from his orange army and hopes to add to his two wins in four outings, but knows also that he may have a power disadvantage with his Honda-powered Red Bull.