The 2021 Formula One title race was just hotting up as a four-week break frustratingly put the season on hold.
Seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton was trailing challenger Max Verstappen through nine races this year, the last three of which the Red Bull driver won.
But back-to-back dramatic races at Silverstone and the Hungaroring put Hamilton back in the ascendancy.
Verstappen crashed out in an incident involving Hamilton at the British Grand Prix and then could only finish ninth at the Hungarian GP following another early collision.
Tempers frayed between the two races, with the Dutchman furious with Hamilton’s role at Silverstone.
A pause in the campaign might have allowed the pair to settle just a little, though, before the action resumes at the Belgian GP on Sunday.
Ahead of an event where Verstappen always enjoys significant support, he said: “I am of course excited to go back to Spa.
Ready for the restart #BelgianGP pic.twitter.com/yoKBf89lsj
— Max Verstappen (@Max33Verstappen) August 25, 2021
“It’s my favourite track and it’s really cool to drive with so many high-speed corners and elevation changes.
“I’m also looking forward to seeing all the fans who will be coming to support us, and it will be cool to see so much orange in the grandstands again as they couldn’t be there last year.
“I also think it is a good place to reset our championship fight and I’m well prepared and feeling good ahead of the weekend.”
LAST TIME OUT
Verstappen would have hoped to quickly put the British GP behind him in Hungary, still leading the championship as he lined up on the grid.
But another early flashpoint, this time involving Hamilton’s Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas among a host of other drivers, took the Red Bull superstar out of contention.
Although the red flag was soon waved, Verstappen could only recover to finish ninth.
Hamilton’s woes centred instead on team tactics, as an apparent error from Mercedes had him back in last place for a time.
Yet another stunning drive took the Briton to third, though, and Sebastian Vettel’s disqualification from second boosted Hamilton further up the standings.
Esteban Ocon claimed an unlikely win, but much of the focus remained on the top two in the title race.
Congratulations to @OconEsteban for his first win – he’s been a real star and it’s so exciting to watch. I fought my heart out, gave it everything, feel pretty good about P2 in Hungary. To everyone who checked in, thank you. I’m just fine — ready for some rest! pic.twitter.com/e6u5rkXcjU
— Lewis Hamilton (@LewisHamilton) August 2, 2021
WHAT TO EXPECT IN BELGIUM
Fireworks, if the past two races are anything to go by.
Verstappen will surely hope just to get through the first few laps without contact on Sunday, with Red Bull’s sensational race pace disrupted by his repeated involvement in crashes.
All this drama has suited Hamilton rather well, meanwhile, with the Mercedes man frustrated by the Silver Arrows’ deficit to their rivals prior to those outings.
Perhaps the break will have allowed Mercedes to make up some of that gap, but Hamilton has not sounded hopeful for much of this year. He is on 99 F1 wins, bidding to become the first man to three figures.
The 36-year-old is not the only Mercedes man at the centre of attention, though, as Toto Wolff is yet to confirm their second driver for 2022.
Assuming no decision is made before Sunday, George Russell will hope to lay down a marker with a strong performance in a weak Williams, while Bottas also needs a result.
TOP FIVE OPTA STATS
Successive successes? – Kimi Raikkonen was the last driver to win back-to-back Belgian GPs, with three between 2004 and 2007. Hamilton, who has a record six poles at Spa, was the most recent winner in 2020.
Quali so crucial – The past six winners at the Belgian GP have started from the front row of the grid, with five from pole and one from second. This is the longest such streak in the race’s history.
Centurion in silver – This would not be Hamilton’s first hundred. He was also the first to register 100 pole positions, with that total now 101 heading to Spa.
Finn to finish? – Bottas will aim to get back on track having failed to place in Hungary. Never in his F1 career has he not registered a position in consecutive races, unable to finish in Russia and the United States in 2015 but recording 12th place in the former.
No closer to Kimi – Fernando Alonso is on course to surpass Rubens Barrichello and move second with 323 grand prix appearances. However, Raikkonen’s continued F1 career keeps him clear on 341.
1. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) – 195
2. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) – 187
3. Lando Norris (McLaren) – 113
4. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) – 108
5. Sergio Perez (Red Bull) – 104
1. Mercedes – 303
2. Red Bull – 291
3. McLaren – 163
3. Ferrari – 163
5. Alpine – 77Internet Explorer Channel Network