Spa-Francorchamps welcomes the 2023 Formula One circus a bit earlier than usual this weekend, marking the end of the first half of the season rather than Spa's traditional date of starting the second half to avoid the unpredictable weather that rolls into Belgium near the end of summer.
What will be predictable is speed — Spa is one of the fastest circuits on the calendar — and straight off the bat that should be an advantage for Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Red Bull Racing, with the odds favoring them to add to their record-breaking 12 straight wins. Well, not so fast, says Lewis Hamilton and others, who point to the previous event at Hungary as proof that Red Bull's straight-line advantage is not what it was at the beginning of the season. Hamilton especially takes hope from the fact that the Bulls rolled out improvements to their RB19s, yet that didn't seem to show up when the green flag dropped.
It's an assessment based in fact, as Hamilton's Mercedes broke through to snatch pole from Verstappen, and the McLarens looked very, very racy against the Red Bull machines. However, Hungary is more like Monaco — a high-downforce track with tight curves that have more low speed than high ones. It is nothing like Spa, with its many complex linking sections — such as the Eau Rouge/Raidillon combo, the La Source hairpin and the long Kemmel straight to Les Combes — that reward a driver for not lifting his right foot.
Add into the mix that the track has been resurfaced, meaning that practices are going to be key in establishing data points for Sunday, and Spa should be its old entertaining self, regardless of being a month or so earlier in the calendar. Want another wrinkle? There will be fewer practice sessions for the weekend as well, with Spa being the third event of the calendar featuring the Sprint format. Friday will be it, and wouldn't you just know it that Friday is expected to get rain, which has been intermittent all week.
So, who can catch, and more importantly pass, the Red Bulls? Hamilton's qualifying speed was something to see, but it didn't translate all that well to the race at the Hungaroring. If he and teammate George Russell are going to be in the fight then Mercedes needs to find something for race day, too. With a pair of second-place finishes back-to-back, Lando Norris and McLaren will be touted as having a puncher's chance of landing a KO. His teammate, Oscar Piastri, also looks more racy lately, and both could be in the mix for the podium. Odds have Fernando Alonso as having the same chance as Hamilton to win, with the Spaniard's Aston Martin teammate, Lance Stroll, below Russell in the table but even with the Alpines of Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon. Ferrari -- who got into the summer break spirit early by announcing sporting director Laurent Mekies will not be with the team this weekend or for the rest of the season -- may be on the outside looking in on a podium spot at a track that doesn't favor their car. Mekies, by the way, was slated to leave at the end of the season to become team principal at AlphaTauri.
How to watch the F1 Grand Prix of Belgium
- Date: Sunday, July 30
- Location: 4.352 mile (7.004 kilometer), 19-turn Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps, Stavelot, Belgium
- Time: 9 a.m. ET
- TV: ESPN2, ESPN+
- Stream: fubo (try for free)
What to watch for
After a weekend at Hungary that saw the teams receive less sets of tires, the normal allocation is back for Spa, meaning drivers will have two sets of the hard, three of the medium and of the softs, along with the blue "rain" tires and a set of intermediate wet tires. Pirelli will bring the C2 (white) hards to Spa, with the C3 (yellow) as the medium compound and the C4 (reds) the softest.
"Weather at Spa is a key factor throughout the weekend," Pirelli Motorsport director Mario Isola told formula1.com. "The length of the track, with Spa being the longest lap of the year, and the variation in elevation – which is also the biggest of the whole season – means that it's easy to find wet conditions on one part of the track while it's completely dry elsewhere. … At Spa, we tend to see some of the biggest differences in terms of aerodynamic setup between the teams. Some prefer more downforce in order to push harder during the second sector while others prefer a looser car to have extra speed to attack and defend more down the straights."
As for pit stops, Spa figures to be either a two-stopper, with drivers starting on the medium compound then following that with another run on new mediums before switching to softs on the two-stop strategy.