Max Verstappen will seek to exert a degree of home advantage by beating Lewis Hamilton to revive his title bid as Formula One returns from a mid-season summer break at the Belgian Grand Prix.
The Belgium-born Dutchman saw a comfortable 33-point lead turned into an eight-point deficit at the British and Hungarian Grands Prix last month before the annual shutdown.
He knows he needs to bounce back strongly in the next two events in front of his fervent ‘orange army’ of fans.
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After the controversies of Silverstone and Budapest, the 23-year-old Hasselt-born Red Bull driver also needs an uneventful contest to regain consistency following opening lap collisions in his last two outings.
“I am excited to go back to Spa,” he said. “It’s my favourite track and it’s really cool to drive with so many high-speed corners and elevation changes.
“It’s a good place to re-set our championship fight and I am well prepared and feeling good ahead of this race weekend. I’m looking forward to seeing all the fans and all the orange in the grandstands!” Verstappen will need a change of luck, too, as he has not won at the sweeping and majestic circuit set in the Ardennes forests and has never finished higher than third.
Seven-time world champion Hamilton has triumphed four times including last year. This weekend, Hamilton will again be seeking to claim a landmark 100th career victory and his fifth this year as Mercedes bid to resist Red Bull’s challenge for their titles.
For both men, it will be another torrid test of temperament as well as power and speed as they go immediately from Belgium to Verstappen’s other home event, the return of the Dutch Grand Prix at Zandvoort, the following weekend and then, without a break, to Monza for the Italian Grand Prix.
Attendance at Spa-Francorchamps is set to be capped at 75,000 per day due to the Covid-19 pandemic with most fans expecting more of the spectacular and competitive racing that was seen in Britain in Hungary, leading to a war of words between the Mercedes and Red Bull teams.
“We are in a good position, leading both championships and our car is in a better place thanks to the recent upgrades,” said Mercedes team chief Toto Wolff.
“But we are expecting a very tough weekend.”
Asked about the heated rivalry with Red Bull and team boss Christian Horner, Wolff said he and Mercedes had tried to keep things calm, but suggested it was not that way for Red Bull “In the war of words, we have tried to maintain our cool, stay level-headed and not fuel controversy and polarisation among our fans.
“Our aim was always to de-escalate, but unfortunately the opposite happens on the other side.” He stressed that the animosity came from clashes between individuals and that the two teams retained respect for each other.
“There is always respect for these organisations and for the people in them,” he said.
Both Mercedes and Red Bull could face strong competition this weekend from Ferrari and McLaren as the second half of the season begins in earnest.
McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo will start his 200th Grand Prix at the spectacular and high-speed circuit, where 30 years ago seven-time champion Michael Schumacher, later to become a Ferrari legend, made his F1 debut with Jordan.
His son said he was thrilled to be competing at the track where the Schumacher legend first began.
“(But not) just because of the history of my dad but also I’ve had a few good races here,” he told Thursday’s press conference at Spa ahead o Sunday’s race.
The Haas rookie added: “I’ve had my first pole position, my first race win in 2018 here with F3, which then became a streak of multiple race wins so definitely, yes, it’s a track that I enjoy a lot and I enjoy a lot coming back close to home.”
Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix preview, Fabio Quartararo MotoGP title chances, Valentino Rossi says goodbye
Fabio Quartararo is within touching distance of his first MotoGP world title at Sunday’s Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix which will host Valentino Rossi’s final farewell to his adoring Italian fans.
Yamaha rider Quartararo, 22, is 52 points ahead of Ducati’s Francesco Bagnaia who sits second in the championship standings with three races left in the 2021 season heading into the race at Misano on Italy’s Adriatic coast.
With 25 points the maximum available Quartararo will become the first ever French MotoGP winner if he finishes ahead of home hope Bagnaia, who is hunting his own debut triumph at the age of 24.
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Quartararo should be in confident mood after his impressive second place behind Marc Marquez at the Grand Prix of the Americas in Texas last time out, which set up his bid to claim the title this weekend.
He also finished second at Misano in the San Marino MotoGP last month.
“For this final part of the competition my mindset has changed a little. The last time we were in Misano, I was racing for the win and not thinking about the championship at all,” said Quartararo.
“Of course I will still do my best as always to get the best result possible this weekend, because that’s what I enjoy most, but I will try to be smart about it.”
Bagnaia has good reason to think he can extend the title race for at least one more GP as he held off Quartararo from pole position to win at Misano in September, having recorded a track record time in qualifying.
The former Rossi protege will be keen for another success in front of an emotional home crowd who will be there mostly to say goodbye to a motorcycling legend.
Seven-time MotoGP champion Rossi, 42, grew up riding at Misano and still only lives a short drive away from the track, with his own motorcycling team VR46 based a few miles down the road in his home town of Tavullia.
Up to 35,000 fans are expected at the track on Sunday for Rossi’s final MotoGP race on Italian soil, hoping for one last flourish in front of a yellow wall of supporters.
Rossi has failed to set the track alight during his slow march towards retirement at the end of the season and sits 21st in the overall standings after only making the top 10 twice all season.
He finished a lowly 17th at Misano in September, which was also an occasion for fans to hail one of Italy’s sporting icons.
“The previous race in Misano was already a really emotional moment for me,” said Rossi.
“This one will be a special race at home and I really hope the Italian fans can enjoy it.”
Australian Grand Prix, New South Wales plan to steal race from Melbourne, Sydney Harbour F1 race
Sydney is weighing up a bold plot to steal the Australian Formula 1 Grand Prix from Melbourne, reports Seven News.
The New South Wales state government is said to be interested in bidding for the race rights when the current contract with Albert Park expires after 2025.
While crossing the Harbour Bridge has already been ruled out due to obvious safety concerns, the bid would be centred on a Monaco-like street circuit around Sydney Harbour.
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Sydney has tried and failed to steal the race at least twice before.
In 2010, then-NSW premier Kristina Keneally announced a plot which would’ve seen the race run at Homebush, potentially at night. Then just ahead of the 2015 state election, then-NSW premier Mike Baird reportedly set aside $180 million to host the race from 2021 onwards.
The annual cost of the Grand Prix in Melbourne has never been officially confirmed but in 2013, taxpayers paid $34 million, and the cost has only risen since.
The first F1 Australian Grand Prix was held in 1985 in Adelaide, typically ending the season. The title was decided there in 1986 (Alain Prost over Nigel Mansell) and 1994 (Michael Schumacher over Damon Hill).
Melbourne then poached the race and it has been run around Albert Park Lake since 1996.
The race did not run in 2020 or 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic, with the 2020 event cancelled just two hours before the first Friday practice session was to be held.
David Cauchi joins Kelly Grove Racing, Triple Eight, Shane van Gisbergen
Kelly Grove Racing has confirmed David Cauchi will join the team in 2022 as Team Principal.
Cauchi will join the team next season following a long stint with Triple Eight Race Engineering.
The decorated race engineer will replace Todd Kelly, who has been Team Principal since he retired from full-time driving.
He is currently Shane van Gisbergen’s race engineer, having skippered Jamie Whincup’s efforts between 2014 and 2020.
Cauchi has worked in Supercars for 14 years, and has helped Triple Eight to eight drivers’ titles.
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That could become nine in 2021, with van Gisbergen leading the championship by 276 points.
The experienced engineer will lead the Braeside squad into its new solely Grove-owned era, but will also bring engineering and winning nous with him.
“I’m very excited and grateful to Brenton & Steph for the opportunity to join Grove Racing in 2022,” Cauchi said.
“It’s a new role and a thrilling opportunity in a team with a deep and long history in the sport.
“I am looking forward to being a part of this new chapter in their story.”
Team co-owner Stephen Grove was delighted to secure the services of the experienced and decorated engineer.
“Once we went through the ownership changes, it was essential that we found the best possible person we could to help take on some of Todd’s critical roles, and we believe we have found that person in Cauchi.
“He has vast experience and know that he will fit well into the family culture of the team.
“We look forward to him starting with us in 2022.”
The move means Triple Eight Race Engineering will field an all-new race engineering line-up for the 2022 Repco Supercars Championship..
Wes McDougall, who has been engineering Jamie Whincup in 2021, will also depart the team at season’s end.
Veteran McDougall joined the team this year from Matt Stone Racing.
It comes after Grant McPherson left the team at the end of 2020 to join Walkinshaw Andretti United.
McPherson was previously van Gisbergen’s race engineer between 2016 and 2020.
He notably helped van Gisbergen to the championship in 2016, and Bathurst victory last year.
Cauchi is a long-term member of the Triple Eight family, having joined the team in 2007 as a data engineer.
He took over from Mark Dutton on Whincup’s car in 2014 and helped him to the 2014 and 2017 drivers’ titles.
Dutton, himself a decorated race engineer, is Triple Eight’s Team Manager.
The team will also feature a new-look driver line-up in 2022, with van Gisbergen to be joined by Broc Feeney.
Feeney will replace Whincup, who himself will replace Roland Dane as Managing Director and Team Principal.
With McPherson and Cauchi both on the way out, van Gisbergen will have his third race engineer in as many years in 2022.
The 2021 Repco Supercars Championship will continue at next weekend’s Bunnings Trade Sydney SuperNight. Tickets for all four upcoming Sydney events are on sale now.
The event will be broadcast live on Foxtel and will be streamed on Kayo.
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