Belgian GP: Max Verstappen bids to wrestle back title momentum from Lewis Hamilton after costly crashes

Red Bull insist they are “fully motivated” to hit back against Mercedes as the gripping title fight between the F1 heavyweights and star drivers Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton resumes at this weekend’s Belgian GP.

After opening up big championship leads thanks to a run of five straight race victories from Monaco to Austria, fancied challengers Red Bull entered August’s summer break on the back of scoring just a combined two points from the last two events where, perhaps season-defining, chaos ensued.

  • The Formula 1 2021 calendar as it stands
  • F1 World Championship standings

A combination of crashes – Hamilton and Verstappen and Silverstone and a pile-up involving Valtteri Bottas and the two Red Bulls in Hungary – and an upturn in Mercedes form has seen the world champions move 12 points clear in the team standings, and Hamilton eight points ahead in the drivers’.

This weekend’s Belgian GP – all live on Sky Sports F1 from the famous Spa-Francorchamps – is therefore a major test of Red Bull and Verstappen’s title credentials, as they look to wrestle back the momentum.

“It’s a lot of freak moments at the moment that cost us a lot of points,” said Verstappen, so desperate to claim his first F1 world title. “They are of course very quick, but we never give up.”

Team boss Christian Horner added to Sky F1 in Budapest: “We’ve had six victories, and the races we’ve lost are with a tyre explosion [in Azerbaijan], being taken out at Silverstone, and then Hungary.

“I think we’ve got a lot to be positive about and the whole team is fully motivated.

“We’re going to come out for the second half of this championship and it’s all to play for. The difference between second and first, I think the second half of this year is going to be epic and we’re not giving up anything.”

The Belgian GP, the first race since August 2 and kickstarting a bumper run of five Grands Prix in six weeks, is live on Sky Sports F1, from Friday’s Practice One at 10.30am to Sunday’s race at 2pm.

Do Mercedes now have F1’s fastest package?

The crashes from Silverstone and Hungary have certainly shifted F1 2021’s momentum, and stoked the fire between rivals Red Bull and Mercedes, but it is not just those that have reshaped the championship.

Mercedes, so off the pace for much of the summer, have a car to be feared again.

The upgrade package the team introduced at Silverstone appears to have worked wonders in clawing back Red Bull, with Lewis Hamilton having sealed top spot in both qualifying sessions since, while he had by far the fastest car at the last race in Hungary, where Red Bull usually flourish.

A return to Belgium will test the cars to the limit again, while also providing a big test of the team’s Mercedes and Honda engines, with Mercedes appearing to hit back at Red Bull in that department before the break.

“It’s definitely been a hard slog for us,” Hamilton said in Hungary. “Those guys with their update, they had I think a combination of things but they took a really good step once we got to the midpoint.

“Monaco onwards was intense but the upgrade really has worked and then we’ve just been working on our procedure through the weekend and trying to extract more from the car and I think now we’re a lot closer.”

Sky Sports F1’s Belgian Grand Prix schedule

Thursday, August 26
5pm: The F1 Show Live (also live on Sky F1 YouTube)
6pm: Drivers’ Press Conference

Friday, August 27
9.05am: F3 Practice Live
10am: Belgian GP Practice One Live (Session starts at 10.30am)
12.50pm: F3 Qualifying Live
1.45pm: Belgian GP Practice Two Live (Session starts at 2pm)

Saturday, August 28
9.25am: F3 Sprint Race One Live
10.45am: Belgian GP Practice Three Live (Session starts at 11am)
1pm: Belgian GP Qualifying Build-Up Live
4.45pm: F3 Sprint Race Two Live

Sunday, August 29
9.30am: F3 Feature Race Live
12.30pm: Belgian GP Grand Prix Sunday Live
4pm: Belgian GP Chequered Flag Live
6pm: Belgian GP Highlights

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