The long(ish) wait for Formula One to resume after its traditional summer break is over, with three full hour-long practice sessions for this weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix underway. It has been an eventful few weeks since F1 finished up after the Hungarian Grand Prix with the Alonso/Piastri Alpine/Aston Martin saga continuing without any clear resolution on who will fill the second seat at Alpine and who will replace the outgoing Daniel Ricciardo at McLaren next year. With F1’s Contract Recognition Board meeting next week, a resolution could be found in the coming weeks, but that is not guaranteed.
Anyway, on with the action this weekend. Perhaps the most notable thing to occur this weekend is a raft of drivers taking substantial grid penalties, with a handful of those coming from the front. The two championship leaders – Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc – will be starting the race in unfamiliar positions, as well as Lando Norris, Guanyu Zhou, Valtteri Bottas, Esteban Ocon and Mick Schumacher. The exact order has yet to be decided .
What does this mean for the weekend ahead, then? Well, with Leclerc or Verstappen taking 11 of the 13 race wins this season it gives a chance of victory to a few others: notably Carlos Sainz, Sergio Perez or even one George Russell or Lewis Hamilton. Mercedes have been starved of victories in 2022 but have shown glimpses of form recently. Could this be their chance?
Going by the results of practice so far yesterday and today, it could be difficult. Red Bull’s Perez was the fastest man in FP3, finishing 0.137s ahead of team-mate Verstappen. Carlos Sainz was third but 0.777s behind Perez’s time. Of those who are not taking penalties, Fernando Alonso was next for Alpine, just over a second off the pace, followed by Mercedes’ George Russell, Sebastian Vettel and Pierre Gasly. Lewis Hamilton was down in 12th, 1.722s off Perez’s ultimate time.
How might that shake out when qualifying begins in around an hour and a quarter’s time? It is too difficult to tell at this stage, naturally, but the Red Bull does look ominously quick.