Course will favour the Mercedes duo

 Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton during the race on July 31 in Germany.
Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton during the race on July 31 in Germany.PHOTO: REUTERS

There are nine races to go and Lewis Hamilton leads the world championship by 19 points from Nico Rosberg. So, here are the things to look out for at Spa:

How crucial is this race?

Very crucial, because drivers regard Spa as a test of their skills and endurance.

This is the longest and most arduous circuit. It requires drivers to keep the throttle pedal flat for 60 per cent of their lap, touching almost 345kmh at times.

Grid penalty for Hamilton?

It all depends on whether Mercedes decide to take the engine-related grid penalty that awaits Hamilton.

Either way, he can make up places even from the back of the grid with his superior Mercedes.

Will Hamilton win the title?

Barring a miracle, he will lose points to Rosberg at Spa or Monza after the penalties. Then there will be a titanic struggle if they are close on points.

Hamilton is immensely strong at all of these final nine circuits. In 2014, he won six of the last seven grands prix and last season he won six of the final nine.

Will Ferrari challenge?

Nope. They appear to have turned their attention to the 2017 season, realising this one is beyond them.

That leaves Red Bull to take the fight to Mercedes.

What of Max Verstappen?

Spa will be packed, all because of one young man - Verstappen.

He was born in Hasselt but is racing under his father's Dutch colours.

Plenty of youngsters have been through the Formula One hype but the 17-year-old Verstappen is the real deal.

THE TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 26, 2016, with the headline 'Course will favour the Mercedes duo'. Print Edition | Subscribe