Formula One: Rosberg gets inside track

Nico Rosberg is favourite to win the Belgian GP ahead of Lewis Hamilton, who has a penalty of 30 grid places following further changes to his engine.
Nico Rosberg is favourite to win the Belgian GP ahead of Lewis Hamilton, who has a penalty of 30 grid places following further changes to his engine.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Hamilton's grid penalty means the German is favourite but he is not taking win for granted

SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS • There are few better circuits for Formula One to begin the second half of the season than the glorious Spa-Francorchamps, where breathtaking speed will be balanced by testing corners and spectacular changes of elevation this weekend at the Belgian Grand Prix.

This year, the Ardennes will attract more fans than ever because the number of tickets has been increased to accommodate the Dutch, who are coming en masse to support Belgian-Dutch Max Verstappen in his first race at the track as both a Red Bull driver and a grand prix winner.

But, while Verstappen is a draw for many, perhaps the question looking to be answered at Spa is at the sharp end. What can Nico Rosberg do to defeat his Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton?

The momentum shift towards the British driver in the latter part of the first 12 races was remarkable.

Hamilton was 43 points behind Rosberg, who had won the opening four races of the season, after the fourth grand prix in Russia. But now he leads by 19 points, having triumphed in the past four races.

Defeated in the world championship twice since Mercedes brought their dominant car to the field in 2014, Rosberg needs to race better than he ever has before, take the fight to Hamilton and, crucially, make a step up he has not managed previously against his team-mate.

In short, the German needs to be punchy and, with the Mercedes threat of severe sanctions on the drivers should they clash on the track, deadly accurate.

Rested after the summer vacation then, are his feet moving fast? Particularly after Hamilton will start from the back of the grid after being penalised 30 grid places for exceeding his permitted allocation of engine components?

Rosberg has qualified on the front row for all but one race this season and, should Mercedes' dominance of qualifying continue in Belgium, the German is likely to start way ahead of his title-leading team-mate on tomorrow's grid.

Rosberg is showing more steel but is refusing to take victory tomorrow for granted.

"That (Hamilton's penalty) is going to make the weekend less difficult for me, for sure, because he is my biggest direct rival," the German said on Thursday.

"Nevertheless it's still going to be a challenge."

He does not expect it to be straightforward especially as Red Bull are now strong enough to capitalise on the smallest opportunity.

Hamilton, in the form of his life, could also charge through the field with the 6.9km Spa circuit offering plenty of overtaking opportunities.

"I still need to beat all the opposition and Lewis, always need to reckon with him because with a bit of luck and safety cars at the right moment, there is no reason why he can't come from far back and through the grid," Rosberg added.

THE GUARDIAN, REUTERS

BELGIAN GRAND PRIX

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 27, 2016, with the headline 'Rosberg gets inside track'. Print Edition | Subscribe