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My Belgian Grand Prix predictions

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Jonathan Legard | 22:56 UK time, Friday, 28 August 2009

It is cup final time for Sebastian Vettel; the Belgian Grand Prix has to be a winning one for the Red Bull driver if he is to stay at the heart of the hunt for the 2009 championship.

He is 25 points down on Brawn's championship leader Jenson Button with six races left and he is going to run out of chances unless he makes his move now.

Vettel - and his team - know he has to capitalise at Spa Francorchamps which appears to be suited to Red Bull's capabilities, particularly with the second sector's fast flowing corners.

The question is will the Red Bulls be as dominant here as they were when they claimed an emphatic one-two at Silverstone or will their waters be muddied by Lewis Hamilton's McLaren, Kimi Raikkonen of Ferrari or a resurgent Brawn team?

With all that in mind here are my top eight predicted finishes:

1 Mark Webber (Red Bull)
2 Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari)
3 Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull)
4 Lewis Hamilton (McLaren)
5 Rubens Barrichello (Brawn GP)
6 Jenson Button (Brawn GP)
7 Heikki Kovalainen (McLaren)
8 Fernando Alonso (Renault)

Mathematically, Vettel would still be in the hunt even if he didn't win in Spa but realistically time and races, and even engines, are not on his side.

Mark Webber looked in aggressive mood during Friday practice at Spa

His team-mate Mark Webber understands just as well as he does how big a weekend this is for Red Bull. The Australian knows he needs to strike now too because the upcoming tracks in Singapore and Abu Dhabi will play to the strengths of the Brawn car, especially in terms of the heat.

Both Red Bull drivers need to score some big points and it is hard to choose between them, but I am going to pick Webber to take the chequered flag.

I was standing at Eau Rouge during Friday practice when the cars were practising their starts and opening lap and while most cars lifted off, Webber absolutely hammered it. It is as though he is preparing every second he is out on the track.

After finishing ninth in Valencia, Webber needs to make amends and he has admitted that this is his best chance of winning the world championship. Vettel is 22 and may have another 10 years in the sport but Webber, who celebrated his 33rd birthday on Thursday, has only signed a one-year contract with Red Bull.

Ferrari have almost slipped under the radar but the Italian team have been on the podium for the last three races.

This is a driver's track and one where Raikkonen flies. The 2007 world champion has won here three times in a row and I'm going for him to split the two Red Bulls this weekend.

As I understand it, Ferrari were running fairly heavy on fuel during Friday practice but Raikkonen still finished well up the timesheets. The power-boost Kers system will also be a huge advantage for him at the top of the hill from Eau Rouge and coming up the back straight.

Vettel is now running with his sixth engine of the season and each driver is limited to a maximum of eight throughout the course of the campaign.

He won't be phased by his reliability problems in terms of his approach to his race but it has to be a concern as the upcoming races at Spa, Monza, Suzuka and Brazil are all very demanding on engines because they are fast circuits.

Lewis Hamilton was on pole in Spa last year but he was given a drive-through penalty, which was applied after the race, for cutting a chicane and that saw him demoted from first to third.

He loves this track but McLaren are still not certain that they can transfer their form from Hungary and Valencia to Spa. Having said that, McLaren could still be very powerful in sectors one and three - it's a question of whether they have enough to take the fight to the Red Bulls.

There is little to choose between the two Brawns of Rubens Barrichello and championship leader Jenson Button. But I've picked Barrichello, winner of the European GP, to come home ahead of his team-mate in fifth.

The Brazilian has scored more points than Button in the last four races and he is racing to secure his future in 2010.

One of the questions Button is facing is 'can you perform when you cannot necessarily get the best out of your car?' He'll be trying to answer that question in Belgium.

Brawn ran very heavy on fuel in Friday practice as they worked through a programme to establish whether the advances they made last time out in Valencia were just determined by the hot track temperatures or whether they have resolved the issues that have dogged them in recent races.

The team say they were buoyed by second practice on Friday but they are still on a mission to understand and learn more about their car.

I've gone for Heikki Kovalainen in the second McLaren to take seventh. He knows that he is driving for his future, whether that be at McLaren or with a different team.

The Finn was encouraged by his performance in Valencia but he has to translate that to a track which makes different demands on a driver and his best result in Spa was eighth in 2007.

The final point in my predictions goes to Renault's Fernando Alonso. He is one of the great champions who has never won on this circuit but you can never count the 2005 and 2006 champion out of the points.

Whenever you mention Spa everyone lights up. It's a giant of a track and a throwback to another era. Nestled in the Ardennes mountains it has its own micro-climate, it makes demands of the drivers like no other in F1 and it's the longest track on the calendar with the fewest laps to run.

For the sake of the championship, we have to hope that Sunday's racing is as spectacular and memorable as some of the great moments we've seen here in the past.


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