Belgian GP preview: Can Albon & Vettel impress at Spa?

A graphic to show the track layout of Spa-Francorchamps for the Belgian Grand Prix. Number of laps: 44 - Circuit length: 7.004km

The holiday fun is done and dusted and it's time for F1 to head back to work.

For the likes of Lewis Hamilton, it means returning to a healthy, 62-point lead over Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas in the drivers' championship.

For Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel, it means a whole year since he won a race.

In the case of Pierre Gasly, a demotion back to Toro Rosso following a run of disappointing performances for Red Bull awaits the Frenchman for the final half the season.

The 23-year-old may be feeling a little hard done by, as team boss Christian Horner said after the Hungarian Grand Prix that the intention was to "leave him in the car to the end of the year".

The fact Gasly did not even survive until the end of the summer break once again shows just how ruthless Red Bull can be.

Can Alexander Albon succeed where Gasly failed? That's the million-dollar question as the Thai-British driver begins life as Max Verstappen's new team-mate.

Albon now has a nine-race job interview to secure the permanent spot as Red Bull's second driver for 2020.

"Surreal to have been given this massive opportunity," Albon tweeted. "It's a big jump into the deep end, but I've got my swimming shorts on!"

For the rest of grid, who have spent the past few weeks sunning themselves around the globe, it's business as usual as the summer hiatus draws to a close.

Alex Albon gets his sit fitted for new team Red Bull
"Comfy in the cockpit" Albon was pictured at his seat fit for Red Bull

Who will be refreshed by a trip to Spa?

Perhaps not Kimi Raikkonen - The Finn says he is confident he will be able to race in the Belgian Grand Prix despite a leg injury.

He pulled a muscle in his left leg and his Alfa Romeo team have called up reserve Marcus Ericsson on stand-by, forcing him to miss an IndyCar race.

At the Hungaroring before the break, a purple patch of epic grands prix continued as Hamilton staged a thrilling fightback to catch and pass Verstappen for his eighth victory of the season.

And there is every chance the F1 show will remain just as enthralling at the majestic Spa-Francorchamps, a favourite track of the drivers and the perfect setting to pick up where the previous four races left off.

Despite being only half the length of the original, triangle-shaped track built in 1921, the 4.3-mile trip around the Ardennes mountains still holds the title of the longest circuit on the calendar.

The flat-out, uphill test of Eau Rouge provides drivers with a rollercoaster-ride sensation, as Hamilton once explained: "When you attack it flat out, when you get to the bottom of it, your insides drop.

"Then when you get to the top they come back up and it feels like everything will come out of your mouth - which is quite exciting when you are going 200mph!"

This weekend a dubious anniversary awaits Vettel and Ferrari, as Belgium marks one year since they celebrated a victory in Formula 1.

The German chopped Hamilton's championship lead to 17 points in 2018, passing the Mercedes man on the opening lap just before a multi-car collision caused the safety car to be deployed.

The hunt for a fifth world title between the two drivers was still very much on, and with an 11-second win over Mercedes, the pace of Vettel and Ferrari looked solid after a summer of tinkering at Maranello.

But a four-race winning streak by Hamilton from Monza to Suzuka saw the fight slip away from Vettel, who was left to reflect on a series of "what ifs?" as the Briton cantered to title number five.

Fast-forward to this season and when asked in the post-Hungary press conference to rate the first half of the season, Vettel gave himself a mere five out of 10 and admitted he'd "struggled to get on top of the car".

The one time a race weekend did come together for Vettel was at the Canadian Grand Prix in June, where he took his first pole of the season but saw victory controversially taken away from him after a five-second time penalty for dangerous driving.

Belgian Grand Prix circuit
From steep climbs to full-throttle overtakes, Spa is an all-round test for any driver

What's the Spa form guide?

Hamilton and Vettel share three victories each at Spa, with the German just edging the Briton 139 to 134 on points scored at the 12 grands prix both drivers have entered.

Five pole positions have been secured by Hamilton at the circuit, including taking the front row spot by 0.726 seconds during last year's thrilling, rain-affected top-10 shootout.

Verstappen may not have celebrated a win in Hungary, but the Dutchman - born just an hour down the road from Spa - once again has the passionate support of the 'orange army' behind him at a European event.

"You can see by the orange crowds and campsites full of Dutch caravans that the fans come out in force," Verstappen said in 2018. "This only adds to the home-race feel."

The 21-year-old does not yet have a sparkling record to boast of at his "home" grand prix , however. Third place at last year's race is his highest finishing position in the three grands prix he's contested here for Toro Rosso and Red Bull.

The summer of love, birthdays and future racers

As well as mega yachts, exotic locations and drivers meeting other racing icons - see Lando Norris and MotoGP legend Valentino Rossi at Silverstone - there were plenty of other F1 moments to share over the mid-season break.

Kimi Raikkonen gave us a glimpse of the next, next generation as his son Robin took a first spin around the track...

...Kevin Magnussen married his fiancee Louise Gjorup...

Kevin Magnussen married his fiancee Louise Gjorup
Magnussen revealed after the Mexico GP in 2018 he had proposed to his girlfriend Louise

...Nico Hulkenberg became another year older and wiser as the German celebrated his 32nd birthday...

Nico Hulkenberg celebrates his 32nd birthday
'The Hulk' tweeted "Happy birthday, big cheese"

...and fans were given a taste of what Formula 1 in the future could look like, as pictures and video of an iteration of the 2021 car undergoing testing in the wind tunnel were released.

An F1 car for the 2020 season
The 50% scale model was put through its paces at Sauber's wind tunnel in July

How to follow on the BBC

BBC Sport has live coverage of practice, qualifying and the race across the BBC Sport website with updates on BBC Radio 5 Live, plus live digital coverage on the BBC Sport website and app - including audience interaction, expert analysis, debate, voting, features, interviews and audio content.

You can follow all the action and the latest news on the BBC Sport F1 page and via the BBC Sport app, and catch up with analysis and interviews with the BBC Radio 5 Live Chequered Flag podcast.

Belgian Grand Prix coverage details (all times BST)
DateSessionTimeRadio coverageOnline text commentary
Chequered Flag podcast: Belgian Grand Prix review - download here once the race has finished
Friday, 30 AugustFirst practice09:55-11:35BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra From 09:30
Second practice13:55-15:35BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra From 13:30
Saturday, 31 AugustFinal practice10:55-12:05BBC Radio 5 Live Sports ExtraFrom 10:30
Qualifying13:55-15:05BBC Radio 5 Live Sports ExtraFrom 13:00
Sunday, 1 SeptemberRace14:00-16:00BBC Radio 5 Live Sports ExtraFrom 12:30

Top Stories