F1 2019: Belgian GP restarts season with Lewis Hamilton ahead
The summer break is over: the Belgian GP is live on Sky F1 this weekend; Hamilton and Mercedes hold large points leads, but Red Bull and Ferrari challenge set to continue over remaining race wins
By James Galloway
Last Updated: 26/08/19 3:50pm
The Formula 1 season restarts at one of its most iconic circuits this week, with the Belgian GP the first of nine races that will determine the outcome of 2019's world title battles.
The race weekend at Spa-Francorchamps, live only on Sky Sports, kicks off the run-in to the end of the season, with nine races in 14 weeks in the build-up to the season finale in Abu Dhabi on December 1.
The sport broke for summer after the Hungarian GP at the start of the month on a high after a series of thrilling, unpredictable races which saw Red Bull and Mercedes win two apiece and six different drivers take to the podium.
What's the state of play in F1 2019?
Lewis Hamilton resumes his quest for a sixth drivers' title in a commanding championship position.
Hamilton, who won eight of the first 12 races, is 62 points ahead of Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas after enjoying the best start to a season of his career.
But the prospect of Red Bull's Max Verstappen emerging as the world champion's nearest challenger grew in the quartet of races before the break.
Hamilton and Verstappen each won twice, with the latter scoring more points during that sequence. With Red Bull delivering consistent car improvements to close the gap to Mercedes, the promise of an even-more competitive finish to the season is high.
"The latter part of the season is shaping up to be less silver in hue than the first," writes Sky F1's Mark Hughes in a column that will be published on Wednesday.
Speaking after just beating Verstappen to victory in Budapest, Hamilton predicted: "I do think the next half of the season could be much, much harder as we continue to have this battle."
Ferrari can also not be counted out of the battle for race victories either, as they look to put the disappointment of letting several big chances for wins slip in 2019's opening dozen events.
Spa 2018 was the scene of Sebastian Vettel's last F1 victory and the straight-line speed strengths of Ferrari's current car undoubtedly will make them a threat in Belgium, and at their home track of Monza a week later.
But the undulating 7km lap at Spa - the longest of the season - through the Ardennes forest does require more than simply a powerful engine, with set-up compromises needed to balance the high-speed straights of sectors one and three with the twistier, aerodynamically-demanding middle sector of the lap.
Ferrari sit second in the Constructors' Championship behind runaway leaders Mercedes but their advantage over Red Bull is just 44 points.
In an attempt to overtake Ferrari in the second half of the year, Red Bull have handed a mid-year promotion to Alex Albon after an impressive start to his F1 career at Toro Rosso, where Pierre Gasly drops back down to. Friday practice at Spa will be the first time Albon drives the RB15.
Sky F1's Live Belgian GP schedule
Thursday, August 29
2pm: Drivers' Press Conference
5pm: Welcome to the Weekend
Friday, August 30
9.45am: Belgian GP Practice One
1.45pm: Belgian GP Practice Two
4.30pm: The Story So Far
Saturday, August 31
10.45am: Belgian GP Practice Three
12.10pm: Paddock Walkabout
1pm: Belgian GP Qualifying build-up
2pm: BELGIAN GP QUALIFYING
4.45pm: The F1 Show
Sunday, September 1
12.30pm: Belgian GP Pit Lane Live
1.30pm: Belgian GP On The Grid
2.10pm: THE BELGIAN GRAND PRIX LIVE
4pm: Belgian GP Paddock Live