Belgian GP Preview: Verstappen set to resume title tussle at 'favourite track' Spa

Formula One returns this weekend after a four-week break, with the race for the drivers' championship still just about alive heading into the Belgian Grand Prix.

Defending champion Lewis Hamilton leads the way, 62 points clear of Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas and 69 points ahead of Max Verstappen.

But that daunting deficit was narrowed slightly by Verstappen heading into the mid-season break off the back of two wins in four races, as well as finishing second in Hungary.

Hamilton is still very much the favourite but this weekend's a.ction at Spa may well set the tone for the rest of the campaign.

The Briton has three prior wins in Belgium, while Verstappen's record there is extremely modest, even with a podium last year.

Yet the Dutchman, racing closer to home than usual, knows he can count on a huge local backing and appears to be relishing a return to action.

Verstappen posted a Twitter video of him signing orange caps, saying: "So final preparations before we head to Spa. It's my favourite track, so I'm really looking forward to going there again.

"As you can see, the caps are quite orange again so you will probably see the fans sticking out.

"Like I say, it's my favourite track, a really challenging one, and I hope to see you all there during the weekend."

Sebastian Vettel also has three Belgium victories but, a further 25 points back from Verstappen, is surely running out of time for a 2019 challenge.

TALK OF THE PADDOCK

Bottas is on course for his best F1® season, yet his place at Mercedes next year is still far from secure.

The Finn may indeed stay with the Silver Arrows but talk of Hamilton and Verstappen teaming up at some point persists, even if the prospect of the Red Bull man leaving his current team has faded slightly.

Beyond Verstappen, though, Mercedes have another driver waiting in the wings in Esteban Ocon, who lost his seat at Racing Point Force India.

"I'm working hard on next year," Ocon said during the break. "I'm also learning so much at Mercedes. When I come back, I'll be a much more complete driver."

Remarkably, Bottas looks to be fighting for his future. An intriguing battle begins this week.

RACEWEEK SCHEDULE (all times AEST)

Friday
FP1: 7.00pm-8.30pm
FP2: 11.00pm-12.30am

Saturday
FP3: 8.00pm-9.00pm
Qualifying: 11.00pm-12.00am

Sunday
Race: 11.10pm-1.10am

F1® FACT

Vettel will aim to become the first driver to win back-to-back Belgian Grands Prix since Kimi Raikkonen's three in a row from 2004 to 2007.

PREVIOUS WINNERS

2018: Sebastian Vettel
2017: Lewis Hamilton
2016: Nico Rosberg

DRIVER STANDINGS

1. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 250
2. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) 188 (-62)
3. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) 181 (-69)
4. Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) 156 (-94)
5. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) 132 (-118)

CONSTRUCTOR STANDINGS

1. Mercedes 438
2. Ferrari 288 (-150)
3. Red Bull 244 (-194)
4. McLaren 82 (-356)
5. Toro Rosso 43 (-395)

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