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F1 Belgian GP preview: Lewis Hamilton edges closer to a record number of wins

Mercedes' British driver Lewis Hamilton (R) drives during the third practice session at the Spa-Francorchamps circuit in Spa on August 29, 2020 ahead of the Belgian Formula One Grand Prix. (Photo by FRANCOIS LENOIR / POOL / AFP) (AFP)Premium
Mercedes' British driver Lewis Hamilton (R) drives during the third practice session at the Spa-Francorchamps circuit in Spa on August 29, 2020 ahead of the Belgian Formula One Grand Prix. (Photo by FRANCOIS LENOIR / POOL / AFP) (AFP)

Lewis Hamilton will be looking to add to his 88 career wins as he chases Michael Schumacher’s all-time record of 91 wins

The Formula One Belgian Grand Prix could not have come at a better time. It’s the seventh round of racing in this year’s F1 Championships and follows a couple of exciting recent announcements.

Earlier this month, all 10 teams signed on for the Concorde Agreement, which sets out the terms under which the teams will compete in the sport until 2025. This was also accompanied by the news that four more races have been added to this year’s calendar, including a return to Turkey’s Intercity Istanbul Park, which last hosted a Grand Prix in 2011. That takes the total number of races in this year’s championships to 17—an impressive racing calendar that has been affected heavily by the covid-19 pandemic.

Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton will start ahead of everyone this evening, after picking up his 93rd pole position on Saturday. In doing so, he also set a track record time of 1.41.51 during an astonishing third qualifying session. This is Hamilton’s sixth pole at the Spa-Francorchamps circuit and he dedicated it to 'Black Panther' actor Chadwick Boseman, who died on Saturday after a four-year-long battle with colon cancer. Hamilton admitted that getting his focus back after waking up to the news wasn’t easy. “Today was really quite important to me, I woke up to the sad news of Chadwick passing away. That news really, really rocked me and it wasn't easy to get back to focus but I knew I had to get out there and drive to perfection. He was such a shining light," the 35-year-old said afterwards.

Mercedes' British driver Lewis Hamilton gestures in homage to late US actor Chadwick Boseman, as he stands on his car after securing his 93rd pole position during the qualifying session at the Spa-Francorchamps circuit in Spa on August 29, 2020 ahead of the Belgian Formula One Grand Prix. (Photo by FRANCOIS LENOIR / POOL / AFP)
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Mercedes' British driver Lewis Hamilton gestures in homage to late US actor Chadwick Boseman, as he stands on his car after securing his 93rd pole position during the qualifying session at the Spa-Francorchamps circuit in Spa on August 29, 2020 ahead of the Belgian Formula One Grand Prix. (Photo by FRANCOIS LENOIR / POOL / AFP) (AFP)

His teammate Valtteri Bottas will start the race at P2, finishing just half a second behind Hamilton, while Red Bull’s Max Verstappen will try catching up to the both of them from P3. Verstappen’s fellow driver Alex Albon is at P5, while Renault saw their driver Daniel Ricciardo put in an impressive shift to grab P4. Before the Grand Prix, Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff had said that the team had some “unfinished business" at Spa, having not won at the circuit since 2017. That could very well change by the end of the race this evening.

Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel started the slowest in the first qualifying session and barely made it to Q2 with fellow driver Charles Leclerc - who had won on this circuit in 2019. They both failed to qualify for Q3. Ferrari have disappointed so far this season and it was more of the same at Spa on Saturday. It will be interesting to see if Leclerc, who will start at P13, and Vettel, P14, can get anything out of the race.

With nineteen corners and some high-speed chicanes, the circuit at Spa-Francorchamps is one of the most scenic tracks in F1 and the longest circuit in this calendar. If Hamilton were to win later today, that would take him to 89 career race wins—two short of equalling seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher’s record of 91 wins. With the racing calendar now extended, there’s every chance Hamilton might even break that record.

AlphaTauri's French driver Pierre Gasly places a bouquet of flowers at the site where late French racing driver Anthoine Hubert had an accident at the Spa-Francorchamps circuit in Spa on August 27, 2020, a few days ahead of the Belgian Formula One Grand Prix. - The 22-year-old F2 driver was killed on August 31, 2019 in a crash on the Spa-Francorchamps circuit. (Photo by JOHN THYS / AFP)
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AlphaTauri's French driver Pierre Gasly places a bouquet of flowers at the site where late French racing driver Anthoine Hubert had an accident at the Spa-Francorchamps circuit in Spa on August 27, 2020, a few days ahead of the Belgian Formula One Grand Prix. - The 22-year-old F2 driver was killed on August 31, 2019 in a crash on the Spa-Francorchamps circuit. (Photo by JOHN THYS / AFP) (AFP)

The race also comes almost a year after the tragic death of racer Anthoine Hubert, who lost his life in a tragic crash at the circuit during a Formula 2 race. Hubert, 22, who at the time was driving for the BWT Arden team, was widely tipped for a bright future in F1. Many drivers in the current line-up—the likes of AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly, Leclerc, and others—had raced with Hubert early in their careers and this makes their return to the circuit 12 months later all the more poignant. Gasly was one of the many people who paid tribute to Huibert before the Grand Prix by laying flowers on the track on Thursday morning. All the other teams are remembering Huibert by carrying an ‘AH19’ (his initials and car number) tattoo on their car chassis. Emotions will surely be running high when the racers take to the grid on Sunday evening.

The 2020 Formula Belgian Grand Prix race starts at 6.40 pm IST on Sunday

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