Following the traditional summer break, the Formula One season returns at the weekend with the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps, as Max Verstappen (5/6 Belgian GP Winner) attempts to extend his championship lead.

The Dutchman is seeking to win back-to-back titles with Red Bull after his sensational final lap success over Mercedes ace Lewis Hamilton last year.

He has faced a different challenger this time around in Ferrari and particularly Charles Leclerc, who is going for a first world title.

Verstappen is 80 points clear of Leclerc in the Drivers’ standings with another nine races of the season remaining and the Dutch star is 1/14 to retain his crown, while his Monegasque rival is 8/1.

After a shaky start to the season in which Verstappen retired from two of the opening three races, the 24-year-old has only been off the podium once and that consistency has allowed him to take command of the title.

He has been ably backed up by Mexican Sergio Perez, who won the Monaco Grand Prix and has also scored five second-place finishes this season – certainly proving himself to be a very reliable number two driver.

Ferrari did show great promise at the beginning of the season and while Leclerc has been consistently quick in the Scuderia car, a mix of poor reliability and tactical blunders have allowed him to slip away from Verstappen.

Between him and Carlos Sainz, they have retired seven times in 13 races and some of decisions made during the races have been called into question.

In Hungary, the team made the bizarre call to switch Leclerc to hard tyres midway through the race and it led to an immediate drop in pace.

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Meanwhile, in the British Grand Prix, Ferrari decided not to pit Leclerc when a safety car was called and when the race restarted, those on fresher tyres were able to overhaul him.

If Mattia Binotto and Co can think clearer in terms of race strategy, then they certainly have the raw pace to keep up with the Red Bulls.

Elsewhere, Mercedes will be feeling confident going into the latter stages of 2022 after markedly improving throughout the season.

Hamilton and George Russell were generally off the pace at the start of the season but they are now podium regulars and the latter secured a maiden pole position in Hungary.

A title challenge is pretty much out of the question but race wins will certainly be the aim going forward.

In midfield, Alpine and McLaren are fighting for fourth place in the constructors’ championship, while Haas’ pace has improved from the last few years.

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