While Formula One leader Lewis Hamilton expects to swallow a severe grid penalty at the Belgian Grand Prix this weekend, Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg hopes to take advantage.
Hamilton won six of the past seven races to turn a 43-point deficit into a 19-point lead heading into the summer break.
But, after being hampered by mechanical woes during the early part of the season, the British driver has used up his five allotted engine component parts, including the turbo charger. That means he must take on new components, either here or at the Italian GP next weekend, leading to a grid penalty and demotion to the back of the grid.
“As far I am aware we will be taking the penalty here. I have no engines left,” Hamilton said on Thursday.
“We already discussed engine penalties before and that will come into play, but I will do everything I can to minimize the damage.”
Mercedes has yet to confirm whether the penalty will be taken in Spa, where a win for Rosberg would give him 25 points and, depending on Hamilton’s result, even out the championship standings.
“Of course I’m aware of Lewis’ misfortune having to get the grid penalty, and that’s going to make the weekend less difficult for me because he’s my biggest rival,” Rosberg said.
“It doesn’t change the pressure I would put myself under.”
Although starting from the back of the grid all but rules out the chance of a 50th career win for Hamilton in Spa, the nature of the track — one of the best for overtaking — gives him a better chance of points than he would get in Monza next week.
Hamilton started from the back in China and finished seventh. Two years ago in Hungary, he started from the back and finished third. But he thinks rivals Red Bull and Ferrari are faster than they were back then.“It’s going to be harder than it was last year or the year before to climb through the field,” Hamilton said.
“Honestly, I really don’t know how far I can get. I started last in Hungary a couple of years ago when the gaps were much bigger. Sunday is going to be a lot harder.”
Chasing his first F1 title, Rosberg has appeared to wilt under pressure over the past few races, handing the initiative back to Hamilton.
A third straight year as runner-up to Hamilton — his rival since they were racing karts as teenagers — would be unbearable for Rosberg, after winning the opening four races of the season.
Last year, Hamilton won here from pole — five years after his other win — and Rosberg was second after recovering from a poor start.Stretching through the Ardennes forest, the Spa circuit is the longest of the year at just over seven kilometers (four-plus miles), features famed corners such as Eau Rouge and Blanchimont, an incredibly steep hill, and moody weather that can leave one part of the track damp and another part dry.
These ingredients make it arguably F1‘s most pure test of drivers’ pure skill, and is regularly cited alongside Japan’s Suzuka as the race they enjoy most.Unlike another iconic track in Monaco, which is twisty, sinewy, notoriously slow and tough to overtake on, Spa is incredibly fast with more than 70 percent of the race at full throttle and average speeds around 230 kph (143 mph).
That will give Hamilton hope of scoring some significant points, even if he does start last.
“With a bit of luck and safety cars at the right moment, there’s no reason why he can’t come back through the grid,” Rosberg said.