(FILE) A picture dated 01 September 2002 shows German Michael Schumacher (L) in his Ferrari during the first lap on the race track of Spa-Francorchamps. The Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps has been dropped from the 2006 Formula One calender, it was announced Wednesday, 08 February 2006, cutting the number of races to 18 compared to 19 in 2005. The Belgian National Sporting Authority, the RACB, wrote to notify the FIA of the withdrawal of the race from the FIA Formula One World Championship. AFP PHOTO OLIVIER HOSLET

The Formula One calendar’s five-week summer break is finally over, and boy is the season resuming with a bang. We go trackside this weekend with the Belgian Grand Prix, which takes place at the famed Spa Francorchamps circuit and is the 12th round of this year’s championship. It also marks an exciting double-header, with the Italian Grand Prix taking place at Monza the following weekend.

This Sunday will probably be more special to Mercedes-Benz driver Michael Schumacher than most, as it marks his 300th Grand Prix start. Spa was the circuit where the seven-times world champion made his Grand Prix debut at back in 1991, it was the venue for his first race victory, and it was where he claimed his maiden title. Schumacher will become only the second driver in F1 history to reach the 300 Grands Prix mark (after Rubens Barrichello’s 322 starts).

It’s also been reported that the 43-year-old does not regret his decision to return to Formula One despite scoring just one podium finish (third place in this year’s European GP) in his two and a half seasons with Mercedes. He did concede that he would “find it a pity” if he retired without achieving another race victory.


In stark contrast, the comeback kid of the season has to be Kimi Raikkonen, who has netted five podiums so far this year and is fifth in the Drivers’ Championship, 48 points off the leader (there are nine races to go and 225 points up for grabs).

The Finn believes Lotus’ first win of the season is around the corner, but doesn’t seem too stressed.

“We know the problem; we’ve not been so strong in qualifying as we have in the race,” said the Iceman.

Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel, who was dominant last year, reckons he is looking forward to chasing instead of defending points when the season resumes. And he has his work cut out. Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso, the only driver with three wins to his name this season, is leading the Drivers’ Championship on 164 points, 40 ahead of Vettel’s team mate Mark Webber with Vettel a further two points behind.

McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton is predicting a tough run-in to the season finale.

The Brit is fourth in the standings, following a trying first half to the season with pit-stop blunders and team errors. But the pre-break ended on a high for Hamilton with a victory in Hungary, meaning he should arrive at Spa reasonably confident.

“There’s no team with a clear advantage - we’re all pushing hard to catch Fernando’s points tally in the drivers’ championship,” said Hamilton.

Eight points separate Webber, Vettel, Hamilton and Raikkonen.

In the Ferrari camp, Alonso may now start looking to team mate Felipe Massa to take points off his closest rivals - giving him an edge in the season. The Spaniard said last week Hamilton and Vettel were his biggest threats.

Spa is a legendary circuit. It’s quick, it has the longest lap distance of the year (seven kilometres), and the weather almost always makes for great viewing and racing.

Set in the Ardennes hills, Spa’s geography ensures that it has its own microclimate, meaning that it can often be raining on one part of the circuit but dry on another.

It’s also home to Eau Rouge, possibly the most famous corner in Formula One history. - Star Motoring