Australian bags fourth Grand Prix win of campaign to overtake Lewis Hamilton.
|Alonso will hope for maximum points to close the gap with Webber [GALLO/GETTY]|
Fernando Alonso will be chasing Ferrari’s fourth Belgian Grand Prix victory in a row on Sunday while hoping that Mark Webber again fails to shine at Spa-Francorchamps.
Championship leader Webber, winner four times for Red Bull in 12 races so far this season, has yet to stand on the Formula One podium at Spa despite ranking the fast Ardennes circuit as a favourite.
Alonso, runner-up at the previous race in Hungary and the controversial winner in Germany before that, when Ferrari were deemed to have used banned “team orders”, needs maximum points to close the 20-point gap between him and the Australian.
Even then, the brakes could still be slammed on his title challenge by the FIA at a meeting in Paris on September 8, when the sport’s governing body will decide whether to mete out further punishment on Ferrari and their drivers after a $100,000 fine.
Yet Spain’s double world champion remains optimistic at a venue that has rewarded his team with five wins in the last seven years – two of them to now-departed Finn Kimi Raikkonen.
“It only took us two normal races to be fully back in contention for the title,” Alonso said during the summer break after Hungary.
“We are now on the right road. The car is much improved and so that makes me more optimistic and has seen the whole team grow in confidence.
“In Spa, we will have a few more things and we hope they help us progress still more.”
Webber, four points clear of McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton at the top of the standings, finished ninth at Spa last year but returns to action in confident mood for what promises to be a wet weekend.
Red Bull, who have started all but one race this season on pole position, can again expect to be the team to beat, even if the governing body imposes more stringent tests on their and Ferrari’s controversial front wings.
“I don’t think there is a driver on the grid that doesn’t look forward to Spa,” Webber said in a team preview.
“It’s an incredible circuit to drive on. I expect we can do well there. Whether it’s as well as I did in Budapest is a question for everyone.”
Alonso’s Brazilian teammate, Felipe Massa, who had to give way to him at Hockenheim, won at Spa in 2008 after Hamilton was demoted from first to third for cutting a chicane.
He said his team was in good shape.
“Fortunately, in the last few races, we showed that we have returned to being very competitive, even better than we had expected,” Massa said in a blog on the Ferrari website.
Massa and former teammate Michael Schumacher are the only two current drivers to have won previously at Spa, but the great German, who made his F1 debut in Belgium with Jordan in 1991, has little chance of repeating the feat this time.
The seven times champion will start this race with a 10-place penalty on the starting grid after almost driving Brazilian Rubens Barrichello into a wall in a 300kph battle in Hungary for 10th place.
“Spa has always been my favourite racetrack and so, for that reason alone, I am really looking forward to going back and racing there,” Schumacher said in a Mercedes team preview.
“It has been ages since I have last been there.
“Our weekend will obviously be handicapped by my grid penalty, and consequently it will be difficult to expect special things from the race,” added the 41-year-old, making a comeback this season after three years out.
“On the other hand, every racing kilometre is important and welcome because we can learn from it with regards to our car. I will definitely try to make the best out of the weekend.”