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F1: What to look for in the second half of the season

The summer holidays are drawing to a close and Formula 1 teams are gearing up to go racing again with the 2022 campaign due to resume in Belgium this weekend.

With nine races to go, Max Verstappen is sitting pretty at the top of the Drivers' Championship, holding an 80-point lead, with his team Red Bull 97 points clear in the Constructors' standings.

A Red Bull-Verstappen title double is now 1/8 with the Milton Keynes-based outfit threatening to run away with the honours, and the pressure is on Ferrari to hang in the fight.

The race for championship glory is the main storyline heading into the second half of the season but it's not the only intriguing thread as the teams reconvene at the iconic Spa Francorchamps.

No more Ferrari mistakes

Red Bull and Verstappen are well entrenched at the top of the standings after the reigning champion won the last two races before the summer recess, and that position is unlikely to change.

The Dutchman is 5/6 to win for the ninth time this season in Belgium and clearly doesn't feel too threatened by a bumbling Ferrari team, claiming he's enjoying his one-sided title rivalry with Charles Leclerc far more than his tense battles with Lewis Hamilton in 2021.

Leclerc has one podium finish from his last eight races thanks to a combination of mechanical failures, strategy errors and, in the case of his France accident, careless driving.

Ferrari's decision-making is negating the advantage their car should give them over Red Bull, which is a challenger not without its weaknesses.

The Scuderia had the faster car in multiple races before the summer and Leclerc should have far more points than he does for a driver with seven pole positions to his name.

Ferrari have failed to make their advantage count but if they can improve their execution then Leclerc and Carlos Sainz can start eating into Red Bull's lead.

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Three-way fights for first

Spa is a strong track historically for Ferrari and Leclerc is 7/2 to triumph on Sunday but it's not just Red Bull fighting him for wins now.

There was a steady improvement from Mercedes over the course of the first half of the year after a disastrous start and they entered the summer boosted by a pair of double podium finishes.

Hamilton has strung together five top-three finishes in a row, while team mate George Russell nabbed the team's first pole position of the season last time out in Hungary.

How much more time and money Mercedes put into developing this year's car remains to be seen but the W13 is now certainly capable of being a nuisance to Red Bull and Ferrari, and with a little luck could chalk up a win.

Drive to survive

The line-up for the 2023 season is taking shape but there are still a few seats up for grabs, most notably at Alpine after they bungled the transition from Fernando Alonso to Oscar Piastri.

Convinced Alonso was going to stay, reigning Formula 2 champion Piastri decided to sign for McLaren, only for the Spaniard to then leave to replace the retiring Sebastian Vettel at Aston Martin.

Having ended up with egg on their face, Alpine now has a seat to fill but shouldn't be short of interest given their competitive package.

One driver linked with the Silverstone-based team is Daniel Ricciardo, who looks set to lose his seat at McLaren to Piastri. However, the Australian has had a poor season and his relationship with Alpine is poor after walking out on them in 2020.

The Australian faces falling out of F1 unless he can produce a strong second half to the season, and he's not alone in needing to put a run of results together.

Alfa Romeo, AlphaTauri, Haas and Williams are all considering their options with Williams' Nicholas Latifi, the only driver without a point this season, under the most scrutiny amid reports the team want American F2 racer Logan Sergeant.

Time for porpoising to bounce

The major overhaul of the technical regulations governing the cars that was introduced at the start of this season has achieved many of its goals, most notably, making it easier for cars to follow and overtake one another.

But an unintended side effect has been the porpoising, or bouncing, of cars which have led to driver safety concerns with Hamilton and Pierre Gasly requiring medical treatment having been violently shaken up on occasions.

In an effort to combat the issue, the FIA have mandated rule changes regarding the floor and introduced a metric outlining an acceptable level of porpoising.

Red Bull don't expect the new regulations to affect performance too much but Mercedes are hopeful it could bring them even closer to the top two with further shake-ups to the grid expected as a result of the alterations.

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