Belgian GP Preview: Why Ferrari might be their own main threat at Spa

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Finally! The summer break is over and Formula 1 returns to the track this weekend at the Belgian Grand Prix.

That's right, spectacular Spa-Francorchamps awaits to kick off a nine-race sprint to Abu Dhabi and a shake-up of the competitive order is expected throughout the grid.

With long straights and high-speed corners, Ferrari head to Spa as favourites to take on Mercedes and maybe, just maybe, score their first victory of 2019.

The power advantage of the Prancing Horse is well-documented and that should help negate the deficit in the corners compared to their rivals.

In fact, it may bring Mercedes and Red Bull back to their level as a balance needs to be struck between low downforce for the flat-out blasts and having enough grip for the technical middle sector.

It isn't just the opposition that Ferrari has to worry about though, with Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc likely to go head-to-head.

This weekend marks a year since the German's last F1 win in Belgium last season, and he does have a strong history at Spa claiming victory on three occasions.

But Leclerc has been better at adapting to this year's car and with the middle sector likely to be crucial to Ferrari's chances, that is where the Monegasque might make the difference.

One thing the Italian team will be desperate for is good reliability, which has often caught them out just when they seem to be competitive.

And it is for that reason that Ferrari's biggest threat may well be themselves.

Unusually for the Ardennes, the weather forecast is settled for this weekend with no rain expected and that will slightly disappoint Mercedes and particularly Red Bull.

Indeed, while Mercedes know they can be competitive anywhere, with Lewis Hamilton bidding to continue his charge to a sixth world title, Honda's continued deficit may mean Red Bull lags behind the two manufacturers.

Max Verstappen will, of course, give it his all at his de facto home race located next door to Holland and actually in the country where he was born.

But he may be relying on some drama ahead if he wants to claim a third win of 2019.

A lot of attention will also be on Alex Albon making his Red Bull debut, having been chosen as Pierre Gasly's replacement for the rest of the year.

Immediate results shouldn't be expected from the Thai driver, but there will be pressure to improve on the results of his predecessor, who often struggled to reach the top six.

In the midfield, the competition will be fierce as several teams could stake a claim to be 'best of the rest' at Spa.

McLaren has had the fourth-best car for a while and should be perfectly suited to the iconic circuit, but Racing Point can be considered as Spa specialists.

The team qualified on the second row last year, finishing fifth and sixth in the race and always excel on low downforce tracks.

Giancarlo Fisichella famously took pole for Force India in 2009 and in their original guise as Jordan, the Silverstone-based outfit scored a memorable 1-2 in the wet in 1998.

A series of upgrades before the summer has seen Racing Point make some progress and the emphasis will be on Sergio Perez and particularly Lance Stroll to pick up the pace in qualifying.

The Ferrari-powered midfield teams of Haas and Alfa Romeo can't be ruled out either.

The American outfit is hoping gains have been made over the summer in optimising their recent updates to improve race pace, which has left them trailing since Canada.

While four-time Belgian GP winner Kimi Raikkonen isn't known as the 'King of Spa' for nothing, and he'll certainly be competitive for Alfa this weekend.

The unknown quantity is Renault, who should perform better at a lower downforce circuit as their result in Canada showed.

Daniel Ricciardo and Nico Hulkenberg are showing signs of frustration however, and these final nine races will be crucial to the team's future goals.

Toro Rosso will also be in the fight for a top 10 finish and don't be surprised if Gasly suddenly starts showing his old form again after being demoted during the summer break.

At the back, Williams showed signs of life thanks to George Russell in Hungary and their recovery should continue at Spa.

Repeating the near Q2 heroics of Budapest is unlikely given the strength of the cars ahead, but as Williams improve, it will increase the pressure on Robert Kubica to avoid the big gaps between himself and his teammate as seen at most races this season.

That's your look ahead to the Belgian Grand Prix, where the sight of Eau Rouge awaits and another action-packed weekend of racing is in store.