Valtteri Bottas has signed a new contract at Mercedes and James Gray is expecting big things from him to back up the new deal...
"F1 is all about confidence and Valtteri Bottas has just been handed a load more confidence"
No-one in motor sport likes predictability. No-one likes boredom. Very few people enjoy total dominance.
For fans, it's obvious. But you can even talk to teams, drivers, team principals, sponsors and they will all same similar things: we want to be challenged. Take, as an example, one of the Mercedes mottos, newly created a few years ago, which reads 'driven by each other'. It is a pun of sorts, but also a genuine ethos that they created in the seasons when no-one could challenge them. In those years, they had to drive each other on to greater heights.
That was true for the first half of this season too, when Mercedes won the first eight races to open up a lead that no-one could realistically hope to overhaul and it now stands at exactly 150 points - the team could extend their summer break for another month and still lead. Their prize driver Lewis Hamilton might consider doing something similar with the 72-point lead over team-mate Valtteri Bottas that makes him a 25/1-on favourite for a sixth World Drivers' Championship.
Bottas has cause for celebration
After much consideration and not an inconsiderable number of rumours, Mercedes have renewed Bottas' contract. His career path has become a curious one, having been recruited as a last-minute replacement for Nico Rosberg and now having been given third one-year extension in a row.
It is not a ringing endorsement at just 12 months more (again) but it is something for the Finn - and 50/1 shot for the Drivers' Championship - to cling on to and derive confidence from. F1 is all about confidence, whether it is to turn in, to brake or just to drive out in something your team have built for you, and Bottas is no different. Mercedes have a funny way of manufacturing good PR days at good times and I would not be at all surprised to see Bottas celebrate his new deal with a pole position at 9/2 - although converting that into victory at 15/2 seems less inviting.
Vettel believes in Ferrari
All that promise in testing and Ferrari still find themselves racing for second place. It must be immensely frustrating for the engineers back at Maranello who spent February and March sure in the belief they had built a title-challenging car. Instead, Ferrari find themselves having to hold off an improving Red Bull team that now trail them by just 44 points.
But there are some positives for the men in red, namely that they surprised themselves last time out. The Hungaroring is a Red Bull track traditionally and Ferrari expected little from it, but they forced Sebastian Vettel onto the podium just ahead of his team-mate to salvage a solid points haul and suggest the car is ahead of where they thought. After a long summer break of thinking, I think Sebastian Vettel to win the Belgian Grand Prix is worth a punt at 5/2, especially when favourite Lewis Hamilton (13/8) lacks value on one of his weaker tracks.
It's safety first at Spa
I don't like betting on safety cars usually - partly because they always win - but also because it feels like you're willing a crash. Spa is an interesting circuit though because a long time ago it was famed, when it was much longer and crash barriers were mere hay bails, as one of the most dangerous around. Fortunately, we live in a safer era now and driver welfare is F1's primary concern; every year the run-off areas get bigger and the drivers are better protected than ever.
Spa is a great example of a place where the run-off areas have made safety cars less and less necessary and with no adverse weather forecast I'm backing the safety car to stay in the garage on race day at 7/4.