SPA, Belgium (AP) Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg resume their title bids at the Belgian Grand Prix this weekend, with 11 points separating the Mercedes teammates and Hamilton leading 5-4 in race wins. Among the sport’s talking points is the news that Max Verstappen will become the youngest ever F1 driver when he makes his debut at the age of 17 in next year’s championship. Meanwhile, drivers Alexander Rossi and Andre Lotterer are set for F1 debuts of their own in Spa, where Frenchman Romain Grosjean needs to find some form.
Here are five things to know ahead of Friday’s first practice session:
A QUESTION OF AGE
Although Daniil Kvyat is only 20 years old he will be in the unusual position of being Toro Rosso’s senior driver next season.
The Russian is set to race alongside Max Verstappen, who will be 17 when the 2015 season starts, making him the youngest ever F1 driver.
Kvyat tips Verstappen – who is replacing Frenchman Jean-Eric Vergne – to handle the pressure.
”I think it’s not as complicated as it looks to all of you,” Kvyat said Thursday. ”I think any driver can come to Formula One, can adapt, can get up to speed … because he has talent, because he has been successful somewhere.”
Other drivers, however, worry that Verstappen may struggle to cope with the demands of F1.
”Seventeen is a little bit young. We need to wait and see how he’s going to perform in his first year,” said 33-year-old Brazilian driver Felipe Massa, who first got to grips with an F1 car in 2001. ”I was 20. I think it was a little bit too early for me.”
Australian Daniel Ricciardo, who now races for Red Bull after coming through the junior program with Toro Rosso, also sounds circumspect.
”Obviously the age is the question mark but the talent is there,” he said. ”It’s going to be interesting.”
GRIM FOR GROSJEAN
French driver Romain Grosjean had high hopes for this season after stepping up as Lotus’ No. 1 driver following Kimi Raikkonen’s switch to Ferrari.
Things have not turned out as hoped, however, and Grosjean – who has only eight points so far – is reportedly considering his future.
”We still have to understand and analyze a bit more (about) this difficult season,” he said. ”There were many reasons why we started on the back foot.”
Grosjean has a best finish of eighth place so far and has retired from five races, including the past two. Last season he finished on the podium four times in the final six.
The team sits in eighth place in the constructors’ championship with a meager eight points, having finished fourth overall last year.
”Hopefully things get better but we still need to do our job, understand things and what we can learn,” Grosjean said.
Drivers have different opinions as to whether having a pre-race superstition actually serves a purpose.
Australian driver Daniel Ricciardo and Frenchman Romain Grosjean are adamant they are pointless.
”It’s an excuse for something to go wrong, it’s nonsense,” said Ricciardo, who has won two races for Red Bull this season.
Grosjean left his superstitions behind a long time ago.
”I used to have superstitions when I was younger,” he said. ”(But) once I forgot things that I used as superstitions and won the race I thought (it) was useless.”
Countryman Jules Bianchi still has his own routines, however, as does Felipe Massa.
”Well, there’s one that I won’t tell you, there’s one that I can tell you,” Bianchi said. ”I always get into the car from the right side.”
Massa does the opposite.
”I go inside the car from the left side, to put my right foot first in the car,” said Massa, who switched to Williams after a difficult season with Ferrari.
Andre Lotterer is determined to make the most of a late chance to drive in Formula 1.
The 32-year-old German, a three-time Le Mans winner with Audi, has been called up on a one-race deal to replace Japan’s Kamui Kobayashi in Spa.
”It is a big challenge to come in like that (at the) last minute,” he said. ”I grew up in Belgium, I know Spa very well so I thought `let’s do it.”’
His previous experience in F1 was very brief, when he tested cars for Jaguar in 2001 and 2002.
The Caterham team has yet to win a point this season and has not finished higher than 11th.
”I hope I can help Caterham to move forward,” Lotterer said. ”I don’t know if you can expect a lot from me, but I’m ready to give everything and go flat out.”
American driver Alexander Rossi will make his Formula One debut for Marussia at the Belgian Grand Prix, replacing Max Chilton, who has contractual problems.
The team says the 22-year-old Rossi will race alongside Jules Bianchi until Chilton’s contractual issues are resolved.
Rossi, who joined Marussia as a reserve driver ahead of last month’s Hungarian GP, has previous experience of competing in the GP2 and GP3 series.