THE summer hiatus is over and Formula 1 returns in true style at Belgium’s legendary Spa-Francorchamps circuit. In the interim between races F1 has carried on its merry way of making headlines. Relatively early on in the summer break the somewhat inevitable announcement was made that, after a string of lacklustre performances, Pierre Gasly will swop cockpits with Alex Albon from the Belgian GP onwards. It’s a big knock to Gasly’s already tattered confidence but, at the very least, he has a chance to regain his footing as a Toro Rosso driver for the rest of the 2019 season. It won’t be an easy task, by any stretch of the imagination, but he should take heart from the fact that he wasn’t booted out of F1 and the Red Bull driver programme entirely. As much pressure as Gasly faces to put his F1 career back on track, Albon faces exponentially more as a new Red Bull driver. The Thai-born driver is no stranger to success and many would go so far as to brand him a bonafide karting superstar. He’s impressed in the lower formulae and at Toro Rosso, too, but the spotlight will become immeasurably more focused as he steps into a cockpit of a front-running car. He won’t be expected to beat teammate Max Verstappen from the word go, but the Red Bull decision-makers are scrutinising his performances. Should he perform well, which he definitely has the potential to do, he’ll all but seal his place at the team for 2020. Pressure is everywhere in F1 and it’s found a home too in the cockpit of Valtteri Bottas. The Finn started the season with a bang but has faded in the last few Grand Prix weekends in comparison with teammate Lewis Hamilton. The pressure comes in the form of Esteban Ocon, who is confirmed to be under consideration, along with Bottas, for the second Mercedes seat for 2020. However, Bottas may yet be safe as some rumours suggest that Merc could allow Ocon to be signed by Renault, which is nearly always under pressure to put a French driver in the French works team. Where is the vacancy at Renault you ask? Some suggestions abound that Nico Hulkenberg could be off to Haas for next season in place of Romain Grosjean. Isn’t the silly season great? Ferrari too is under pressure. But then they have been under pressure to deliver a title for more than a decade now. The characteristics of Spa-Francorchamps should suit the 2019 Ferrari and its low-drag philosophy to a degree. Whether the red team will be able to get all their ducks in a row is another question. As Kimi Raikkonen’s triumph, Texas last year remains Ferrari’s most recent race win, the team will be desperate to get their name on the winners’ board for the first time in 2019. Spa may provide them their best chance of doing just that. There are few greater stretches of tarmac in the world than the 7 004km circuit at the foot of the Ardennes Mountains. It’s an old-school test of man and machine and demands precision, bravery, and respect. It’s a circuit seeping with nostalgia for all of the greats who have graced it before. It is Spa-Francorchamps.