We're firmly in the middle of the imposed summer break of the 2017 Formula One season, and biting at the chomp for more racing. With Spa just around the corner, what can we expect during the second half of the season?
As D:Ream famously declared in the early nineties, things can only get better. McLaren started this season in the depths of utter despair. Honda produced an engine that would even be frowned upon in a primary school show and tell session, and Fernando Alonso was jumping ship to another racing series just to see what it feels like to race in a competitive car. As the season has gone on, McLaren have made baby steps on their path to progress. First, they actually managed to finish a race, then they qualified for Q3 in qualifying; now, they're scaling the heady heights of midfield and putting pressure on the likes of Haas and Renault for the status of "fifth best team in Formula One".
We take the piss, but this is certainly a season to forget for McLaren. There is light at the end of the tunnel, however. Honda reckon they're at their pre-season target of where they want the engine to be. Perfect, despite the fact pre-season ended around six months ago. They've shown steady signs of progression in recent races and will expect to challenge the midfield hierarchy during the second half of the season.
If they do start competing with Force India and Renault for the 'best of the rest' tag beyond Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull, expect Honda to remain a partner for next season. Either way, the 2018 season needs to be one of steady and strong performances. McLaren are in grave danger of becoming a Formula one 'also-ran'.
Mercedes To Triumph
Make no mistake, the title race will likely go down to the wire at Abu Dhabi in November, but between now and them, Mercedes have a good opportunity to put their drivers top of the table, ahead of Ferrari. The tracks upcoming on the calendar, including Monza, Spa, Austin and Sepang are all 'Mercedes' circuits, in that they reward higher straight-line speeds and engine power rather than cornering ability. On paper, Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas should dominate these tracks. If they do, Ferrari will need to win at the tracks that play into their hands: Suzuka, Singapore and Mexico. We can see Abu Dhabi being the classic title-decider, and it'll likely come down to Hamilton Vs Vettel. I cannot look beyond Mercedes grabbing this season by the horns and dragging themselves over the line as champions at Marina Bay.
A Kubica Return
The topic has been done to death at this point, and it may be premature in any case, but Robert Kubica looks like he's returning to Formula One in what would go down as one of sport's greatest comebacks.
Will it happen this season? Maybe. It all depends on what Renault want to do with Jolyon Palmer. The Briton is effectively a pay driver and his money is more than useful to his team, and is probably the only reason why he retained his seat this year. He's put in a number of poor performances this season and has been firmly outdriven by his partner, Nico Hulkenberg. He more than likely won't be in Formula One next season, and that paves a way for Robert Kubica.
There was talk Kubica, who has more than shown he has the physical ability to last a gruelling F1 race at consistent speed, would be on the grid for Spa, but that looks unlikely. There was also talk that Jolyon Palmer had only paid for his seat up until Spa, so if Kubica is to return this season, it could be Monza at the beginning of September. Either way, we cannot wait to see the Pole back in the sport, after having had his career stolen from him by a horror rally crash.