|© AP Photo/Luca Bruno
All eyes will be on Mercedes at the Belgian Grand Prix as the increasingly tense rivalry between championship leader Nico Rosberg and teammate Lewis Hamilton resumes following a summer break.
Tensions reached boiling point at last month's Hungarian GP, when Hamilton expressed outrage at being told to allow Rosberg through in a thrilling race. Hamilton refused team orders, invariably costing Rosberg victory, and only 11 points separate the two.
"It was a bit of a mess afterwards, after Hungary, so it's best I don't add too much," Rosberg said Thursday at a news conference. "Now we're moving forward but of course I've learnt various things from that race which I will try to adapt to in the future."
There had also been friction between them earlier this season at the Monaco GP with Hamilton infuriated after Rosberg crashed late in qualifying, prompting the safety car to come out and denying Hamilton what looked like a certain pole position. Rosberg won it from pole and the atmosphere between them was frosty on the podium.
"If there is any unclear air it will be cleared before the weekend starts, for sure," Hamilton told reporters ahead of Friday's first practice session. "I think it's very clear for me. I'm not sure it's the same the other side."
Although Daniel Ricciardo won in Hungary, Hamilton's brilliant drive saw him finish third after starting from 22nd on the grid, and helped him close the gap on Rosberg, who finished a disappointing fourth despite starting from pole.
Hamilton has demonstrated remarkable skill in recent races. The Briton finished third at the German GP from 20th on the grid, and won the British GP starting from sixth for his 27th career win.
Mercedes have won nine of 11 races -- Ricciardo has clinched the other two for Red Bull -- and Hamilton edges Rosberg 5-4 in wins. But two retirements have cost the British driver valuable points, although Rosberg retired at the British GP.
Hamilton felt he needed the summer break more than ever after his efforts left him feeling physically and emotionally drained.
"The break always comes at a good time for everyone, but for me I think more so than in other seasons," Hamilton said. "To come through those experiences and to come back out on a high note took a lot of energy."
While Hamilton spent last year's summer break getting into exceptional physical shape, he took it easy this time.
"I just embraced the break and tried to enjoy it. I didn't think a single thought on racing through that period of time," he said. "I feel amazing going into the second part of the season. I don't know what's ahead of me or what I'm going to face, but having those experiences so far and the support of the fans and family, I feel like I can face anything.”