The Belgian Grand Prix marks the beginning of the end of the Formula 1 season, starting a run of eight races that will decide the outcome of the 2011 world championship. But Sebastian Vettel's rivals will be hoping that the Spa race will be the start of the title battle proper, otherwise the 24-year-old German could have locked out the championship long before the circus gets to the season-ending Brazilian Grand Prix in November.
Spa, and the Italian Grand Prix that follows two weeks later, are regarded as a window of opportunity for the rest. Conventional wisdom has it that Red Bull won't be a factor at either track, and although a glance at the record books confirms that Monza is an unhappy stomping ground for the bulls (except for those in their Scuderia Toro Rosso guise), the team's history at Spa suggests that both Vettel and Mark Webber aren't exactly going to be languishing in the midfield.
Why? Because last year Webber was on pole position, only to condemn himself to a fightback from sixth place when he let the revs drop too low at the start. Vettel, too, was quick last year before clattering into Jenson Button. For all the top speed weaknesses of the Red Bull-Renault package (and it is about the package, for the 'works' Renault outfit's speed trap figures have consistently been stronger during the 2011 season), the RB7 can be a factor.
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