After the summer break, Formula 1 returns to action this weekend for the second round of the championship. Teams are heading to Spa, which hosts the Belgian Grand Prix number 48 and it’s one of the most favorite tracks for the drivers. The circuit is surrounded by spectacular landscapes, Ardennes forest, and it’s currently the longest track of the calendar. Although there weren’t on the podium at the last race in Hungary, the Mercedes are again the favourites .
Spa Francorchamps has held the Belgian F1 GP 47 times. It was designed in 1920 and the first race there was already held in 1922 even though the first GP didn’t happen until 1925. Back then, Spa was 14’1 km long. The track ran across the public roads of the Francorchamps, Malmedy and Stavelot, and it was the fastest road circuit in Europe, making it quite dangerous. The Belgian track has been in the official F1 calendar since 1950, as Monza, Silverstone and Monaco. Over the years, it has been modified several times. Until 1970 minor changes were made and it was slightly shortened, but it wasn’t until 1979 (after having been cancelled during many years), that real changes appeared. Many drivers had lost their lives there so it was completely necessary to rethink the circuit. New track was half of the length, 7 km, but it still had the most representative parts like Eau Rouge, Raidillon, Les Combes, Malmedy or La Source. The abandoned parts remain as public roads now.
The numbers in the championship at the moment are these: Hamilton leads with 202 points, 21 more than his teammate, the German Nico Rosberg. Third is Sebastian Vettel with 160, then Valtteri Bottas who has 77 points. The other Finn, Kimi Räikkönen, follows him with just one point less than his fellow countryman. Then it is Massa, who has earned 74 at this stage of the year, Daniel Ricciardo with 51, 6 more than his Russian teammate, Kvyat. Hülkenberg and Grosjean close the top 10 with 24 and 23 points respectively.
Spa has always been one of the fastest tracks, surpassed only by Monza. Drivers get to 300 km/h in more than three times. One of them, in the mythical corner Eau Rouge, due to the huge amount of downforce that F1 cars have. Drivers complete the 67% of the lap at full throttle.
The 'king' of Spa is Michael Schumacher, who won six races at the Ardennes. Ayrton Senna had 5 victories on Belgian soil and Jim Clark claimed the first place four times. The active driver who has done best at this legendary track is Kimi Räikkönen, who has also won four times. Last year was the only one he finished and didn’t stood on the podium. Only he and Vettel on the current grid have repeated victories at Spa. The German did it twice, while Massa, Hamilton, Button and Ricciardo, the ultimate winner, have one victory trophy each at Spa. Both McLaren and Ferrari took 12 wins on this circuit. Fernando Alonso has never won on the Belgian track.
The lap record is held by Sebastian Vettel who made a lap in 1.47.263 back in 2009.
The Belgian circuit has 20 corners, 11 to the right, 9 to the left. First one, La Source, is a hairpin right after the start/finish straight and the slowest corner of the circuit. This is a good overtaking point if one driver is able to rush braking. It is followed by a down slope which binds to Eau Rouge and Raidillon, taken flat out. An extreme suspension compression is created here since the track goes from downhill to uphill. After this, it comes the Kemmel straight, which ends in Les Combes and Malmedy chicane. Drivers have another good opportunity to overtake there if they have enough power in Kemmel’s.
Then, there is a short straight before corner number 10, Rivage, a right hander taken at 113 km/h that brings us to another straight which leads to corners numbers 11 and 12. That corner, named Pouhon, is a long and fast double-apex left handed one which is exited flat out. Then, drivers arrive to a kind of a fast chicane formed by corners 13 and 14, where they go out at 173 km/h. The last sector is a sequence of fast corners until the final chicane before the pit straight. It starts with two almost symmetric corners, Stavelot and Paul Frere, both to the right. Then, Blanchimont, a flat out blind corner to the left taken at more than 300 km/h. The last chicane, known as the bus stop, is a very tight one.
The circuit is a mix of slow and fast corners with corrugated surfaces that make it a difficult track, putting severe pressure on both driver and car. Another thing to keep in mind is the weather, since the sun can shine in one sector and rain in another one. This issue makes the tires election very important. Pirelli is bringing soft and medium tires for this track. As Paul Hembery said: "Spa is one of the driver’s favorite circuits. There are many different forces influencing the tires, but the temperatures are usually quite low, so soft and medium represent the best combination to ensure performance and durability”.
The car configuration is very important as well. Low downforce helps the cars through the fast parts but high downforce is much better for sector number two, the one with more slow corners. The braking stability and traction for the corner exit is also something too have in account, even though brake wear is low.
Drivers will take a total of 44 laps, which make a total of 308 km. FIA has designed two DRS zones. First detection point will be before Eau Rouge and activation zone will be at the Kemmel’s straight. Second activation point will be before the last chicane and activation zone at the start/finish straight.
After we have known that Kimi Räikkönen has been renewed for Ferrari in 2016, we will see if it motivates him so much to go back to the podium on his favourite track again.
FP1 Friday 21 10.00h
FP2 Friday 21 14.00h
FP3 Saturday 22 11.00h
Qualifying Saturday 22 14.00h
Race Sunday 23 14.00h
by Cristina DeLarge