#F1 Circuit Profile – 2013: Belgium, Francorchamps, Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps – Round 11

Brought to you by TheJudge13 ‘Track Profile Specialist’ Alistair Hunter

2013 FORMULA 1 SHELL BELGIAN GRAND PRIX

After a lengthy and well-deserved summer break for the Formula One community, the Belgian Grand Prix this weekend signals the start of the final nine races of the season. The 2013 edition of the race will be the 58th in total; it will also be the 46th to be held at one of Formula One’s most popular circuits, the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps.

Motorsports: FIA Formula One World Championship 2012, Grand Prix of BelgiumHistory

The original circuit was designed as a fifteen kilometre long test of skill on public roads in Belgium in 1920, with the first ever Grand Prix race held there five years later, won by Antonio Ascari as part of Alfa Romeo’s championship-winning 1925 season, and the last completed race of the Italian driver’s career before losing his life at the French Grand Prix one month later. Due to the high speeds possible at Spa, as well as legendary corners, it became very popular with drivers and fans alike, but due to these high speeds on roads not designed for racing, disasters often occurred, with 51 drivers and officials losing their lives there during the circuit’s long history.

This led to the organisers finding a new home for the Belgian Grand Prix in two places – Nivelles-Baulers and Circuit Zolder. The former hosted two events between 1972 and 1974, but poor finances and a deteriorating surface led to a rapid decline that ultimately saw it transformed into an industrial estate, although it is possible to see the track layout from space. The latter was also doomed to lose out to Spa-Francorchamps, although Zolder did host five times the number of Grands Prix, and has had a much more successful life post-F1, with events such as the World Touring Car Championship venturing there every year.

Formula One, however, reappeared at a much shorter and safer Spa circuit in 1983, and from 1985 all editions of the Belgian Grand Prix have been held there, albeit with minor one year absences in 2003 and 2006, while the track has occasionally been tweaked, most notably with the addition of a chicane at Eau Rouge that was promptly disposed of, and the modification of the Bus Stop chicane.

Unlike several of the newer circuits on the calendar, the track does not rely on F1 and its support races alone. Aside from this event, the Spa 24 Hours and 1000km of Spa are both important events held there, in addition to a round of the Formula Renault 3.5 Series.

Circuit Characteristics

20130825_Spa_Circuit_Characteristics

The Spa-Francorchamps circuit currently holds the record for the longest track on the 2013 Formula One calendar at 7.004 kilometres; without significant advances in safety and television broadcasting, it is unlikely to be beaten at any point in the near future. The sheer size of the track means that while there may be heavy rain in one area, it can be rather dry in other parts – a phenomenon that is often seen on other circuits, but not to the same extent as this one.

The long straights mean that 71% of the lap is spent at full throttle, and around 48 gear changes are needed per lap. The lap record of 1:47.263 was set by Sebastian Vettel for Red Bull Racing in 2009, while the fastest lap around the track was recorded by Jarno Trulli, just under three seconds faster at 1:44.503.

Drivers can reach speeds of around 315 kilometres per hour at various points around the track, while their speed will be aided by the two DRS zones into Turn 5 and Turn 1. Both of these places are good zones to overtake at the track, although others can be found at places such as the Bus Stop chicane and, for the particularly brave, Eau Rouge.

The medium downforce nature of the track can shake up the order in the race – the most recent example that I could think of would be the 2009 edition of the race, where Force India’s Giancarlo Fisichella took pole position and a second place finish in his final race for the team, a result that would have seemed impossible anywhere else.

A lap with Mark Webber

Form Guide

Sebastian Vettel leads the championship, and it does seem like he is on his way to winning a fourth championship in a row. Victories for the Red Bull driver have been overshadowed by a Mercedes resurgence, but while both Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton both look like they have the quality to be able to take advantage if the opportunity to win the race beckons, in my opinion Vettel just appears to have something extra.

The only other race winners – Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen – will probably be in contention, and the Ferrari could do something special if it qualifies near the front. I’m sure you will have also heard Romain Grosjean saying that his first win could be just around the corner, and honestly, while I wish it was, I can’t help but feel that this weekend is not going to be that race: maybe he should focus on getting past the first lap of this race for the first time in his career.

Only one driver on the grid has won the Belgian Grand Prix multiple times, and that honour goes to Kimi Raikkonen, who has won here on four occasions (2004, 2005, 2007, 2009). Felipe Massa, Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel and Jenson Button are all drivers who have won here once, and you would probably get good odds on one of those four becoming the second multiple winner on the grid (although it would probably take something very special in order for Button or Massa to achieve this).

Of course, these are just pointless thoughts, so I guess we’ll just have to wait until the race and see… (or until we see the analysis of Friday practice).

Pirelli and Spa

Pirelli PZero OrangeBefore the mid-season break, the Formula One teams visited the slowest permanent track on the calendar: the Hungaroring. Now they head to one of the quickest of all: Spa-Francorchamps, in the foothills of the Ardennes.

Pirelli is bringing the P Zero Orange hard and P Zero White medium tyres: the two hardest compounds in the range. These are perfectly suited to the high-energy demands of the circuit, with its rapid corners and fast compressions such as the legendary Eau Rouge. One of the key characteristics of Spa is its variable weather conditions, which means that the Cinturato Green intermediate tyres and Cinturato Blue full wet tyres are also likely to be called into play over the course of the weekend.

Paul Hembery © PirelliPirelli Motorsport Director Paul Hembery:  “Spa is not only an epic circuit, but also one of the biggest challenges for our tyres all year. Mostly this is because of the very high-energy loads that go all the way through the tyres, both vertically – due to the big compressions such as Eau Rouge – and also laterally at fast corners like Blanchimont.

Often, the tyres are subjected to forces acting in different directions at the same time, which increases the work still further. So looking after the tyres is very important, particularly as it’s such a long lap. This means that there are a very wide variety of possible strategies available at Spa as well, with plenty of time to be won and lost if the right tactics are chosen.

Pirelli P Zero Medium (White) © PirelliHowever, any strategy has to be very flexible, because it’s the changing weather that often makes Spa such a fascinating race. The conditions can change extremely quickly, which then makes how the teams use the intermediate and wet tyres the key to success – as we have seen so often in the past. Both our wet-weather tyres have proved their performance over previous races; with the intermediate tyre in particular showing how well suited it is even to inconsistent and drying conditions.

There are plenty of overtaking opportunities, and the blend of performance and durability offered by our nominated tyres should maximise those chances this weekend.

Jean Alesi © PirelliJean Alesi: “Spa is a circuit that everyone talks about and over the years I’ve not heard anybody say anything apart from the fact that it is awesome. It’s so fast and so challenging, but one of the key characteristics is the fact that it’s very long. So it’s never monotonous, as you do very few laps compared to other tracks.

Managing the tyres takes a special skill: there are lots of fast corners and the length of the track as well as the variable temperatures mean that your tyres can actually cool down after the first part of the circuit. But in qualifying, if you start off with your tyres too warm, then you won’t get the maximum performance from them throughout the entire length of the lap.

There’s a huge amount of variation possible in terms of set-up as well: some teams add downforce to get more grip in the mid part of the lap, and that will also have an effect on how the tyres work. Probably the most important characteristic is the high possibility of rainfall. You can have a completely dry corner and then a fully wet track a few corners later. Underneath the water though, the surface is quite abrasive and offers good grip, so you can still drive.

The bigger problem is the sudden rivers of water that run across the track in a zigzag shape: you’ve got to know where they are, so that the aquaplaning doesn’t catch you out. There’s also a lot of spray at Spa when it rains, which makes visibility very difficult in wet conditions.

The circuit from a tyre point of view:

Spa is one of the circuits that has featured on the Formula One world championship since it got underway in 1950. While the track has altered radically over the years (the current layout dates from 1979) it maintains its fast and flowing nature, with an average lap speed in the region of 230kph.

The circuit is just over seven kilometres in length, making this comfortably the longest lap of the year. Cars are on full throttle for around 80% of the lap, sometimes for more than 20 seconds at a time. The variation in the lap means that starting from pole is not as important as it can be on other circuits.

At high speeds, aggressive camber angles can cause blistering as heat builds up around the edges of the tyres. However, teams are expected to comply with Pirelli’s maximum recommended camber angles, which should help prevent this phenomenon.

Technical tyre notes

The big compression at Eau Rouge subjects the front tyres to the highest vertical load of the season: 1000 kilograms.

The top two last year (Button and Vettel) used a one-stop strategy, while the third-placed finisher (Raikkonen) stopped twice. There was also plenty of variation in the start tyres selected: while most drivers started on the medium tyre, Hulkenberg started on the hard tyre and finished fourth with a two-stop strategy.

The performance gap between the hard and medium tyre is likely to be more than a second per lap.

A lap with Pirelli

Brembo and the Hungaroring

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Spa Turn 7 Brake Characteristics © Bermbo

At just under seven kilometres, this is the longest track of the season.

Despite the presence of two braking sections, “Les Combes” at the end of the Kemmel straight lines and the “Bus stop” chicane right before the finish line the rest of the track is rather light on the braking system because of the sweeping fast turns that translate into not-so-demanding braking and ensure excellent cooling of the system itself.

Due to the adverse weather conditions, a situation which is quite common in this region, problems connected to excessive cooling can occur.

Turn 7 is considered the most demanding on the braking system due to the extremely high energy forces needed for deceleration from a speed of 316km/h.

Memorable Moments

Obviously, with such a long history, narrowing this down to five good races is always going to be a struggle. But as usual, I’ll try anyway (and you’ll probably correct me in the comments section!)

1985 – The Belgian Grand Prix was moved to September due to poor track conditions previously, and while Alain Prost had been looking in good form, rainy conditions saw Ayrton Senna’s Lotus-Renault take victory.

1995 – Michael Schumacher and Damon Hill did not have the best grid positions, but the failure of David Coulthard’s car while he was in the lead allowed the duo to battle it out on track for the victory, as Schumacher emerged victorious in a contest that entertained many fans around the world.

1998 – After a serious pile up at the start of the race due to limited visibility, the restarted race saw Schumacher lead comfortably before crashing into the back of David Coulthard after a major misunderstanding as the German attempted to lap the McLaren driver in conditions with visibility still impaired; the aftermath of which would see Schumacher march down to the McLaren garage in anger in order to confront the Scot. Up front, team orders led to Damon Hill taking the first victory for Eddie Jordan’s F1 team ahead of Ralf Schumacher.

2008 – Notable because of the stunning conclusion to the race – once again, rain caused havoc, as Raikkonen’s comfortable advantage was eroded by Lewis Hamilton. The Brit then overtook Raikkonen by going wide at the Bus Stop chicane and then appeared to give the place back, before overtaking him after the finish line. Kimi then crashed out, Hamilton got a penalty for being judged to have not given the place back, and Felipe Massa won instead.

2009 – Kimi Raikkonen took his last victory for Ferrari by getting past surprise polesitter Giancarlo Fisichella’s Force India thanks to good pit strategy and the advantage of being able to use a KERS system on such a long circuit. As the battle at the front distracted us from the championship battle between Brawn GP and Red Bull Racing (also due to the championship leader being taken out by some rookie called Romain Grosjean), it was good to see Fisichella get the team’s first pole position and podium finish

Notable Drivers

Jacky Ickx One of the most successful Belgian drivers to compete in Formula One was Jacky Ickx. After impressing in the 1967 German Grand Prix with a F2 car, he went on to have a long career driving for teams such as Ferrari where he won his first race in 1968, and he finished second in the championship in two consecutive seasons. The first occasion was 1969, where he finished behind Jackie Stewart, winning two races in comparison to Stewart’s five; the second occasion was rather more notable, as he was beaten by the only posthumous FIA Formula One World Champion, Jochen Rindt. After this, his career dropped away, with only two more wins before leaving the series at the end of 1979.

The last Belgian to compete in Formula One was Jerome d’Ambrosio, who spent one season as a driver at the Marussia Virgin Racing team in 2011, before standing in for Romain Grosjean at the 2012 Italian Grand Prix due to the Frenchman picking up a one race ban, as d’Ambrosio was the reserve driver for the Lotus F1 Team. In his first season, he finished 24th in the championship with a best placed finish of 14th, while his one race appearance in his second season allowed him to finish 23rd in the championship ahead of HRT drivers Narain Karthikeyan and Pedro de la Rosa by recording a 13th place finish after struggling with DRS issues.

Support Races

Jolyon Palmer

Once again, Formula One is accompanied by the GP2, GP3 and Porsche Mobil 1 Supercup series as it heads into Belgium. Despite not scoring any points in the last round in Hungary, Monegasque driver Stefano Coletti leads the GP2 championship – albeit by a slender six points. He could have had the misfortune of losing the lead, but the two race winners there – Jolyon Palmer and Nathanaël Berthon – can be found in eighth and eighteenth places respectively, while the second and third placed drivers in the championship – Felipe Nasr and Fabio Leimer – each only visited the podium on one occasion, albeit with solid points scoring positions in the alternate race in order to keep applying the pressure on Coletti.

The championship leader failing to score points was also a theme in the GP3 series in Hungary, with Cypriot driver Tio Ellinas finishing in eleventh and tenth place in the two races; his lead is now only one point over Argentine driver Facu Regalia, who finished in sixth and fourth place that weekend, but the gap between the leader and third placed driver Aaro Vainio is a much healthier 16 points, although slightly closed by the Finnish driver’s victory in the feature race.

The final support race is the Porsche Mobil 1 Supercup, which is currently led by British driver Sean Edwards. Out of the five races this season, he has won three of them, while the other two saw him take fourth place finishes, allowing him to enjoy a sixteen point advantage between himself and the second placed driver Nicki Thiim, who has also been on the podium three times; however, only one of those saw him stand on the top step.

History

Year Driver Constructor
2012  Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes
2011  Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault
2010  Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes
2009  Kimi Räikkönen Ferrari
2008  Felipe Massa Ferrari
2007  Kimi Räikkönen Ferrari
2006 Not held
2005  Kimi Räikkönen McLaren-Mercedes
2004  Kimi Räikkönen McLaren-Mercedes
2003 Not held

11 responses to “#F1 Circuit Profile – 2013: Belgium, Francorchamps, Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps – Round 11

  1. I’m surprised you never mentioned Belgian Thierry Boutsen, who started 11 Belgian GP’s and retired or was disqualified in 8 of them.

    • I was very tempted to do so, but I thought I’d go for the Belgian driver that seemed more successful, and while Boutsen competed in more races, Ickx scored more points, finished second in the championship twice in a row (the only other person to achieve that is Stirling Moss, who famously did it four times in a row). Although I must admit, only being classified on 27% of entries into his home race is quite a sad statistic for him!

  2. I would add the race in 2000, with that wonderful battle between Schumacher and Häkkinen, especially the overtake where both go past Zonta in the middle of the Kemmel straight, Schumacher to the left, Häkkinen to the right and Häkkinen eventually overtakes Schumacher and takes the win.

    • Totally agree with that, one of the best overtakes I’ve ever seen, if not the best!

      • What about 1999 in qualifying when Jacques Villeneuve insisted that Eau Rouge and Raidillon could be taken flat out, only to find that they couldn’t! “My best-ever crash”

      • Whitmarsh has the front wing in his office and the damage on it indicates they did touch at that top speed while the overtake was executed. Amazing!

  3. I believe that Romain Grosjean’s blunder last year while impressive is far behind David Coulthard accomplishment at Spa in 1998. David’s first lap created the worst pile-up seen in F1 so far and brought icing on the cake by brake testing Schumacher and thus giving Michael the opportunity to demonstrate that with only three wheels he was still faster driver than the others with four of them wheels!

    http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x4jaw7_f1-incredible-gp-crash-spa-francorc_auto

  4. Pingback: The legend of Spa-Francorchamps | Sykose Extreme Sports News·

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