#F1 Circuit Profile – 2014: Belgium, Francorchamps, Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps – Round 12

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

2014 FORMULA 1 SHELL BELGIAN GRAND PRIX

After a well-deserved summer break for the Formula One community, the Belgian Grand Prix this weekend signals the start of the final eight races of the season. The 2014 edition of the race will be the 59th in total; it will also be the 47th to be held at one of Formula One’s most popular circuits, the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps.

Spa FrancorchampsHistory

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 2014 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 Lewis Hamilton

Form Guide

Mercedes are, without a doubt, the team to beat this year, and any prediction about the race will ultimately favour them. The fact that their drivers have won 9 out of the 11 races so far this season is actually an understatement – they had the pace to win all of them. A common theme in the past few races has been for Lewis Hamilton to make his way well from the back of the grid, so if he can repeat last year’s qualifying achievement of being on pole, who knows what he might do?

Nico Rosberg is the championship leader by eleven points, and he will be expected to finish in the top two, so there shouldn’t be any change in the standings; however, after the summer break, it could be possible that one of the other teams steps up their development in a similar way to Red Bull last year and really challenges, anything could happen.

Only two drivers on the grid have won the Belgian Grand Prix multiple times, and that honour goes to Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel, who have won here on four occasions (2004, 2005, 2007, 2009) and two occasions (2011, 2013) respectively. Felipe Massa, Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button are all drivers who have won here once, and I think that we’ll see something from Hamilton this weekend that propels him onto the list of drivers who have won the race on multiple occasions, joining eleven others with that achievement.

Of course, these are just pointless thoughts, so I guess we’ll just have to wait until the race and see…

Pirelli and Spa-Francorchamps

The Formula One season resumes after a three-week break for one of the most eagerly-anticipated races of the year: Spa-Francorchamps, where the P Zero White medium tyres and P Zero Yellow soft tyres have been nominated, a softer choice compared to last year, to promote different strategies.

At just over seven kilometres in length, Spa is the longest lap of the year, while its mixture of fast straights, flat-out corners, abrasive asphalt and swooping elevations put maximum strain on the tyres. As if that were not enough, variable weather – with frequent heavy rainstorms – are a common feature of this picturesque circuit, located in the Ardennes Mountains.

All of this can lead to a high incidence of safety cars, so the ability to react fast, as well as the insight to formulate an effective strategy, is vital. Often it can be raining on one part of the circuit but completely dry at another part, meaning that the versatility of cars, tyres and drivers is tested to the limit as well.

Paul Hembery © PirelliPaul Hembery, Pirelli motorsport director:Spa is one of the most epic circuits of the year, and a track we know well from our experience of GT racing at the Spa 24 Hours too. An adaptable tyre is the key element, able to work equally well within the very wide range of track and weather conditions that we often see in Belgium.

Despite the fact that tyre wear and degradation is traditionally high at Spa – the result of the multiple energy loadings put through the tyres – we have been able to nominate the soft tyres here as well as the medium for the first time since 2011, with the softer option liable to be the preferred choice in qualifying due to a significant time gap.

This is because of the length of the lap, meaning also that strategy is a very big factor in Spa: there is more time to be won and lost by being on the right tyre at the right time than at many other venues. It’s the sort of race where, under the right circumstances, it’s absolutely possible to go from last to first – and that always makes for a very exciting grand prix.

Jean Alesi © PirelliJean Alesi, Pirelli consultant:Spa is simply the best when it comes to driving pleasure but it’s also very difficult – both in wet and dry conditions. From a tyre point of view, it’s really demanding.

The asphalt is very abrasive, so tyre wear is always high. When I first started driving we had qualifying tyres and it was actually hard to get to the end of a single flying lap on those without experiencing some sort of blistering. By the time you got to the bus stop chicane, just before the pits, the tyres were already very worn.

Now it’s different as the tyres are a lot more resistant. You need quite low downforce for Spa, otherwise you won’t have the speed on the straights, and that’s really where you get the time. The abrasiveness of the circuit actually becomes an advantage when it’s wet, which is quite a frequent occurrence. Even when it’s raining, there’s still quite a lot of grip.

The circuit from a tyre point of view:
The key to Spa is managing the colossal amount of energy going through the tyres, from every direction. At Eau Rouge, for example, the engines are at maximum power, the cars are travelling at 300kph, and there is a negative compression in the region of 1g, as well as about 5g of lateral force.

This adds up to an unparalleled demand on the tyre structure and shoulder, not seen anywhere else during the year

The medium tyre is a low working range compound, capable of achieving optimal performance even at a wide range of low temperatures – which is often the case at Spa. The soft tyre by contrast is a high working range compound, suitable for higher temperatures. Rain is common at Spa, but there was no rain at the Spa 24 Hours last month or last year’s Belgian Grand Prix either.

The low downforce set-up used for Spa often affects braking. With less force pushing down onto the car as it slows, there is a risk of the wheels locking up, which can lead to tyre damage through flat spots.

The winning strategy last year was a two-stopper, with Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel completing two stints on the medium and a final stint on the hard tyre (which were nominated in 2013) to claim victory from second on the grid. Lotus driver Romain Grosjean finished eighth, stopping only once.

Pirelli and Spa-Francorchamps Tyre Demands

Brembo and Spa-Francorchamps

Brembo - Spa

* Turn 18 is considered the most demanding for the braking system

At just under seven kilometres, this is the longest track of the season. Despite the presence of two braking sections (the “Les Combes” at the
end of the Kemmel straight lines and the “Bus stop” chicane right before the finish line) which are characterised by extremely high energy forces, the rest of the track is rather light on the braking system because of its fast turns.

These of course result in less demand on braking and ensure excellent cooling
of the system itself. While most braking issues are related to heat, the adverse weather of the Ardennes ( At one stage in its history it had rained at the Belgian Grand Prix for twenty years in a row. Frequently drivers confront a part of the course that is clear and bright while another stretch is rainy and slippery.) result in problems connected to excessive cooling.

Memorable Moments

Obviously, with such a long history, narrowing this down to five good races is always going to be a struggle. I’ll stick with the ones I mentioned last year, although there are – of course – others that could probably deserve mentioning.

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

Support Races

Once again, Formula One is accompanied by the GP2, GP3 and Porsche Mobil 1 Supercup series as it heads into Belgium. The GP2 series is led by Jolyon Palmer, who finished with a fourth and a second place over the last race weekend in Hungary, and now has a lead of 43 points over Felipe Nasr, who could only finish sixth and third.

Arthur Pic – brother of former Marussia and Caterham driver Charles Pic – won the feature race but lies seventh in the championship due to the Hungarian race win being his only example of ending up on the podium this year, while McLaren prodigy Stoffel Vandoorne finally got his second race victory of the season in the sprint race, and he is third in the championship, albeit a long way from the leaders.

The GP3 leader is currently Alex Lynn, who scored 20 points with two fourth place finishes at the last race weekend, while the second placed driver Richie Stanaway won the feature race and followed it with a sixth place finish in the sprint race, closing the gap between them by nine points. The other driver to be victorious in Hungary was Swiss driver Patric Niederhauser, who only scored his third victory of his three year GP3 career to elevate him to tenth overall in the championship.

Polish driver Kuba Giermaziak has the honour of leading the final championship to be featured in this race weekend, with a victory last time out in Hungary making his lead over Earl Bamber even greater. The New Zealander could only finish in third place, making it the fourth time in the six races this season that he has finished behind Giermaziak. Second place in the race went to Nicki Thiim, who is tenth in the championship after only competing in three rounds; this result perfectly complimented his race victory in Germany the week before, even if he would have to win every single round of the championship left in order to stand a realistic chance of taking victory.

History

Year Driver Constructor
2013  Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault
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
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5 responses to “#F1 Circuit Profile – 2014: Belgium, Francorchamps, Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps – Round 12

  1. It used to be open road (or a very big part of it was) in fact, that’s the reason why the bus stop chicane has that name. When they wanted to build it they where out of money. So they asked the government for money. Which they refused. They didn’t want to give (tax) money to a private track. So somebody got the idea; but hey this is open road. What if we ask money to build a bus stop there. And of course the government provided money for that. Since it was public transport. So they builded a chicane and planted a pole where a bus should stop. And the (original) bus stop was born. 😆

  2. “most notably with the addition of a chicane at Eau Rouge that was promptly disposed of”

    I’ve heard of this before, but I still cannot picture how it would have looked like. Are there maps/pictures of the layout at the time?

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