Circuit Profile: 2016 Belgian Grand Prix – Spa-Francorchamps – Round 13

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Introduction:

Formula One is back, and after being forced to wait four weeks for a Grand Prix, our reward is the Belgian Grand Prix, held on the majestic Spa-Francorchamps Circuit. The drivers have had time to pause and reflect on the season to date, and certainly Nico Rosberg will be hoping he can start afresh after enduring an awful run in to the summer break which saw a 43 point lead after the fourth round evaporate as he now finds himself 19 points back of team mate Lewis Hamilton. Lewis is certainly on a roll, and seems to simply have the measure of Nico, with Hamilton’s talk of a ‘free race’ for Nico (in regards to his looming grid penalty due to his early season mechanical woes) seemingly designed to simply ratchet up the pressure on Rosberg – and Rosberg’s form under pressure so far has not been that of a world champion in the making. The main question for the weekend will be can Nico put in a performance to breathe life into the Driver’s Championship just when Hamilton seems to be taking control, or will he fade away and leave Lewis an easy run in to another title? Ferrari meanwhile, have clearly lost their way, as well as a host of staff and second position in the Constructor’s Championship, and will be hoping the second half of the season will mark an upturn of form – but the Italian team will need more than just wishes if they are to fight back against a truly resurgent Red Bull. There will be plenty of other points of interest at this race, the battle between the two Red Bull drivers will continue to intrigue, as will the battle for the lower placings in the Constructor’s Championship, with Williams, Force India, Torro Rosso, McLaren and Haas all scrapping for places. Manor will have a new driver in Esteban Ocon to impress, and it should be fascinating to watch his progress against Pascal Wehrlein over the second half of the season. The Renault drivers would seem to be on a last chance to impress if they want to save their F1 futures, and Sauber have new owners, so maybe we will finally see some improvement from the struggling Swiss outfit as they attempt to get back into the points (and top 10!).

Michael Schumacher holds the record for the most Belgian Grand Prix wins with 6, with Ayrton Senna having five and Jim Clark four. Of the active drivers, Kimi Raikkonen is regarded as something of a Spa specialist, with four wins of his own, the last of which was back in 2009 for Ferrari, while Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton have two wins apiece, and Jenson Button, Daniel Ricciardo and Felipe Massa have one victory each at the famous track.

Last year Lewis Hamilton dominated from pole position, with Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg coming home in second after having made his life difficult with a poor getaway from the grid. Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel gambled on a one stop to make the podium, ending in disaster when his right rear Pirelli exploded on the Kemmel Straight, with Romain Grosjean taking the final podium place for Lotus. Daniil Kvyat had a fine performance to come fourth, and he could certainly do with rediscovering that type of form this weekend.

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History:

The origin of the circuit at Spa date back to 1920s. The track was conceived by Jules de Thier (manager of the newspaper La Meuse, which had backed races prior to World War I), Joseph de Crawhez (the mayor of Spa) and Henry Langlois van Ophem (the President of the Sports Commission of the Royal Automobile Club of Belgium – RACB). They decided to utilise the roads connecting the towns of Francorchamps, Malmedy and Stavelot, giving a track almost 16 km in length. The new track scheduled its first race in 1921 – but this had to be cancelled after only a single car registered. Undeterred, the track staged a motorbike race instead, and the following year in 1922 the RACB held the first race to carry the title Belgian Grand Prix, an endurance race won by the Baron de Tornaco –Bruyere. In 1924, inspired by the Le Mans 24 Hour Race the RACB held their own 24 Hour race at Spa (now the 24 Hours of Spa). The first Grand Prix in the modern sense was staged here in 1925, designated the European Grand Prix and won by Antonio Ascari in an Alfa Romeo. The Belgian Grand Prix featured in the inaugural Formula One world championship in 1950, with Fangio taking the victory for Alfa Romeo.

Spa continued as the home of the Belgian Grand Prix, and although a few years were missed to financial reasons, serious problems for the track arose due to concern, both public and from the driver’s association, about its safety. Always a very fast track, Spa saw its share of fatal crashes in the early years. In 1960 however its reputation took a hammering. In practice, Stirling Moss was thrown from his car after a high speed crash caused by an axle failure, and ended up lying unconscious on the race track with broken ribs and legs. Later that day Mike Taylor would suffer serious injuries that would end his racing career after his steering failed. Worse was to follow in the race, when two drivers, Chris Bristow and Alan Stacey lost their lives in separate incidents. The clamour for safety was threatening the existence of the old track. The reduction in engine capacity for the 1961 F1 season saw speeds reduced at the circuit, but then in 1966, Jackie Stewart suffered a serious crash at the start of the race. Stewart’s BRM aquaplaned off the road at the Masta Kink and crashed off a telegraph pole and bounced into a ditch, Stewart trapped by the steering wheel inside the bent frame of the car while fuel leaked on top of him for 25 minutes. No marshals were on the scene, and it was Stewart’s team mate Graham Hill and Bob Bondurant, who had both slid off in the treacherous conditions, who managed to finally free him from the car with the aid of a wrench borrowed from a spectator! The incident had a profound effect on Stewart, who would go on to play a key role in the push for safety in the sport. For Spa this would come to a head in 1969, when the GPDA boycotted the event, causing the Belgian Grand Prix to be cancelled for the year. The Grand Prix returned to Spa in 1970 with modifications having been made to the circuit, but in 1971 it was off again, with the GPDA wanting the venue moved and the CIS (the regulator of F1 for the FIA at the time) eventually cancelling the race. This led to local driver Jacky Ickx withdrawing from the GPDA in protest against the boycotting of events (Ickx would say he was not against improvements to safety, just the uncivilised methods he felt was being used to achieve them).

From 1972, the Belgian Grand Prix would leave Spa to alternate between the circuits of Nivelles and Zolder, although Nivelles only held 2 races in 1972 and 1974 due to financial trouble and issues with the track. Emerson Fittipaldi won both the races staged at Nivelles, with Jackie Stewart taking the first race in Zolder in 1973. The tracks were however considered bland relative to the majesty of Spa. Following the tragic death of Gilles Villeneuve during qualifying for the 1982 Belgian Grand Prix at Zolder (a race won by John Watson in a storming drive through the pack for McLaren, passing Keke Rosberg’s Williams on the second last lap to take the win), Formula One returned to a shortened Spa in 1983, with Alain Prost taking the first win at the new Spa for Renault. After one more race in Zolder in 1984 (won in a lights to flag drive by Michele Alboreto for Ferrari), the Belgian Grand Prix returned to Spa for good in 1985, despite the race being put back a few weeks due to trouble with the track surface (when the race was staged Ayrton Senna would win the first of his 5 Belgian Grand Prix in a wet/dry race for Lotus), and has remained there ever since., although there was no race held in 2003 (due to F1 being still hooked on tobacco sponsorship at the time) or in 2006 (with the race cancelled due to ongoing modifications at the track).

The Spa track has seen numerous changes down through the years. The original circuit devised in 1920 was a blast across public roads. The track left the modern track at the end of the Kemmel straight, blasting out towards Malmady, curving back at the Burnenville and diving down through the Masta Kink, from there on towards Stavelot where the track bent back around and headed back up to rejoin the modern track at Blanchimont. The track was a high speed journey across open roads, with houses, telegraph poles and unprotected drops into fields in wait for drivers who ran into trouble. The original layout saw the track turn left at Eau Rouge, following the public road and returning to the Kemmel straight via a hairpin. In keeping with the vision of the track as a high speed venue, the Raidillon corner was created in 1939, giving us the iconic section through Eau Rouge and curving back up to Raidillon onto the Kemmel Straight. The original circuit used to double back on itself via a tight corner at the town of Stavelot, and this was given a curved bend in 1951 to improve the flow of the circuit. After the boycott of 1969, the track was altered with a chicane included in place of the fast right hander at Malmedy for 1970. When the Belgian Grand Prix returned in 1983 the old track was no more – the new track bending in from Les Combes at the end of the Kemmel Straight and diverting through the new section of track through the wonderful double left hander Pouhon and rejoining the old circuit heading into Blanchimont, with the all new Bus Stop chicane greeting the drivers before coming on to the start/finish straight. 1994 saw Eau Rouge modified with the inclusion of a chicane, but this was gone for 1995, with the Eau Rouge/Raidillon section seeing further minor modification over the years since, with gravel removed and run-off areas extending and the moving of the outside wall, but the layout of the track is fundamentally the same. The Bus Stop chicane was modified in 2004, with a new right handed bend installed just before it. Having missed the 2006 season, the track returned to the F1 calendar in 2007, with revised pit facilities and more changes to the Bus Stop chicane, with the current format of the corner introduced and the start/finish straight extended to allow a greater run into the first corner.

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Circuit Characteristics

Spa is a true test for the team’s cars, with power and aerodynamic performance equally important around the challenging track.

From the start the cars squirt into Turn 1, the La Source hairpin, a right hander with a wide open run off area on the outside and barriers on the inside. This is an especially tricky first corner to start a Grand Prix, with enough of a gap to the corner to allow the cars get their speed up (which can lead to trouble, as when Bruno Senna’s Renault simply arriving too hot to the corner and took out the unfortunate Torro Rosso of Jamie Alguersuari in 2011)and the wide track on exit luring cars to make a move, and with cars running 3 or 4 wide to trying to maximise track position at the start making it through without damage is never a sure thing (witness the chaos in 2012 when Romain Grosjean’s Lotus went flying over Fernando Alonso’s Ferrari after tangling with Lewis Hamilton’s McLaren). During the race, the start finish straight will be the second DRS activation zone, so expect to see some wild moves going into and around the outside of La Source as the race progresses – Jenson Button’s McLaren showing what can be done with a sweeping move around the outside of Sergio Perez (Sauber) and Vitaly Pertrov (Lotus) in one go in 2011, and that without the aid of the DRS!

Exiting La Source, the cars wind around right and slip downhill past the pit exit and first DRS detection point before rising through the wonderful left-right-left of Eau Rouge and Raidillon (Turns 2,3 and 4). Although not previously considered an overtaking hot spot, cars go flat through this section nowadays and we can expect to see racing here. Mark Webber (Red Bull) pulled off a lovely pass on Fernando Alonso (Ferrari) heading down the inside into Eau Rouge in 2011, with Kimi Raikkonen (Lotus) matching the move a year later on Michael Schumacher (Mercedes), while Alonso himself pulled off a daring move around the outside of McLaren team-mate Lewis Hamilton into Eau Rouge back in 2007, so racing is definitely possible here! Having flicked left (over the Eau Rouge creek) the cars then climb steeply as the track bends to the right, before the track bends back to the left, the cars unsighted as they crest the top of the hill and head onto the long Kemmel straight, where has the first DRS activation zone. The long Kemmel straight offers the chance for cars to go wheel to wheel as the fight it out for position into Les Combes (Turns 5/6), a pair of tight corners, right then left followed quickly by a further right handed bend Malmedy (Turn 7). It was at the end of the Kemmel straight that Mika Hakkinen (McLaren) famously passed Michael Schumacher at the entry to Les Combes, by shooting down the inside of the lapped Riccardo Zonto (BAR) as Schumacher went to the outside to lap Zonta! More recently, Les Combes was the site of the collision between Mercedes team-mates Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, which robbed Hamilton of his back tyre but would ultimately derail Nico’s season! While the long Kemmel Straight will invite drivers to have a go into Les Combes, reckless attempts can play into the hands of following drivers, as Esteban Gutierrez (Sauber) showed in 2013 as he passed Adrian Sutil (Force India) down the inside at Malmedy after Sutil lost momentum following a failed attempt to go around the outside of Pastor Maldonado’s Williams at Les Combes.

This is the highest point on the track and exiting Turn 7 the track begins to fall down, the cars running down a straight before hitting the long right hand hairpin Rivage (Turn 8), before a quick stab into Bruxelles (Turn 9), a 90 degree left hander that sets the cars up to run wide over the kerbs and fly down the short straight to Pouhon, a challenging fast left hander (Turn 10) that winds into another left hander (Turn 11). Daniel Ricciardo nipped past his Red Bull team mate Sebastian Vettel here in 2014 when Vettel misjudged the entry to the first left hander, running wide on the kerbs and allowing the Australian to zip past through the second left hander. The cars exit the second left hander back onto a short straight to head downhill to the Pif-Paf chicane (Turn 12/13) – scene of drama in the closing laps of the wet 2008 race, where Kimi Raikkonen’s Ferrari nipped past Lewis Hamilton’s McLaren as they came upon Nico Rosberg’s Williams rejoing the track from an off, with Hamilton forced wide onto the grass and Kimi then spinning on the exit of the Pif Paf and losing the place back to Hamilton. The Pif Paf is a tight right followed by a left opening out and allowing the cars run wide on exit to carry speed down into a tight right hander Stavelot (Turn 14), quickly followed by another right hander (Turn 15). The cars have reached the lowest point of the track here, and begin to climb back up hill, the track bending slightly to the right before hitting Blanchimont, a left hand sweep (Turn 16) before a tighter left hander (Turn 17), which brings the cars past the second DRS detection point into the Bus Stop chicane (Turn 18/19). Last year’s race saw a brilliant pass by Max Verstappen’s Torro Rosso, running around the outside of Felipe Nasr’s Sauber through Blanchimont, with the Torro Rosso running wide over the exit kerbs but keeping his foot in to claim the inside line down to the Bus Stop and nip past the Sauber – the move mirroring one pulled off by Esteban Gutierrez’s Sauber on Pastor Maldonado’s William’s back in 2013 after Maldonado had made an error on the run in to Blanchimont allowing Gutierrez to close.  The Bus Stop chicane is likely to see plenty of action during the race as cars will look to take advantage of the long run through Blanchimont to try to overtake. The pit entry is straight on from the first turn in the Bus Stop chicane, which can cause complications – in the 2013 race that overtake by Gutierrez on Maldonado led to Maldonado/Sutil clashing in the middle of the Bus Stop – with Maldonado deciding to dive immediately to the pits for repairs, only to barge into the following Force India of Paul Di Resta, taking the unfortunate Di Resta out of the race! Maldonado won’t be present this year but the pit entry mid chicane could still be one to watch out for during the race, especially if the weather starts to turn and drivers face a last minute decision on changing to wets or facing another 7 km on slicks!

Exiting the Bus Stop the cars wind are back onto the start finish straight and the second DRS activation zone to do it all over again!

TYRES WITH PIRELLI:

Following a short summer break, Formula 1 resumes at the one of the most epic drivers’ circuits of them all: Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium. The P Zero medium, soft and supersoft tyres have been nominated for the longest lap of the year at 7.004 kilometres, which places high-energy loads through the tyres. Spa-Francorchamps in fact provides a real multi-faceted challenge for the tyres, and by extension for the teams and drivers as well. The historic circuit at the foothills of the Ardennes is renowned for its changeable weather, meaning that there is a true microclimate to provide a constant additional parameter for the strategists to consider.

 

THE CIRCUIT FROM A TYRE POINT OF VIEW:

Loads through the tyres are among the biggest of the year due to the long and fast corners.

Elevation changes also create vertical forces for tyres through compressions like Eau Rouge.

Rain is quite likely, but it frequently rains just on one part of the circuit and not on another.

Set-up is a compromise between low drag for straights and downforce for corners: not easy.

There are plenty of overtaking opportunities, which mean that strategy options are quite open.

F1 returns with yet another back-to-back: after Spa it’s straight to Pirelli’s home race at Monza.

 

THE THREE NOMINATED COMPOUNDS:

White medium: a mandatory set that must be available for the race, low working range.

Yellow soft: again a mandatory set, should feature in the race but not ideal for long stints.

Red supersoft: will be used for qualifying with a focus on performance rather than durability.

 

HOW IT WAS A YEAR AGO:         

Lewis Hamilton won comfortably with a two-stop strategy, changing tyres on laps 13 and 30.

Best alternative strategy: Max Verstappen finished eighth from 18th on the grid, having adopted a three-stop strategy and passing several cars on track.

PAUL HEMBERY, PIRELLI MOTORSPORT DIRECTOR:                      

“Spa-Francorchamps needs no introduction as one of the most iconic circuits out there. For the tyres, it’s a demanding track with the sort of high-energy loads that make it absolutely thrilling to drive. It’s not easy to find the right set-up but with such a long lap and plenty of overtaking opportunities, there are a number of different strategy permutations possible. During the summer break we’ve started testing the 2017-size tyres, and we look forward to a busy second half of the season as we continue the testing campaign and also move straight on to our home race the weekend after Belgium.”

WHAT’S NEW? 

There are no significant changes to the Spa-Francorchamps circuit and infrastructure this year.

Esteban Ocon becomes a full-time Formula 1 driver, taking over from Rio Haryanto at Manor.

 

OTHER THINGS THAT HAVE CAUGHT OUR EYE RECENTLY:

Pirelli was at the forefront in Spa last month with the famous 24 Hours. It was the Italian firm’s biggest-ever event with a total of 65 cars fitted and 10,724 tyres over 29,269 cumulative laps.

The 2017 tyre tests with modified mule cars got underway at the beginning of the month, with Ferrari at Fiorano (driven by Sebastian Vettel and Esteban Gutierrez on wets) and Red Bull at Mugello (driven by Sebastien Buemi on slicks).

 

Form Guide:

Put simply the Mercedes is still the class of the field, Lewis Hamilton is a man on form and Nico Rosberg is not – so hard to see anything other than a win for Lewis all being equal. But the summer break will have given Nico time to reset, and he will have to bring a special performance in Spa if he is not to fall permanently under Lewis shadow for the rest for the season. While Mercedes have been easily the class of the field all season, Reb Bull at least have been closing the gap. With the typically unpredictable weather at Spa always capable of upsetting the odds (witness the chaos at the Bus Stop in the final hour of the recent 24 Hours of Spa to see just how easily the drivers can be tripped up on this circuit when the weather intervenes), Red Bull will fancy their chances of causing an upset. Ferrari looked like a team lacking strong (or any) leadership before the break, and will hope to be able to at least correct the strategy errors and public questioning of team decisions (stick to moaning about blue flags Seb!), but it seems ever unlikely that they will be challenging Mercedes on pace at any stage this year. The battle behind will be just as intriguing, with Williams in freefall and Force India lurking close behind. Sergio Perez has his eye on a move and has had some good moments at Spa, and will be one to keep an eye on from the midfield. McLaren will continue to push and look to pass Torro Rosso. Down the back of the field there is plenty to play for with drivers like Daniil Kvyat and the Renault pairing needing to show an improvement over the second half of the season if they are to secure their place on the grid for next year.

Memorable Moments

1962 – Jim Clarks takes his first F1 win

For 1962, Jim Clark was running the all new Lotus 25, at the time a revolutionary car due to its monocoque chassis, making it lighter and nimbler than the rest of the field. As so often the case when introducing ground-breaking technology, while the potential was apparent, frustrating mechanical issues had prevented the car achieving early results in the opening two rounds of the season, with clutch issues hampering Clark and seeing him arrive at the third round of the championship in Belgium without any points to his name, despite having secured his first Formula One Pole position in the previous round in Monaco. It looked like Belgium would be another lost weekend when during Friday practice Clark had to stop early, his engine damaged. Clark’s car would not be ready until Sunday as a new engine had to be delivered and installed, and Clark was forced to sit out most of Friday and Saturday, hardly the preparation required for driving around the daunting track. Towards the end of the day Clark did put in a few laps in his team mate Trevor Taylor’s car (Taylor was running the old Lotus 24), but he would have to start well down the field in 12th place on the grid.

The front row was occupied by the winner of the first two Grand Prix of the season, Graham Hill (BRM) and Bruce McLaren (Cooper), and Clark’s Lotus team mate Trevor Taylor. At the start of the 32 lap race everyone got through the first bend cleanly, with Hill leading from McLaren, followed by Taylor and Belgian driver Willy Mairesse in the sharknose Ferrari. From 12th on the grid Clark wasted no time showing what the Lotus 25 could do in his hands, and by the time they made it all the way around the 14.1 km circuit to start the second lap Clark had managed to climb up to fourth position ahead of Mairesse! These five pulled away from the rest of the field, with positions swapping back and forth over the length of the circuit. Taylor took the lead by the end of lap two, but by lap 4 it was Mairesse’s turn in front. The lead train of 5 cars continually swapped position with each other down the long straights of the track, with Taylor back in the lead on lap 5 and Mairesse regaining the lead on lap 6. On lap 8 Clark started to impose himself, moving up into second place and then into the lead on lap 9. Clark had Taylor behind him, followed closely by Mairesse, Hill and McLaren. Clark slowly began to pull away as the four cars behind fought each other for position, with Taylor and Mairesse in particular having plenty of battles for position as they exchanged position time and again. McLaren was forced to retire on lap 20, by which time Clark was well clear of the battle for second, and seemingly cruising to his first Grand Prix victory as Taylor and Mairesse lost ground as they fought for position. After battling hard for positon for so long, on lap 26 it all went wrong as the pair collided, the Ferrari nudging the Lotus and knocking it out of gear, with the Lotus snapping sideways out of control and being collected by the Ferrari. Both cars flew off the road, smashing a telegraph pole and leaving Mairesse’s Ferrari upside down in a ball of flames. Taylor escaped with minor injuries, while Mairesse would be hospitalized with burns, fortunately able to return to racing within months. With Graham Hill suffering a misfiring engine and dropping back, there was nothing standing between Clark and his first victory but reliability, and this time the Lotus 25 held up, Clark crossing the line some 40 seconds up the road from Hill with Phil Hill leading Riccardo Rodriguez across the line in the two remaining Ferrari’s over a further minute back. It was the start of something big, Clark’s first Grand Prix win and the first of four consecutive Formula One victories at Spa for the talented Scot, and also the first of many victories for the Lotus 25, which would go on carry Clark to his first world title in 1963.

1979 – Scheckter wins in Zolder on way to title, after heartbrake for Villeneuve

Arriving in Belgium Gilles Villeneuve (Ferrari) and Patrick Depailler (Ligier) shared the championship lead on 20 points, with the second Ligier of Jacques Laffite and the Lotus of Carlos Reutemann next up on 18 points, and the second Ferrari of Jody Scheckter 5th with 16 points. In qualifying the Ligiers wrapped up the front row, Laffite taking pole from Depailler. Nelson Piquet lined up in 3rd for Brabham, with Alan Jones 4th for Williams. Mario Andretti was 5th for Lotus with Villeneuve first up of the Ferrari’s in 6th and Scheckter in 7th. Clay Regazzoni lined up 8th in the Williams.

 

At the start of the 70 lap race Laffite made a bad getaway and dropped to fourth with Jones going past him on the outside and Piquet squeezing down the inside into the first turn. Regazzoni also got past the 2 Ferrari’s into the first corner, with Scheckter getting around Villeneuve on the run out of the first corner. Jones was all over Depailler on the opening lap, showing the pace the of new ground-effect Williams would be a genuine threat for victory. It all went wrong for Villeneuve on lap 2, when Scheckter went the long way around Regazzoni into the hairpin, with Regazzoni initially trying to resist, but getting squeezed over the kerbs on the inside as he braked hard to avoid a collision. Villeneuve was right behind, and went into the back of the Williams, his front 2 wheels launched into the air over the back of the Williams exiting the chicane. Regazzoni was out, and Villeneuve had to limp back to the pits, re-joining at the back of the field after taking on a new nose. Villeneuve was charging, putting in a wonderful recovery drive, pushing his Ferrari in qualifying style to make his way back up the field.

The race continued up front with plenty of action. Jones, clearly faster, continued to harry Depailler without success, while behind Scheckter got past Andretti. Laffite soon moved past Piquet, with both Scheckter and Andretti following through a few laps later. A frustrated Jones continued to push, but lost second place to Laffite when he overdid it trying to go around the outside of Depailler into Turn 1 at the start of lap 14, running wide and losing momentum. Lafite was soon past Depailler, and looking to open up a gap. Jones finally made his way past Depailler on lap 21, and set off after Laffite, with Scheckter in close attendance behind Depailler. Jones arrived suddenly on Laffite’s tail at the outside of turn 1 on lap 25, with the Ligier slow out of the bend Jones braved it out around the outside of the second turn to take the lead. Depailler squeezed past Laffite a lap later, with Jones in clear air now showing what the Williams could do, building up an impressive lead, with the Ligier’s behind starting to struggle on their tyres. Mario Andretti was out on lap 27 with brake issues, and Jones charging drive would go unrewarded when he was forced to retire on lap 40, having seen his lead extend out to 10s before encountering trouble. Depailler now led from Laffite, with Scheckter next up in Ferrari. Didier Pironi was in fourth for Tyrrell with Riccardo Patrese elevated to fifth in his Arrows and Villeneuve right on his tail, already into the last point scoring position in sixth as James Hunt’s Wolf crashed out. On lap 47 Patrick Depailler retired from the lead, his Ligier running wide at Turn 1 and continuing on through the fencing and into the barriers. Laffite was struggling badly, and Schecker chased him down and eased around him on the run down into the chicane on lap 54. Scheckter would ease away en route to his first victory of the season.

All eyes were now on the charging Villeneuve, who had finally gotten past Patrese with a move at the chicane to move up into fourth place. Villeneuve was flying, pushing his Ferrari to the limit to try to chase down the cars ahead. He reeled in Pironi at a rate of almost a second and a half a lap, and eased by to move up into third. With Laffite some 20 seconds up  he road Villeneuve continued to push, eating into the lead and trying to put the Ligier under pressure. He would get close, but ultimately his charge proved too much, the Ferrari running out of fuel and grinding to a halt on the final lap, seeing 4 valuable championship points slip through his fingers as he slid out of the points to be classified seventh, points that at the end of the season would have seen the talented Canadian driver take the world championship crown. As it was, Scheckter would take the title in what would turn out to be the last driver’s crown won by a Ferrari driver until Michael Schumacher would bring glory to the Scuderia again in 2000.

1992 – Schumacher shines through the rain for maiden win

In a gripping race driven in slippery conditions, Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher took centre stage against the seemingly invincible Williams FW14B piloted by Nigel Mansell and Riccardo Patrese.

Mansell, fresh from being crowned champion at the previous race in Budapest, looked hungry for more race wins. After qualifying, yet another Mansell runaway victory looked on the cards, with Mansell claiming pole by a resounding 2.1 seconds from Senna, with Schumacher a further half second back in third. But come race day, rain would mix the cards, and after an amazing drive by Senna in trying to tame the difficult track on slicks ended in disappointment, it was the rising superstar Schumacher who, on the anniversary of his stunning arrival in F1 at Spa with Jordan, gauged the conditions perfectly and timed his stops just right to record a famous maiden win.

Rain drops were just starting to fall prior to the start, but the cars lined up on the grid on slicks. Berger was out at the start, his clutch giving up on the line. At the start Senna got the jump on Mansell, braking late on the outside into La Source to take the lead, with Patrese and Alesi getting by Schumacher. Hakkinen was trying to pressure Schumacher on the Kemmel straight, but Schumacher pulled out of Alesi’s slipstream and dived past the Ferrari, taking back 3rd place on the inside into Les Combes. Mansell was all over the back of Senna, and with the track starting to get slippy, Senna couldn’t hold Mansell at bay long. On lap 2 Mansell was past, diving inside Senna at Blanchimont, with Patrese following through into second at the bus stop chicane. Williams order was restored, but rain was getting heavier, and the cars were soon in to pit for wet tyres. Mansell came in first at the end of lap 2 along with Alesi, who emerged ahead of Mansell, with Schumacher coming in at the end of lap 3, Brundle at the end of lap 4 and Patrese coming in from the lead at the end of lap 5, leaving Senna as the only front runner staying out on slicks.

Schumacher had emerged ahead of Mansell, but the Williams was quickly past. Mansell had a scare when he made contact with Alesi at La Source, the Ferrari sliding wide into Mansell as the Williams had a look to pass around the outside. Alesi was out, and Patrese slipped past Mansell, but otherwise Mansell continued unscathed. Schumacher meanwhile was sitting on Mansell’s tail ready to pounce, and Martin Brundle in the second Benetton followed his team mate, having made up good ground after starting 9th. Mansell was soon back ahead of Patrese though, and the quartet of Williams and Benetton’s set off after Senna. Senna, feeling he needing to gamble to try and gain an advantage over the dominant Williams, had opted to stay out in slicks. Despite wonderful driving in the poor conditions, it was a gamble that would not pay off, as the rain continued to fall, and the others hauled him in, with Mansell getting by on lap 11. One by one the other leaders passed Senna over the following laps despite some amazing defensive driving on slicks from the Brazilian legend, with Senna eventually forced to admit defeat and pit for wets at the end of lap 13, his valiant effort coming to nothing and his late switch to wets dropping him well down the order, emerging in 13th place, his hopes for victory dashed. The race settled into a steady phase on the wet tyres, with Mansell pulling clear of Patrese, and Schumacher and Brundle closing up to the second Williams. A dry line eventually began to emerge, and Senna was back for slicks at the end of lap 27, trying to make up for lost time, but providing valuable information for the other drivers. On lap 29 Schumacher ran wide off the track, allowing his team mate Martin Brundle to scamper past into third. This prompted Schumacher to come in to change tyres at the end of the lap, and he went for slicks. The timing was just right, and Schumacher started to make up time on his rivals in the still tricky conditions. Brundle followed Schumacher in switching to dry tyres the next lap, but a bad stop cost him time, with Patrese in the next lap around and Mansell a lap later. As is often the case the team with the dominant car had played it safe in the changing conditions, and been too slow to come in for slicks. By the time the stops were complete and the leaders were all on slicks, Schumacher was in front with a healthy 6 second lead from Mansell, followed by Patrese and Brundle. Mansell set about cutting into the gap to the Benetton, initially pulling the gap back and looking to set up yet another Williams win, but his engine started to develop trouble, holding him back and forcing him to settle for second place. The race would end in that order, with Senna having dragged his way back up to fifth place by the end of the race, hardly a fitting reward for such a daring drive. But the day belonged to the newest Grand Prix winner, the young Michael Schumacher, who at 23 years of age had well and truly announced his arrival as the new generation of superstar in F1 with a superb drive to victory.

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2008 – Hamilton pays the penalty in gripping climax to rain affected race

McLaren and Ferrari were the dominant forces in 2008, and occupied the front two rows for the race at Spa, with Lewis Hamilton (McLaren) on pole from Felipe Massa (Ferrari), with Heikkei Kovalainen (McLaren) third and Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari) fourth. As so often at Spa, the weather intervened to liven up the proceedings. The track was damp from earlier rain as the race began, with the cars sliding off the grid on dry tyres as Hamilton made a clean getaway, holding his lead from Massa. Kovalainen had a terrible start, dropping back into midfield, while Raikkonen took the long way around the outside of La Source but held third place, taking second past Massa on the Kemmel Straight, with Kimi getting a better run through Raidillon. In the slippy conditions the cars were sliding around, and at the start of lap two Hamilton spun at La Source, with Raikkonen behind running wide around La Source to avoid the spinning McLaren. Kimi now had a run on the slowly restarting Lewis and dragged past him on the Kemmel Straight into Les Combes to take the lead. Kimi and Lewis circulated in the lead with Massa dropping back until the first round of pitstops. McLaren made the first move, bringing Lewis in, but traffic counted against them and when the stops had shaken out Kimi had a 5 second lead over Hamilton, with Massa 10 seconds back on his Ferrari team mate in third. The track had dried out at this stage and the leading trio maintained their relative positions through the second round of pitstops. Kimi seemed to be in control, as the gap between the leading pair see-sawed, but then rain fell again towards the end of the race. Lewis began to draw closer to the Ferrari, and with three laps to go he followed Kimi through Blanchimont and pulled out to make a move on the outside going into the Bus Stop chicane. Kimi held his line, forcing Hamiltlon to bail out at the last second, cutting across the grass and taking the position from Raikkonen. Having passed off the track Hamilton then gave the position back to Kimi, just about, letting Raikkonen past him on the straight but immediately diving up the inside to retake the position into La Source. It was a move that was to ultimately cost Hamilton the race, as he would be handed a time penalty hours after the race by the stewards for not ceding the position back to Raikkonen. On track Hamilton had the lead, and we were set for a grand stand finish. With two laps left Kimi was trying desperately to hang on to Hamilton’s tail on an ever slippy track to get the place back. The pair weaved down the Kemmel straight, and Kimi ran wide into Pouhon, taking an unusual line off track around the outside of Pouhon, keeping his momentum up and gaining on Hamilton as a result. Immediately out of Pouhon there was trouble, as Nico Rosberg had spun his Williams and was rejoining the track at the Pif Paf chicane. Hamilton went wide on the grass in avoidance and Kimi zipped by into the lead, but Kimi spun on the exit of the chicane, allowing Lewis back into first, with Massa now right behind the two leaders. Kimi tried to regain ground but lost it completely through Blanchimont, running wide off the track and the spinning back across the inside of the track and smashing his Ferrari off the wall. The rain was falling ever more, and the leaders tip toed around the final lap without coming in for wets, with Hamilton taking the chequered flag from Massa. After an exhilarating end to the race however the result would be overturned by the stewards, with Hamilton penalised for taking a position from Kimi by cutting the chicane, seeing him demoted to third behind Nick Heidfeld’s BMW-Sauber (who had made a late switch to wet weather tyres) and eventual race winner Felipe Massa.

formula1_grand_prix_2008_in_belgium_hamilton_mclaren_mercedes

Support Races

Once again the hopefuls in GP2/GP3 and the Porsche Supercup will provide the backing entertainment in Belgium.

In GP2 we might finally have a title fight on our hands. Having stepped up with back to back feature race wins in Britain and Hungary, Pierre Gasly drove a tremendous race in Germany after making a hash of his start, recovering from 12th at the end of the first lap to nick third place from Raffaele Marciello in a thrilling drag race out of the final corner. Unfortunately for Gasly, he was excluded from the result as his fire extinguisher was empty, the offending device caught discharging dramatically on Gasly’s on board camera during the race. This also meant Gasly had to start from the back for the sprint race, further disadvantaging him, but the manner of his charging drive in the feature race and his spirited effort from the back in the sprint race, managing to charge to sixth, will surely have impressed the Red Bull hierarchy. He now ties for points with Sergey Sirotkin, who finally delivered the feature race win that has eluded him all season, albeit in strange circumstances, with the Russian pitting under the VSC and then having to make another stop as this did not count towards his mandatory stop – but the advantage of running on fresh tyres more than offset the ‘penalty’ of having to stop again, seeing him ultimately coast to victory. He also put in an impressive drive to third place in the sprint race and must fancy his chances for the remainder of the season now his luck seems to have turned. Raffaele Marciello is still in contact in third, with Antonio Giovinazzi in fourth, the Italian losing ground after being excluded from qualifying after his car failed scrutineering.

In the Porsche Supercup Sven Muller continues to enjoy a healthy lead, despite seeing his victory at Hockenheim taken away from him by the stewards. From pole position Muller was beaten to the first corner by fellow front row starter Matteo Cairoli, but Muller kept his foot in to reclaim the position despite running all four wheels off the track around the first bend. He held off Cairoli for the rest of the race but would receive a time penalty for passing outside the track which handed the win to Cairoli, who is second in the standings. More excitement awaits around the long Spa circuit!

Previous Results:

Year Winner Constructor
2015 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
2014 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull-Renault
2013 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault
2012 Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes
2011 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault
2010 Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes
2009 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari
2008 Felipe Massa Ferrari
2007 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari
2005 Kimi Raikkonen McLaren-Mercedes
2004 Kimi Raikkonen McLaren-Mercedes

15 responses to “Circuit Profile: 2016 Belgian Grand Prix – Spa-Francorchamps – Round 13

  1. Now that’s history! Great piece Merek, IMHO spa is one of the great tracks. I get to see two races a year,Silverstone and Spa and really I couldn’t choose which one is the top. This year I have taken time off and given my Son in Law the time and tickets so it’s TV for myself( hope it rains lol)

      • Myself and spa have a love/hate relationship. I have had more than a few disasters when trying to reach the track and this year was the same. I had the tickets in my hand and planned to set off this very morning but fate/karma or a conspiracy plotted against me. Tuesday,my daughter brought her car in.. battery light was on..she told me,and I am not kidding here, she couldn’t understand why as her phone was fully charged!! Well I was on the floor at that point! But long story short, she needs the motor and unfortunately she drove it with the temp needle hitting the limits and now I am skimming the head and rebuilding the thing…oh to be a dad and hence my need for a wet filled Spa! 😉 I hope you get time to get over to the track..I will keep my eye open

    • thanks Oddball, it’s really amazing going back through the history of these tracks, Spa really is something special, looking forward to a great race this weekend, hope there’s plenty of incident to watch on the TV 🙂

  2. Wanted to do a piece about spa. Completely forgot about it. I’ll put somethings down here.
    First of all I’ll do the corners, there a lot of wrong pics on the Internet about it… 1. La source( everybody knows that one) 2. Eau rouge ( first kink at the bottom of the hill) 3. Raidillon ( kink at the top of the hill) 4. Kemmel straight(a lot of fans packing together on the hill here but not the best place to sit if you ask me. Most action happens just before where you can sit or at the end of the straight) 5 &6. Les combes (the chicane where the action mentioned previously happens, wanna sit here better come on time. Very crowded because of the high number of (drs) overtakes) 7. Malmedy (usually a lot of British fans here) 8. Rivage (anyone who comes to spa and wants a good picture, this is the place to be. Relative slow corner and no other place where you can get so close to the cars, if you’re on the inside of the corner. Distance to cars approximately 3m) 9. Brussels (highest part of the track that’s in constant shade due to the trees between this corner and malmedy. If you come here pack extra clothes; it’s always cold here no matter how hot the rest of the track is. My favourite place in the rain. A corner used to accelerate towards pouhon, lots of moments because of that, if the track is wet.) 10&11. Pouhon ( only foreigners call it pouhon. In dutch we say ‘dubbele linkse’ and in French it’s ‘double gauche’ both meaning double lefter, breaking zone just before the corner is my favorite place to sit. Shows you who the real drivers are. Pouhon is the biggest challenge of this track. Forget about eau rouge) 12&13. Fagnes (again only foreigners use that. We say pif paf. Sometimes add the word chicane to it.) 14. Has no name. 15. Stavelot 16&17. Blanchimont( awesome corner on TV, don’t bother live, no good places to sit and to fast to see anything. 18. Busstop chicane ( got his name because spa didn’t get government money to build a chicane so they build a Busstop on it, that way the government did fund it. Little did they know. Previous layout was much better. Good place to sit if you don’t mind some daredevil climbing on the rocky Mountain, trust me the view is worth it) 19. Unnamed too. On to start finish.
    If you come here forget about grandstand tickets. Buy the cheapest, see the most of the track. And if you really want to see eau rouge, the f1 merchandising village is on the out side of it. You can see the cars go up here to for 1/5 of the price.

    • hope the review wasn’t too bad coming from a foreigner, really stressed on this one if it would pass the bruznic test 😉

      • No I liked it. Long enough that’s for sure! 😆 I just had this idea for a guide with some tips and tricks that might be handy. But, you know, procrastination and such. Never a good idea 😎

        • glad it was ok, phew (wiping sweat from brow) 😉
          great to see the notes on the corners and viewing spots, hopefully i’ll get there some day to use the local knowledge, tv for me as well this weekend unfortunately!

          • I’m on my way now. But this year it’ll only be pit walk someone got an ticket I could borrow because he doesn’t want to go today. Lucky for me… As for the notes, I’ll make sure I’ll write that article.

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