Ferrari will head to Spa with a spring in their steps after a moral boosting and much needed 1-2 in Hungary brought their poor run of results to an end.
Hungary marked their first win since Monaco, with both tracks being similar in nature, and not too similar to the task facing them around Spa, the longest circuit on the calendar that will put a premium on engine power and aerodynamic performance in high speed corners. While Ferrari might then be expected to struggle relative to Mercedes here, its worth casting an eye back to last years qualifying, where the Ferrari, in the hands of Kimi Raikkonen at least, looked surprisingly capable of claiming pole position (although Kimi would miss out on pole), before their race hopes were undone at the first corner courtesy of Red Bull’s other torpedo, Max Verstappen! Ferrari know they cannot afford to have any more race weekends where they simply yield easy results to Mercedes, and with Red Bull looking to raise their game considerably as they sort out their own early season aero struggles, any slip ups from the men from Maranello will put the squarely where they don’t want to be – in Max Verstappens range! After all the rancour of the Hamilton/Rosberg rivalry over the last few years, Mercedes may have found themselves with the most harmonious team-mate pairing in F1, but one is left to wonder if they’d trade it all for the tension and bad vibes of the past few years if they let the drivers title slip through their fingers this year!
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 Daniel Ricciardo and Felipe Massa have one victory each at the famous track, while surprisingly Fernando Alonso has never managed to win an F1 race at this famous track (a statistic unlikely to change this weekend).
Last year Lewis Hamilton took what seemed like an infinite gird penalty to exploit a loophole in the regulations to allow him build up a stockpile of usable parts for the balance of the season in order to offset his early season reliability woes, and with that faced a day of damage limitation. Mercedes Nico Rosberg ended up with an easy victory as Red Bull’s Max Verstappen’s poor start led to him trying the ill advised inside kerb line into La Source, with the inevitable result of contact with Kimi, who found his hopes of a further Spa success caught between Max and a hard place, the sister Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel, who had come across rather tightly on Kimi, hardly expecting Max to have come back up the inside after his slow start. Rosberg was left with a relatively easy run to victory, with Daniel Riccardo having an easy second place with Lewis Hamilton delighted to be able to minimise is losses and make it to third place from the back of the grid.
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.
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 (or in the case of Max Verstappen last year, to recover from a poor start and try an optimistic/crazy move into the corner if the cars ahead are too cautious, a move which would ruin both his and the two Ferrari’s races) 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 (who can forget 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 have been going flat through this section in recent years, which has led to some racing at the famous corner. 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, although it will be interesting to see how the drivers feel about going wheel to wheel here with the 2017 spec cars! 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 (or in the case of Max and Kimi last year, front wing to rear wing!) as they 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). Max Verstappen pulled a great move here in 2015, running his Toro Rosso 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! With the weather ever likely to throw up a surprise in Spa, and a long 7 km lap to struggle through on slicks if drivers opt to stay out as the rain falls, there is always scope for pit drama at Spa.
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:
Pirelli will bring the P Zero Purple ultrasoft tyres for the first time to Spa-Francorchamps, together with the P Zero Red supersoft and P Zero Yellow soft. These are the three softest tyres in the range, selected together for the sixth time so far this year. But one famous variable in Spa is the weather, so there’s also a strong chance of seeing the Cinturato Green intermediate or Cinturato Blue full wet at some point during the weekend. Spa is a favourite of nearly all the drivers, incorporating classic corners such as Eau Rouge and Pouhon that make it a real rollercoaster ride, as well as a true test of bravery.
THE THREE NOMINATED COMPOUNDS
1/ Purple ULTRASOFT
2/ Red SUPERSOFT
3/ Yellow SOFT
THE CIRCUIT FROM A TYRE POINT OF VIEW
- Longest circuit of the year at 7.004 kilometres.
- Geographical layout means it can be raining on one part of the track but dry on another.
- Elevation changes and compressions generate forces on tyres from all directions.
- Compromise set-up needed to provide downforce in corners but not too much drag.
- High speeds and big corners place significant energy loads through the tyres.
- Overtaking is very possible at Spa, opening the door to a variety of different strategies.
- The teams have nominated all three available compounds in their choices rather than concentrating on the softer tyres.
MARIO ISOLA – HEAD OF CAR RACING
“Pirelli was racing at Spa for the 24 Hours last month, which showcased everything this circuit is famous for: changeable weather, unpredictable competition, and heavy demands on the tyres. Now that we are bringing the ultrasoft tyre there for Formula 1, we would expect those demands to increase further with the latest generation of cars: two stops would appear to be a likely strategy but we will know more after the first free practice sessions. Working out the optimal race strategy is especially tricky at Spa as it has to be flexible: the possibility of rain, safety cars, or even a red flag – as we saw last year – means that teams often have to react to changing circumstances rather than follow a fixed plan”.
- The ultrasoft has never been seen in Belgium before, representing a more aggressive choice.
- Not much has happened in Formula 1 with the compulsory two-week factory shutdown. The last Pirelli 2018 tyre test concluded on August 4 with Ferrari in Barcelona, and it does not resume again until September 7-8 at Paul Ricard with Mercedes.
- Three lucky winners of a Pirelli competition for children aged 8-11 spent a week at Fernando Alonso’s karting school in Asturias recently, learning the principles of safe driving and race craft through a course designed by Alonso himself.
- At the same time as the Belgian Grand Prix, Pirelli’s European Rally Championship stars will be competing on a different type of asphalt at the Barum Czech Rally Zlin.
CIRCUIT DE SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS MINIMUM STARTING PRESSURES (SLICKS)
23.5 psi (front) – 21.5 psi (rear)
EOS CAMBER LIMIT
-2.75° (front) | -1.50° (rear)
Last years race threw up somewhat of a surprise in qualifying, with Ferrari and Red Bull looking a lot closer to Mercedes than would have been expected. Kimi Raikkonen could well be the joker this weekend, as Kimi has always gone well here. Max Verstappen will be hoping he can get a better result in front of his legions of fans than last year, when he squandered a front row start with his overambitious move into Turn 1. Red Bull certainly look as if they can play a decisive role in the outcome of the championship, and will likely provide trouble, but it is Ferrari who will fear the resurgent Bulls the most. Spa is ultimately still a track which should favour Mercedes, and they will be expected to have an advantage here that would see Hamilton (or his free to race team-mate Bottas) regain some of the lost ground to Vettel, but it will be interesting to see where the teams stack up after the ‘downtime’ of the summer break!
1962 – Jim Clarks takes his first F1 win (Read more)
1979 – Scheckter wins in Zolder on way to title, after heartbreak for Villeneuve (Read more)
1992 – Schumacher shines through the rain for maiden win (Read more)
2008 – Hamilton pays the penalty in gripping climax to rain affected race (Read more)
Once again the hopefuls in F2/GP3 and the Porsche Supercup will provide the backing entertainment in Belgium.
In F2, Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc continues to show the world he is a F1 star of the future, it would seem to be a question of when rather than if he graduates to F1, with Sauber for 2018 a real possibility. Whether he makes the jump next year or not, it will remain to be seen if he will be able to translate success in the premier feeder series into F1 success (following in the footsteps of former GP2 champions Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg), or if he will struggle to adapt to the pinnacle of motorsport (see former GP2 champion Jolyon Palmer, and to a lesser extent Stoffel Vandoorne). LeClerc looks the real deal, and if you haven’t checked him out in F2 before, it would well be worth keeping an eye on proceedings this weekend!
Last time out Leclerc had his record setting pole position taken away from him to a technical irregularity, but there can be no denying his superior pace, and to salvage fourth position after starting at the back around Hungary against a field of spec cars was a truly amazing feat. Oliver Rowland took the feature race win in Budapest after Artem Markelov threw it all away in an all or nothing overtaking manoeuvre that resulted in the Russian crashing out after keeping his foot down as he took to the grass into Turn 1 to try an unconventional route past Rowland. This result means that Rowland is now 35 points ahead of Markelov in second place, but still 50 shy of Leclerc. With Leclercs form the championship would seem a foregone conclusion, but there is still plenty at stage as the likes of Rowland (who will still harbour hopes of making the jump to Renaults F1 team) look to impress!
In GP3, Mercedes junior George Russel had a disappointing time in Hungary, failing to score points after his car broke down on the installation lap for the feature race, with the failure penalized doubly as it meant starting from the back in the sprint race. Still, such was his advantage that he still leads the championship by a healthy margin from fellow ART driver and Renault Sport Academy driver Jack Aitkin, who took full advantage of Russel’s DNF to take the feature race win in Hungary to boost his championship hopes. The gap between Russel and Aitkin is now down to 9 points, with ARTs Anthoine Hubert a further 5 point back in third, with the fourth ART driver, Honda’s Nirei Fukuzumi 6 points back on Hubert. Ferrari academy driver Giuliano Alesi won his second sprint race of the season in Hungary, and is the best of the non-ART contenders in fifth, a further 6 points back on Fukuzumi. So it’s still all to play for in the championship with half the season still to go!
In the Porsche Supercup, Germany’s Michael Ammermuller remains the man to beat, after taking his fourth victory out of the six rounds this season in Hungary. Norway’s Dennis Olsen (who won in Silverstone and is runaway leader of the rookie classification) looks to the only driver able to mount a challenge, but sits 14 points back, and will need to start taking victories if he is to have any hope of wresting the championship from Ammermuller.
|2014||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull-Renault|
|2013||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull-Renault|
|2011||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull-Renault|