Spa-Francorchamps needs no introduction and is maybe the perfect venue to come to after the summer break. It is the home of the Belgian Grand Prix, an event that usually produces an incredible spectacle for the thousands of fans that travels there from all over Europe.
There are plenty to think about at this event like strategy, tyres, Eau Rouge with its high speed and sudden elevation change or the technically demanding corners. And last but not least the notoriously changeable weather. This circuit holds a reputation of always throwing up something unpredictable during the race and despite all the challenges it brings remains one of the most popular venues between drivers.
This will be the 60th Belgian Grand Prix and the 48th to be held SpaFrancorchamps. Located in the Ardennes Forest region, Spa-Francorchamps is one of only four tracks on this year’s calendar to have featured on the inaugural Formula 1 championship calendar in 1950. Run on narrow public roads, the original track had over 14 km and was notoriously dangerous. Due to safety concerns the track was dropped from the calendar and did not return until 1983, when in a drastically revised form the lap distance has been cut to just seven kilometres. The modern iteration still features many of the original corners such as La Source, Eau Rouge, Stavelot and Blanchimont. While Spa-Francorchamps was absent from the calendar, the Belgian Grand Prix was held at Nivelles (2 times) and Zolder (10).
Spa-Francorchamps is the longest circuit on the calendar and features a good mix of long straights and challenging fast corners, sweeping sections and some low speed turns in the mix. Being at full throttle for almost three-quarters of the lap, the track is quite brutal on the cars and requires a good combination of power and balance for the driver to be able to maximize the potential of this layout.
Renault’s Kevin Magnussen did his first ever lap of Spa-Francorchamps back in 2009, in a Formula Renault 2.0 car, and explains you need an F1 car to be able to appreciate the flow and speed of the corners here. “I love Eau Rouge - even though it’s flat now it’s still so enjoyable to go through. On top of Eau Rouge you can run the kerb and straightline a lot so it’s a bit of a shame it’s not gravel or wall on the outside as would make it even more of a challenge. In the wet it is still a massive corner and you can guarantee it will be wet at some point over the weekend! It’s one of my favourite corners.
“The track is so long that it can be wet in one part of the track and dry in the other. In these cases your normal cut off points for intermediate, wet and dry tyres go out of the window as you have to judge how much you will gain on slicks in some corners versus the risk of wet in other. It’s one of the main difficulties of Spa.”
His team-mate, Jolyon Palmer remembers he concluded Spa was incredible from his first lap there. “The first thing that hits you is Eau Rouge. It’s just awesome. You see it on TV, or on the onboards or on the Xbox, but it is even better the first time you drive it. Nothing prepares you for heading flat out down the hill and then coming up the other side and down that straight. In the dry we are now easily flat, maybe just slightly under with high fuel in the race, but it’s a real corner.
“The whole circuit feels very flowing and you can appreciate the size of it. Pouhon is a very quick double apex left and it is probably the biggest challenge now. It also goes downhill so you pick up so much speed - even with the run off, if you get it wrong you’ll be off. Blanchimont is now easy flat but leads into the Bus Stop chicane, which is a great overtaking place when you scream round at the end of a fast lap. It’s very easy to get wrong, but hard to get right.”
Mathematically speaking, any driver on the grid still has the chance to grab the championship title. Practically, the fight is down to Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg with the first going with a 19-points lead into this weekend. On the constructors site, Mercedes has a healthy advantage of 159 points of Red Bull.
Kimi Raikkonen is the most successful driver on the grid with four wins at Spa-Francorchamps in 2004, 2005, 2007 and 2009. Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel both scored two victories here, while Felipe Massa, Jenson Button and Daniel Ricciardo have only one win each.
Esteban Ocon (19-years old) will race his first Formula 1 grand prix this weekend after replacing Rio Haryanto at Manor.
Spa-Francorchamps is a demanding track for the tyres as well as for the entire car and it won’t be an easy task for the teams to find the right set-up while compromising some areas in order to get an advantage on others. Presenting plenty of overtaking opportunities, the circuit might witness a few different strategy permutations on the race day.
Tyres: medium, soft, supersoft
DRS: zone 1 – Kemmel straight, zone 2 – main straight
Driver Steward: Danny Sullivan
Weather: lows will range from 14-18 degrees Celsius to highs of 25-29 degrees Celsius
Facts and stats
Circuit length: 7.004 km
Race laps: 44
First Grand Prix: 1950
Lap record: 1:47.263(Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull, 2009)
Most wins (driver): Michael Schumacher (6)
Most wins (constructor): Ferrari (16)
2015 Qualifying: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
2015 Race: 1. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes), 2. Nico Rosberg (Mercedes), 3. Romain Grosjean (Lotus)
Moments in time
Michael Schumacher angry on David Coulthard after their clash during the 1998 Belgian Grand Prix.
Timetable (GMT +2):
Friday 26 August
Practice One: 10:00 – 11:30
Practice Two: 14:00 – 15:30
Saturday 27 August
Practice Three: 11:00 – 12:00
Qualifying: 14:00 (60 minutes)
Sunday 28 August
Race: 14:00 (44 laps or two hours)