Belgian Grand Prixview

By on Monday, August 27, 2012

Eau Rouge, Pouhon, Blanchimont: Spa. F1 is back.

In the immortal words of Jon Bon Jovi, ‘woah, we’re halfway there’, as the Formula One season resumes with the busy schedule of nine races in fifteen weeks. And if it could get any better, it does. Before F1 heads off away from Europe, there are still two classic events to savour: Spa and Monza, with the race in the Ardennes forest kicking off the second part of the season.

Fernando Alonso heads into the Belgian Grand Prix with a forty point advantage in the championship ahead of Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel. But it is the men behind who could be the key players this weekend and assist Alonso in his quest for a third world championship.

Although Lewis Hamilton is a Hungaroring specialist, the pace of the McLaren MP4-27 demonstrates that the Brit will be a key player in the championship, even if he has a forty seven point deficit to make up. The King of Spa also returns this season – Kimi Raikkonen has won the Belgian Grand Prix on four occasions, defeated just once since 2002. Lotus has come agonisingly close to that elusive victory several times this year; could Kimi, Spa and their potential secret weapon – a double DRS – get them across the line first?

The famous Eau Rouge corner


The Belgian Grand Prix and Spa Francorchamps go hand in hand, but the race has taken place at other venues. Nivelles and Zolder hosted the event in the 1970s and early 1980s, with Zolder most famous for claiming the life of Gilles Villeneuve in 1982.

In the 1960s the drivers raced on the old circuit, including the Masta kink that claimed several victims. It was at Spa where Sir Jackie Stewart suffered his terrible accident that lead to his campaigning for improved safety.

Spa returned to the calendar in 1985 and has been part of the schedule in all but two seasons, 2003 and 2006. One of the biggest accidents in Formula One history occurred in the 1998 race, held in atrocious conditions. Thirteen cars were involved in the collision when David Coulthard speared across the track exiting La Source and the rest of the field were helpless to avoid an accident. Coulthard restarted but was later involved in more controversy as he slowed on the racing line when Michael Schumacher was about to lap him. Schumacher slammed into the McLaren and was out; he furiously confronted Coulthard in the pit lane!

More recently, the 2008 race was memorable for the rain that fell with three laps remaining, culminating in a battle between Kimi Raikkonen and Lewis Hamilton that left the Finn in the wall and Lewis down in third place having received a time penalty for cutting the track. Sebastian Vettel led a Red Bull 1-2 last season.

The track

The current configuration has been in use since 2007, when the La Source hairpin and Bus Stop chicane were heavily modified. The tarmac run-off at the exit of La Source has been slightly controversial as a few drivers have exploited the area to receive a better line down towards Eau Rouge; last year the field was informed that any exploitation would be frowned upon. The short run exiting La Source prepares the drivers for the famous Eau Rouge corner. It isn’t the challenge it once was, but it remains perhaps the most iconic corner on the Formula One calendar and its steepness defies belief; TV cameras do not do it justice. At the top of the hill, Raidillon leads into Kemmel and the Kemmel Straight which is one of the best overtaking opportunities on the circuit. Les Combes, Malmedy and Rivage have to be negotiated before the drivers arrive at the sweeping Pouhon corner, now regarded as the greatest challenge despite the absence of any gravel trap on the exit. The tricky chicane at Fagnes leads on to Stavelot, where any mistake will be felt all the way up to the Bus Stop chicane. The final fearsome corner, Blanchimont, is now taken flat out leading to the aforementioned chicane and back onto the start/finish straight.

What might happen?

As ever with Spa, the microclimate of the Ardennes forest will play a part. The town of Spa is a short drive away, meaning that it can quite easily be sunny in the town while the rain falls at a colder track! Predicting the weather is a difficult task, but anticipating it is crucial. Any car with a good straight line speed will take full advantage of the first sector, which is flat out except for the La Source hairpin, although this will need to be balanced by the high aero demands of the middle sector and, of course, Eau Rouge/Raidillon. Kimi Raikkonen and Lewis Hamilton have always run well at Spa Francorchamps, while Sebastian Vettel was victorious in 2011. If championship leader Fernando Alonso has any weak tracks, his detractors would point to Spa as one of his bogey circuits. The Spaniard has never won at Spa, with his best result being second in 2005. He retired through mechanical issues in 2004, 2009 and 2010 – having driven with a damaged car after being assaulted by Rubens Barrichello early on. Michael Schumacher and Spa seem to go hand in hand. He celebrated 20 years since his debut last season, while he claimed his maiden win in 1992, overhauled Alain Prost’s record number of victories in 2001 and won his seventh title in 2004. This season he celebrates his 300th race, joining a club that currently consists of just Barrichello, who also had his 300th race at Spa. However, the Brazilian lasted less than a lap on that occasion; Schumacher will be hoping to last longer, although his luck in 2012 has so far been found lacking.

Timetable (GMT+2)

FP1: Friday 10:00

FP2: Friday 14:00

FP3: Saturday 11:00

Qualifying: Saturday 14:00

Race: Sunday 14:00

If you liked this post then share it with your friends on social media websites. You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter to stay up to date with the latest F1 news.