Daniel Ricciardo’s scintillating victory at the Hungarian Grand Prix left Formula 1 in high spirits as the sport embarked on its summer break, which included the mandatory two week factory shutdown for all 11 teams. So after a 14 day period in which (almost) nothing happened – plus a little bit of development work – Formula 1 roars back into life this weekend and where better to do it than Spa Francorchamps? This legendary circuit nestled in the Ardennes Forest has witnessed a lot across its history and now plays host to one of the tightest title scraps in history as the fight for supremacy at Mercedes continues, with Nico Rosberg holding a slender 11 point advantage over Lewis Hamilton.
The Belgian Grand Prix was first held back in 1925, on a high-speed nine mile circuit which incorporated much of the surrounding area. It was incorporated into the Formula 1 world championship but as the 1960s progressed it was becoming clear that the circuit was not safe enough, with a spate of accidents leading to Spa Francorchamps being replaced by Nivelles briefly, before Zolder became the home of the Belgian Grand Prix for the 1970s and early 1980s. Formula 1 returned to a truncated version of Spa Francorchamps for 1983 and moved there permanently from 1985, where the race has remained ever since (bar sponsorship issues in 2003 and 2006).
The lap begins with a slightly uphill approach to the La Source hairpin, a part of the circuit which has remained largely unchanged in 90 years. Sufficient run-off is available on the exit of the corner as the circuit plunges downhill, past the old pits, to the fearsome Eau Rouge corner. The track kinks slightly left before rising rapidly right, with the complex completed by the blind left kink at Raidillon. This part of the circuit has been largely flat out for the past decade, but the reduced downforce and greater top speeds of the 2014 machines means that this complex will present a sterner challenge to the drivers. Raidillion leads on to the kink right at Kemmel, before the long straight up to Les Combes – this DRS zone provides one of the best overtaking opportunities of the lap. Les Combes is a tricky sequence of corners which immediately leads to the highest point of the circuit at Malmedy, after which the track begins to descend into the valley. The challenge of the 180 degree right hander at Rivage has been nullified by the run-off, while a medium-speed left hander leads down towards Pouhon, a fast sweeping right hander. The flowing circuit continues with the right-left of Pif Paf, while it reaches the bottom of the valley at Stavelot, the corner which leads on to the long gradual climb to the Bus Stop chicane, via the fast left hander at Blanchimont. Bus Stop is a bit of a clunky end to a flowing lap but it’s another good overtaking chance as drivers prepare for another lap of the track.
What might happen?
Spa is a high speed circuit but unlike other tracks, there is a trade-off between straight line speed (required for the first and third sectors) and downforce (needed for the second sector). Spa is one of the circuits which will test the Power Unit due to the long periods on full throttle, meaning that the Mercedes powered teams will be eyeing up a strong result. A third win of the year is unlikely for Red Bull but with their aerodynamic qualities they could be quick through the second sector and fend off faster rivals as a result. Cooler conditions could play more into Ferrari’s hands, although scoring decent points will simply be an achievement. Further back, the embittered Caterham squad is preparing to introduce a larger upgrade package which they hope will save their season and in a bid to aid this progress they've hired Andre Lotterer to race for them this weekend - although Kamui Kobayashi remains part of the team.
Tyre supplier Pirelli has opted to bring the yellow-banded Soft tyre as the Option, with the white-banded Medium tyre as the Prime, in order to deal with the high loads at Spa, as well as the anticipated cool conditions. The DRS zones are along the Kemmel Straight and pit straight (each with their own detection point), while five-times Le Mans winner Emanuele Pirro will act as the driver steward.
Friday 22 August
- Practice One: 10:00-11:30
- Practice Two: 14:00-15:30
Saturday 23 August
Practice Three: 11:00-12:00
- Qualifying: 14:00 (60 minutes)
Sunday 24 August
- Race: 14:00 (44 laps or two hours)