Despite this, and another long flat-out run down to the new Bus Stop chicane, Spa is a more technical challenge than perhaps its high-speed reputation suggests, with the ten corners of the twisting middle sector often being where fast laps are crafted. Because of the challenges of Rivage, Blanchimont, Stavelot and especially Pouhon in this middle sector, Spa doesn’t demand the ultra-low downforce aero packages seen at Monza. Instead it falls into the medium-low category similar to those used in Montreal. It isn’t a race that heavily taxes suspension or braking, but it does see high tyre-wear and, with a longer lap – 7km in total – than any other grand prix, pitting at the right moment carries a greater premium.
Another factor is the weather: rare is the year when it doesn’t rain at some point over the Belgian Grand Prix weekend. This, in combination with the distance travelled around the lap and its elevation changes, make Spa notorious for inconsistent conditions, with showers falling on some parts of the circuit while others remain dry.
Fernando Alonso goes into the race leading the Drivers’ World Championship by 40 points. History looks kindly on drivers in his position with 8 out of the last ten World Championships being won by the driver top of the standings at this stage of the year. Spa, however, is not Alonso’s best circuit: he hasn’t won here since driving in F3000.
The favourite track of many of the drivers is one of the few remaining from the old guard. While more and more high-tech circuits are filling the race calendar, a lap at Spa leads about seven kilometres through woods, over hills and along public roads. At 300 km/h it’s down into a dip. Like on a roller coaster, the drivers are pressed into their seats, shoot down at top speed and then uphill, seeing nothing but the sky.
2012 FORMULA 1™ SHELL BELGIAN GRAND PRIX - Fast Facts
Length of lap 7.004km Lap record 1:45.108 (Kimi Räikkönen, McLaren, 2004) Total number of race laps: 44 Total race distance 308.052km Pitlane speed limits 60km/h during practice; 100km/h during qualifying/race
► The Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps traces its origins back to the inter-war period. In 1920, the first formal racing layout used public roads between the towns of Malmedy, Stavelot and the village of Francorchamps. By the start of the F1 World Championship era, this had developed into a 14.1km circuit. After many fatalities and serious injuries, that was drastically reduced to a c.7km circuit in the late 1970s. There have been several updates to the circuit since, with many of the faster corners being reprofiled to bring the race track up to the safety standards expected of a modern grand prix circuit.
► The race has also been held at Nivelles (1972, ’74) and Zolder (1973, 1975-82, ’84). Spa-Francorchamps has hosted the race in all other years, barring 1957, ’59 , ’69, ’71, ’03 and ’06, when no championship Belgian Grand Prix was held.
► No driver has won the race at more than one of these venues.
► Twenty-one Belgian Grand Prix winners are also World Champions. Those drivers have never won World Championships in the years the Belgian Grand Prix has been held at circuits other than the one where they were victorious.
► Kimi Räikkönen has an unusual record at Spa: in his seven attempts he has either won or failed to finish. Victories came in 2004, ’05, ’07 and ’09. In 2004 and 2009 his victories at Spa were the only ones taken by his team during the season. DNF’s were caused by engine failure in 2002 and a spin while battling for the lead in the closing stages of the 2008 race. His Spa debut in 2001 ended with a technical DNS when transmission failure ensured he did not take the grid for a restart after an early red flag.
► Schumacher also made his F1 debut at Spa, and this weekend sees him take part in his 300th Grand Prix.
► While the Belgian Grand Prix has held this end of August/start of September slot for over two decades, the calendar around it has changed dramatically. Ten years ago it was very much towards the end of the season with only three races to follow it. In 2012 it is a mid-season race, with a further eight races to come.