The way to Spa Spa-Francorchamps, 3rd September - The 2008 Formula 1 season prepares to make its last appearance in Europe with two "back to back" races, starting with the Belgian Grand Prix at the challenging and beautiful Spa-Francorchamps ...
The way to Spa
Spa-Francorchamps, 3rd September - The 2008 Formula 1 season prepares to make its last appearance in Europe with two "back to back" races, starting with the Belgian Grand Prix at the challenging and beautiful Spa-Francorchamps circuit. Last week, Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro, along with the nine other F1 teams, took part in the penultimate test session of the season at the Monza circuit. This session was aimed primarily at preparation for the Italian Grand Prix and the specific demands of that track. In fact, the majority of preparation for the Belgian Grand Prix and the Spa-Francorchamps track, took place prior to the summer break at the Jerez test and while everyone ran special low downforce Monza aero packages at the test, downforce levels in Spa are in any case, similar to those already experienced in Montreal and Valencia. However, the fact that Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro pushed very hard on its development programme during that summer track break to introduce new elements on the F2008 means that some aspects of the car's package for use at Spa, both aero and mechanical, were evaluated in this most recent Monza test and indeed there will be some aerodynamic updates on track this coming weekend.
At Monza, much of the work was focussed on reliability, especially on the engine front. The results were generally positive as Ferrari engines, including those of our customer teams, completed four long runs, and there were no engine related problems. This was down to the fact the team had already reacted after Budapest, where Massa first encountered the con-rod problem which cost him victory. The engines assembled thereafter, for Felipe and our customer teams in Valencia and for Kimi prior to Spa, have used con rods from a different batch to those that caused the two engines failures in Budapest and Valencia. A great deal of time and effort went into this, both within Ferrari's own engine department and at external supplier, Pankl who worked very hard to isolate this problem. From this point of view, the Monza test was successful: the first two days with Felipe and the final one with Kimi. The entire company has supported the Gestione Sportiva in these efforts and even President Luca di Montezemolo came to rally the troops, visiting Monza on the final day of the test.
As usual, as we approach the end of the season, the leitmotif which has been with us throughout, namely which is the number one driver in our line-up, is getting to be more and more of a topic for the media. "As always at Ferrari, the top priority is to do what is in the best interests of the team," commented Team Principal of the Gestione Sportiva, Stefano Domenicali. "That means both our drivers are very well aware that, if required, one will help the other in the closing stages of the championship. This happened last year, when Felipe helped Kimi after the point when it was clear that his own chances of getting the title had slipped out of reach. If the situation was to be reversed, then Kimi would do the same. However, at the moment, there is no hierarchy between our two drivers because, currently and mathematically, there is not a big enough points gap between them, given there are still sixty points available. Once a clear picture emerges, then we will react accordingly, but at the moment, that is not the case and it might not be so for a while to come. If you look at the 2007 championship, it remained very open almost to the very end and we could well see a similar situation develop over the remaining rounds of 2008."
Spa-Francorchamps is always a special challenge and while much of that stems from the demands of the track itself, this is one race where the weather often wants to play its part. Early weather reports for the weekend would suggest that, once again this year, conditions can best be summed up as unstable. If the forecast is correct, it can be difficult to deal with, as Spa has often produced conditions where part of the track is dry and part wet. Wet weather could further complicate the third and final part of Saturday afternoon qualifying as, with wet lap times approaching the two minute mark on this very long circuit, it could even be difficult to get in two runs, consisting of an out lap, the flying lap and the in lap. With all remaining drivers trying to set a quick lap as soon as the session is underway, lack of visibility and traffic could also come into the equation. Furthermore, with some runners basing their qualifying fuel load on weather predictions for Sunday, it could make for an unusual grid formation.
In general, Spa is the favourite track on the calendar for the majority of drivers and that is certainly the case for Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen, who has won the last three F1 races at this track. In the past, the build up to Belgium always described Spa as Michael Schumacher's second home, but in recent times, it would seem that Kimi, the man who replaced Schumi at the Scuderia, can lay claim to being the current King of Spa. Last year, the Scuderia secured a convincing one-two finish, bringing its total of Belgian GP victories to fourteen. Inevitably, final thoughts return to the championship and from this perspective, it should be noted that, apart from a surprise win for Jordan in 1998, the last decade in Spa has seen the wins equally divided between Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro and its closest rival for this year's championship chase.