Belgian GP - The historic Spa-Francorchamps circuit Spa-Francorchamps, 26th August 2009 - The contrast could not be more marked as in the space of a week, the Formula 1 championship trail switches from one of the newest tracks on the calendar,...
Belgian GP - The historic Spa-Francorchamps circuit
Spa-Francorchamps, 26th August 2009 - The contrast could not be more marked as in the space of a week, the Formula 1 championship trail switches from one of the newest tracks on the calendar, the Valencia street circuit, to one of the most famous and historic venues in motor sport, Spa-Francorchamps. While Valencia is a man-made circuit, artificially created around a port, Spa owes its character more to nature than to man, as its sweeping 7.004 kilometres follow the contours of the Ardennes. Even some of the roads leading to the circuit have historic connotations, as they used to form part of the much longer version, used in the early days of the World Championship. Standing in the paddock, there is another obvious contrast, as temperatures in Belgium will be much cooler than those encountered in Spain, although Spa's version of the humidity encountered last week is of the more obvious rainy variety! The journey from one venue to the other has in itself been a challenge for the teams, as it is one of the longest drives of the year. The Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro transporters and their precious cargo of two F60s and all the equipment, set off from Valencia on Monday morning and the Scuderia mechanics will already be hard at work in Spa today (Wednesday) preparing the cars for Friday practice. The cars will therefore be much the same as in Valencia, apart from the necessary changes to the aerodynamic set-up -- basically, lower downforce than last week's configuration. In addition, Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro has essentially stopped development of the 2009 F60 to concentrate its R&D resources on 2010, whereas other teams have chosen a different option to achieve their own goals.
As for the famous Ardennes weather, the current forecast for the weekend is mainly dry, but the track has its own micro-climate, so predictions can never be relied on. In addition, the length of the circuit means that it is a common occurrence for part of the track to be dry, while rain falls on another section. The length also has an effect on the way Qualifying is run, as drivers usually cannot afford the luxury of going for two timed laps on one run and as for the rain, if it falls in Q3, then it can be a case of simply running to the end of the session.
The benefit of KERS has been ably demonstrated by our drivers in recent races, however, with the Source hairpin coming so soon after the start, it is unlikely that the first few hundred metres will show the benefit at this track. However, once past the hairpin, the long straight, first downhill to Eau Rouge, a corner which could become more of a challenge again, and then up the hill on the other side will provide the most graphic illustration of what extra power generation can do. In fact, the Scuderia engineers believe that KERS will have more of an impact here than at any other circuit on the calendar. Overtaking is possible at Spa, because of the slipstreaming effect and this year, those cars running KERS will probably be able to run slightly more aerodynamic downforce than those without, thus having a power advantage on the faster sections and more grip on the slower ones.
On the tyre front, Bridgestone is bringing their Soft and Medium compounds, rather than the more usual pattern of bringing two types of tyre with a greater difference between them. It is clear that for the F60 it is usually a case of the softer the better, even if that situation has improved in recent races, but the greater similarity between the Prime and Option at this race, should help on this front. Some uncharacteristic warm weather would also be a benefit.
Ferrari has enjoyed plenty of success at this venue, winning no less than eleven times, with a further four wins in the Belgian Grand Prix, when the race was held at Zolder. In 2004 for example, Ferrari was able to celebrate winning the World Championship well before the season finale, courtesy of Michael Schumacher. On a track where a driver can make the difference, we can expect Kimi Raikkonen to again be very competitive, as he won here three times and last year, had one of his best races, right up to the chaotic final moments of the race, which was eventually won by his team-mate, Felipe Massa. The Finn has also won in other formulae at this track. As for Luca Badoer, after making his race debut for the Scuderia in Spain, he returned home to Montebelluna, doing some training for a couple of days, even though he coped well on the physical side in the torrid conditions last Sunday. Although he has not raced at Spa since 1999, this is at least he circuit he knows, apart from the minor modifications introduced a couple of years ago. Badoer himself expects to make a step forward on the performance front.