There's barely enough time to recover from Monza before F1 heads to the final European race of the season at one of the world's most renowned tracks, Spa-Francorchamps. The Belgian Grand Prix is a favourite for drivers and fans alike; with its ...
There's barely enough time to recover from Monza before F1 heads to the final European race of the season at one of the world's most renowned tracks, Spa-Francorchamps. The Belgian Grand Prix is a favourite for drivers and fans alike; with its high-speed sections and challenging corners, and the location in the Ardennes forest, Spa is one of the most popular circuits on the calendar.
From the slow La Source hairpin to the super-fast Blanchimont, speeds vary from around 65 kmh to over 300 kmh. There are varying gradients and some technical sections and all in all it's a track which puts demands on both the drivers and the engineers to produce the optimum performance from themselves and the car.
"Set-up is geared towards high and medium speed stability to ensure that when the cars make their way back from the far stretches of the circuit they are quick through the flowing parts of the track," explained Williams technical director Sam Michael. "At the same time, the car must be strong over the curbs through the chicane."
Spa, of course, is home to one of the most famous corners of them all. "Eau Rouge demands total commitment from the driver, and a finely balanced chassis," said Sauber technical director Willy Rampf. "If Eau Rouge is flat out, then the engine experiences a full throttle period of over 20 seconds from the exit of the hairpin until braking for Turn 5 -- along with Indianapolis the longest of the season."
Renault's championship leader Fernando Alonso, is, like most of the other drivers, a fan of the track. "People know Eau Rouge best, but the entire place is fantastic in a Formula one car," the Spaniard enthused. "It is a long lap, so you see a good difference between a good and bad car; between a good and bad engine; and also between good and bad drivers."
After a very difficult time last season, Kimi Raikkonen finally took McLaren's only victory of 2004 at Spa. As F1 reaches Belgium this year, he and teammate Juan Pablo Montoya have so far racked up seven wins between them for the Woking squad. While the hope of the drivers' title is perhaps dwindling away, McLaren has every chance of beating Renault for the constructors'.
"It was great for the Constructors' battle to get a strong points total at Monza," said Montoya, the victor in Italy. "The gap to Renault is very close, there are a lot of points still to be won and the car feels fast, so we shall see. I love Spa, it is one of my favourite tracks and we always have classic racing, although hopefully my race this year will be less eventful than last year!"
Michael Schumacher and teammate Rubens Barrichello were second and third respectively at Spa last year but with Ferrari's current form the soon-to-be-former champion is not optimistic about his chances this weekend. "I have to admit that our current performances have dampened the enthusiasm a little," said Schumacher. "It is obvious that we have to go into this race on the limit; compromises are not allowed."
Sauber's Felipe Massa, who will race for Ferrari next season, equalled his best finish to date at Spa last season. "Spa is a brilliant circuit, and I don't just say that because last year I was able to finish fourth and score my best finish up to that point," said the Brazilian. "It is still definitely the best circuit that we go to and my favourite."
Toyota's solid fifth and sixth places at Monza, with Jarno Trulli and Ralf Schumacher respectively, saw the team close the gap to Ferrari to eight points in the constructors' standings. "It's always difficult to know what to expect before you get to a race but things went well in Italy so let's hope for another good result," Trulli commented about Spa.
Another thing Spa is famous for is the fickle weather. "The circuit seems to have its own micro-climate so while we have selected tyres from the medium to hard range because of the relatively rough track surface and high speed corners, the tyres have a wide working temperature range to cope with the possible weather fluctuations," said Bridgestone technical manager Hisao Suganuma.
Antonio Pizzonia, who stood in for Nick Heidfeld at Williams last weekend, will again be race sub for the German, who is still recovering from a testing crash. With only a week between Monza and Spa it was not deemed prudent for Heidfeld to race. As Pizzonia scored a seventh place finish at Monza he will have a decent qualifying slot on Saturday, whereas Heidfeld would have been out first.
Tiago Monteiro debuted the new Jordan EJ15B at Monza and this weekend the team will field two new chassis. "I will be driving the new car in Spa so I am very excited about this prospect," said Narain Karthikeyan. "I won at Spa in F3 and I enjoy the circuit a lot. Therefore, I am eagerly looking forward to having the opportunity to drive the EJ15B."
Raikkonen's engine penalty and problems in the race at Monza gave Alonso a little breathing space but while Raikkonen's chances are slim, the fight for the title is still on. However, it is possible for Alonso to win the championship at Spa on Sunday, given the right circumstances. But would anyone actually put a bet on that happening?