Just one year ago Jenson Button had one of the most satisfying wins of his career at Spa-Francorchamps.
After a four-week break in the Formula 1 calendar, Vodafone McLaren Mercedes returns to action at one of the world’s most historic racetracks. Spa-Francorchamps has been synonymous with F1 for more than 60 years, and it’s where McLaren has enjoyed much success.
The 4.352-mile/7.004km circuit is the longest of the season, and it’s also one of the fastest, with an average speed of 145mph/234km/h. Its most challenging corners – of which Eau Rouge, Pouhon and Blanchimont are three – are revered by the drivers as their combination of high g-forces and huge speeds makes this race very tough on man and machine.
Spa-Francorchamps featured in the inaugural championship calendar in 1950, but its current design bears only a passing resemblance to the original 14km layout that last hosted a grand prix in 1970. That final race on the super-fast old track was won at an incredible average speed of 150mph, making it the sixth fastest race of all time!
The modern circuit was opened in 1979 and, despite alterations to Eau Rouge and the Bus Stop chicane, it has retained much of its fast and flowing nature. A committed driver and an aerodynamically efficient car are pre-requisites to success, but racing at Spa-Francorchamps is rarely straightforward due to the fickle microclimate of the surrounding Ardennes hills. Rain invariably features at some point during the race weekend.
Should this year’s 44-lap race remain dry, the teams will use Pirelli’s Medium and Hard tyre compounds, as they did in Malaysia, Bahrain, Spain and Great Britain earlier in the year.
Jenson Button: “Spa has always been on my shortlist of favourite circuits in Formula 1. I still remember my first grand prix there, back in 2000, when I out-qualified Michael Schumacher in a Ferrari – that felt pretty special.
“Then I think back to my victory there last year: I had pretty much the perfect weekend – my car was fantastic, I got pole position and just led the whole race. It was one of the most satisfying wins of my career just because I felt strong and confident for the entire weekend.
“The thing about Spa is that it just feels awesome to nail a quick lap around there – you need a car that’s perfectly synced to the driver, because it’s such a long lap, and there are so many big corners, that you need to find that perfect balance. And getting the set-up right – and running flat-out for nearly two minutes – feels incredible.
“We don’t go to Spa with the package to win, but I’ll still be making the most of every single lap around this place – it’ll still feel incredible.”
Sergio Perez: “We had a positive race in Hungary, which was a nice way to end the first half of the season. Hopefully, it gave everybody within the team the motivation to return to work after the summer break with renewed focus. I’m certainly feeling incredibly strong and refreshed and am really looking forward to getting back into the cockpit and back to work.
“There’s no better place to kick off the season’s second half than with races at Spa and then Monza. They’re two of Formula 1’s most iconic and evocative tracks, and two of the greatest challenges for any driver. I love Spa, but I didn’t get too much of an opportunity last year: after qualifying fourth, I was one of the victims of the first-corner accident, so I didn’t get to see what our car could do.
“So I’m going to Spa this year with added motivation to do well. It’s such a great place – I love fast corners, and the feeling of taking to the car to the limit around such a big and long circuit is incredible. The racing at Spa – particularly with KERS Hybrid and DRS – is usually pretty intense, so I’ll be looking forward to another exciting weekend.”
Martin Whitmarsh - Team principal, Vodafone McLaren Mercedes: “There’s absolutely no denying that Spa-Francorchamps is one of the greatest racetracks in the world. It occupies that exalted position alongside circuits such as Monaco, Silverstone, Monza and Suzuka; venues with a storied past and a demanding nature that make them some of the standouts on a packed calendar.
“For everyone in Formula 1, a weekend in Spa can be tough and demanding. The unpredictable weather means that there’s rarely a straightforward path for our drivers and engineers to clearly pursue through the weekend. The cold and the rain make life difficult for the spectators, too, but they are rewarded with some of the best views in the world of racing cars at the limit.
“Spa has been the scene of many victories for McLaren through the years – not least, our very first grand prix win, achieved by Bruce McLaren himself back in 1968. While we’re not contenders for outright victory this time round, the whole team is looking forward to another opportunity to build on our ability to understand and operate MP4-28.”
Vodafone McLaren Mercedes