The race is on again at scenic Spa

The race is on again at scenic Spa

2010 Belgian Grand Prix preview The race is on again at scenic Spa after the summer break For round thirteen of the FIA (Federation Internationale de l'Automobile) Formula One World Championship, Formula One has traveled to the circuit ...


2010 Belgian Grand Prix preview

The race is on again at scenic Spa after the summer break

For round thirteen of the FIA (Federation Internationale de l'Automobile) Formula One World Championship, Formula One has traveled to the circuit of Spa-Francorchamps for the 55th Belgium Grand Prix. The circuit is situated in the Belgium Ardennes, and is without a doubt for all drivers the most beautiful, but also most challenging circuit on the calendar. The town of Spa was already in the 14th century a watering place, the city was officially founded in 1594, the first bathing houses were build in 1764, and in 1774 the town opened the doors of the first European casino. At the end of the 19th century the town was famous throughout the world for its healing hot mineral springs, and the word "spa" has now become the standard word for any town with a natural water spring that has healing properties. Today about 10,500 people inhabit the city, which has now become the main tourist attraction of the Ardennes.

Spa is a fantastic circuit for drivers and fans.
Photo by xpb.cc.

The circuit itself has changed over the years, it was originally 15 km long when it was designed in 1920, but after serious accidents the circuit was deemed 'not safe' by drivers and official Formula One representatives, and in 1970 the circuit was hit by a Formula One boycott. At the end of the 1970s the circuit was completely renewed, the track was shortened to 7 km, and in 1983 it hosted the Belgium Grand Prix again, and was won by Alain Prost for Renault. Nico Rosberg's father Keke, crossed the finish line in fifth place in his Williams, while Nigel Mansell, who will be a member of the FIA Stewards Panel for this year's race, had to retire with a broken gearbox. The circuit has a rich race history, and the names of corners like Blanchimont, Eau Rouge, Radillion and the famous La Source hairpin still sound like music to the ears of the fans and drivers.

FIA stewards

The FIA has appointed four stewards who will make up the F1 Stewards Panel for the race in Belgium: Swede Lars Osterlind and Australian Garry Connelly will represent the FIA, Yves Bacquelaine represents the hosting country Belgium, and as mentioned before, ex-Formula One driver Briton Nigel Mansell will represent the drivers.

The 57-year old Nigel Mansell won the Formula One championship in 1992 and the US CART World Series in 1993, drove in Formula One for Lotus, Williams, Ferrari and McLaren, and in the CART Series for the famous American Newman- Haas team. He participated in 191 Grands Prix, won 31 races, scored 42 podiums, 32 pole positions and 480 World Championship points. He won the British Grand Prix in 1986, 1987, 1991 and 1992. Mansell was elected BBC Sports Personality of the Year in 1986 and 1992, and in 2005 he was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame.

The race is on again

During the summer break teams had a chance to renew their energy and hopes for the remaining six races of the season. Some drivers like Sebastian Vettel, Michael Schumacher and Nico Hulkenberg have been working hard on their physical condition after a short holiday, others have spend some time in the sun on the beach or visited their family, and one driver in particular will have spend his holiday relishing the thought he is in command of the championship, albeit with just four points. Four weeks have past since the Hungarian Grand Prix, and all Formula One teams had to close their facilities for two of those four weeks, meaning they still had two weeks to work on the car.

Aerodynamics, a race within a race.
Photo by xpb.cc.

This year has proved to be the season which introduced a new kind of race in Formula One: the race for updates on aerodynamic parts, and a race to keep up with new innovations like the F-Duct and the blown rear wing. Some teams feel they already have lost that race, and have recently announced they will start working on the 2011 car, and have given up on improving this year's machine. With an in-season test ban in place, teams are under enormous pressure, they have to design and deploy new systems without being able to thoroughly test them, the testing is done with computer simulations and during the free practice sessions, if they get it wrong, their development program will run into problems and they will rapidly lose ground to their competitors.

The FIA scrutineers

Traditionally there has always been a cat-and-mouse game between the FIA scrutineers and the team's designer boffins about what is, and what is not allowed according to the regulations, but this season teams have been exceptionally creative and especially Red Bull has surprised the other competitors and the FIA with ingenious systems like the blown diffuser. McLaren and other teams have repeatedly asked the FIA to solve the mystery of the low-to-the-ground Red Bull and Ferrari front wings, because they suspect they flex more than is allowed.

Flexing has become the magic word in Formula One now, and therefore the FIA has ramped up the tests and will again test the flexibility of all front wings this weekend. The attention has also turned to the floor of the Red Bull car, again teams suspect it moves or flexes, and if the floor would be in any way connected to the front wing assembly, or would influence the position of the wing in any other way, it could perhaps explain why the front wing is in such a low position at high speeds.

Every race weekend a small army of highly skilled FIA technicians meticulously examine all cars, even the versions of the software which control the ECU are checked and tested, everything is inspected, and nothing is left to chance. The fuel pressure is checked, fuel samples are taken and analysed, the bodywork height, width and overhang, wing height and width, the angle and profile of the wings, the flexibility of winglets, engine and gearbox seals and identification numbers, tyre allocations, data loggers, gear shift configurations, the front- and rear suspensions, brake systems, floor assemblies and pneumatic systems, really every nut and bolt is checked before it gets the FIA seal of approval. And it is therefore highly unlikely something like an adjustable ride-height system or an abnormal flexible wing would escape the attention of the FIA scrutineers.

Rubens Barrichello's 300th Grand Prix or not?

300 Grands Prix in 17 years for Rubens Barrichello.
Photo by xpb.cc.

According to the official Formula One website Barrichello will celebrate his 300th Grand Prix this weekend, but several sources have doubted if he indeed did participate in 300 Grands Prix since the start of his career in 1993. One source reports that two races in 2002 -- Spain and France -- do not count, because he didn't even complete the formation lap because of technical problems, which means he retired before the race actually started.

This misunderstanding is easy to explain, according to the FIA regulations qualifying is a part of a Grand Prix event, even if a driver has failed to qualify, he has according to the rules officially entered a Grand Prix. The official record is about how many Grands Prix he has participated in, and not about how many races he started after the lights turned to green on Sunday. So after Barrichello has left the pits and is on the track to qualify for the Grand Prix of Belgium on Saturday, we can officially congratulate him with his 300th Grand Prix.

Spa-Francorchamps Circuit, Spa, Belgium
Circuit length:7.004 km
Direction:Clockwise
Corners:19 turns (9 right and 10 left)
Longest straight:1865 m
Total number of race laps:44
Total race distance:308.052 km
Estimated top speed:318 km/h
Tyre usage:Medium
Tyre compounds:Hard/Soft
Brake wear:Medium
Downforce level:Medium
Lap record:K. Raikkonen - McLaren - 1:45.108 (2004)
Speed limits in the pit lane:60 km/h during practice sessions;
100 km/h during qualifying and race

Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium 3-day weather forecast
Friday:Heavy rain showers, cold weather, min 10C, max 17C
Saturday:Heavy rain showers, cold weather, min 9C, max 14C
Sunday:Light rain, cold weather, min 7C, max 11C

Pit stops and tyres

Expected pit stop schedule for Spa-Francorchamps: For 1 Stop - between laps 23-29 For 2 Stops - between laps 15-20 and 27-33 For 3 Stops - between laps 9-12, 18-22 and 29-34

Bridgestone tyre report

Bridgestone will bring the Hard and Soft tyre compounds to Belgium, and they expect it will be a severe test for the tyres. It is the longest circuit of the season, and the tyres will undergo extreme forces due to the very fast corners at Spa-Francorchamps. Bridgestone also has its European base in Brussels where over a 1000 people are employed by the Japanese tyre company, so it is a bit of a home race for them.

"Spa Francorchamps is a circuit with many secrets.", Bridgestone's Hirohide Hamashima said about the circuit. "Tyres are put under big loads here, and the circuit is too punishing for the use of our Super Soft tyre. Eau Rouge and sector two are particularly punishing. The change from downhill to uphill through Eau Rouge puts the tyres under severe compression forces at high speed added to the down force and inertia loads, so tyre pressures need to be carefully determined and monitored." He is also aware of the unpredictable weather in Spa, "The weather is often a factor, especially as you can see track temperatures ranging from 10C to 40C. Rain can come very quickly here because of the forest location, so this is another factor to

Teams and drivers news

Last year Force India took a surprise pole position at Spa, Giancarlo Fisichella had the weekend of his life and became second behind the Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen, who managed to overtake him with a little help of the KERS system. Force India know they won't be in a position to repeat last year's result, but are confident the circuit still suits their car. Adrian Sutil, "I'm pretty confident that we've got a car that will still suit the track very well. We've still got a very strong straight line speed advantage and the F-duct makes us quickest through the speed traps at most circuits we go to -- which will help us on the long straights in Belgium." Force India will also test their new blown diffuser and floor on Friday, and will use it during the race if the results of the test are positive.

Fisichella on pole in 2009.
Photo by xpb.cc.

Renault will introduce their version of the F-Duct this weekend, and team principal Eric Boullier believes it is a huge challenge to get it working. "To begin with we decided to focus our development on the blown floor and on other aero upgrades, which is why we are only introducing our F-duct in Spa. It's not an easy device to get right, but the one we have now looks promising in terms of the simulation results we have seen at the factory.", he said.

Schumacher also has something to celebrate, it was 19 years ago when the German made his Formula One debut at Spa in a Jordan in 1991. His race will be very difficult this weekend, he will get a ten-place grid penalty after he tried to squeeze Barrichello into the pit wall in Hungary, and his chances of scoring points will be slim. Schumacher, "Our weekend will obviously be handicapped by my grid penalty and consequently it will be difficult to expect special things from the race. On the other hand, every racing kilometre is important and welcome because we can learn from it with regards to our car. I will definitely try to make the best out of the weekend."

McLaren knows they has some work to do, team principal Martin Whitmarsh, "We believe our recent upgrades have given us a down force improvement, [but] it appears that the package hasn't yet delivered its full potential, particularly in terms of providing the drivers with a consistent, confidence-delivering platform." Jenson Button, who crashed during the first lap last year, "We come into the Belgian Grand Prix knowing that we have some catching-up do to; we didn't have a particularly strong race in Hungary, and the whole team wants to get back to the front again as quickly as possible."

Ferrari will use Friday practice to test new parts, they have a significant update for the diffuser, and Friday's data will decide whether they will use the new diffuser during the race. Ferrari also believes the weather in Spa will be a crucial factor and the right tyre strategy will be very important. Fernando Alonso enjoyed a short holiday and is looking forward to the race, although his is currently fifth in the championship, he still thinks he has a chance to clinch the title, "It has only taken us two races to get back in the running for the title. It is true that we are still behind in the classification and that it is always better to be in front, but I'm convinced that we will make a late sprint and move nearer the top positions."

Red Bull is confident their car will perform well at Spa, the team has dominated the season so far and is leading the Constructors' and Drivers' Championship. Webber loves the circuit, "It's an incredible circuit to drive on. I expect we can do well there, whether it's as well as I did in Budapest is a question for everyone, but I know our team is ready."

A treacherous circuit in the rain

Spa-Francorchamps is notorious for its unpredictable weather conditions, and when it rains, some parts of the circuit are wet, while other parts are dry, and the circuit becomes very treacherous, even for experienced drivers. The most memorable start at the Belgium circuit was in 1998, when on a wet track 14 cars piled up after David Coulthard had lost control of his McLaren just after the La Source hairpin. It was the biggest crash ever in the sport's history, many cars were totally destroyed, and it took almost an hour to clean up the track before the race could be restarted. Rain has been forecasted for the whole weekend so anything can happen at Spa, even in the rain the choice of tyres can decide the outcome of the race.

Spa is a true drivers circuit and drivers need all their skills and courage to blast through Eau Rouge without touching the brakes. There are plenty of overtaking opportunities: on the Kemmel straight, Les Combes, Bruxelles, the bus stop chicane and the hairpin at La Source. Five drivers are leading the Drivers' Championship: Webber with 161 points, Lewis Hamilton (157), Sebastian Vettel (151), Button (147) and Alonso is fifth with 141 points. For others like Felipe Massa, Nico Rosberg and Robert Kubica it will be 'now or never', if they don't score points they will be out of the running for the 2010 World Championship.

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Jenson Button , Michael Schumacher , Rubens Barrichello , David Coulthard , Kimi Raikkonen , Fernando Alonso , Nigel Mansell , Lewis Hamilton , Felipe Massa , Nico Rosberg , Robert Kubica , Sebastian Vettel , Nico Hulkenberg , Martin Whitmarsh
Teams Ferrari , McLaren , Force India , Williams , Jordan