Unsurprisingly, Ferrari took the 2004 constructors' title in Hungary and Michael Schumacher could claim the drivers' championship at this weekend's Belgian Grand Prix. Only teammate Rubens Barrichello can fight Schumacher for the crown, but one ...
Unsurprisingly, Ferrari took the 2004 constructors' title in Hungary and Michael Schumacher could claim the drivers' championship at this weekend's Belgian Grand Prix. Only teammate Rubens Barrichello can fight Schumacher for the crown, but one would have to say that the Brazilian triumphing this season would be a considerable, and unlikely, feat.
It's a shame that with five races to go only second place in either championship is left to be fought over. With a 38 point lead over Barrichello, Schumacher's victory is pretty much guaranteed but second in the constructors' is still wide open. Either Renault or BAR would probably be happy enough to be second to Ferrari, but nobody really wants to be the best of the losers.
Renault has been hanging on to its second place for much of the season but BAR is nibbling away at the gap between them. Hungary was a lost opportunity for the Brackley squad -- with both cars ahead of Renault on the grid, it should have closed the gap much more than by the one point it actually did. Renault was let off quite lightly, especially as only one of its cars finished.
As for the drivers' standings, in theory Barrichello's second place is still attainable by the next four on the list. However, in practice it's a tall order. BAR's Jenson Button, third, is not guaranteed to hold the place but has a 19 point advantage over Jarno Trulli in fourth. Trulli's Renault teammate Fernando Alonso is just one point behind -- but squabbling over fourth and fifth is not much to get excited about.
There was not really much to say about Hungary. Ferrari had it in the bag after the first corner and the rest trailed home in orderly formation. Alonso's catapult off the line for third was notable but there was no way that the Renault was going to catch the Ferraris. Juan Pablo Montoya also had a great start to fourth but the Williams was similarly not going to challenge Alonso.
Many people are pleased to Spa-Fracorchamps back on the calendar, drivers and fans alike. The Belgian Grand Prix fell foul of anti-tobacco laws in 2003 and was dropped from the schedule, but was given a welcome reprieve for 2004. Spa is a real driver's circuit and one of the renowned tracks of the motor racing world.
"The Belgian Grand Prix is one of those races that I really enjoy," said Schumacher, who won the last race at Spa in 2002. "The circuit has its own special magic, firstly because it is where I have had some of the most memorable racing moments, like my first GP or my first Formula One win."
"I also like Spa because it is close to my birthplace, Kerpen. I always joke about it but I consider Spa to be a 'home' circuit. The track is a real sporting test. Driving here, splendidly situated in the middle of the countryside, is fantastic. To be truthful, Spa is my favourite circuit."
One of the challenges of Spa is the infamous Eau Rouge corner. "You come into the corner downhill, have a sudden change at the bottom and then go very steep uphill," said Alonso.
"From the cockpit, you cannot see the exit and as you come over the crest, you don't know where you will land. It is a crucial corner for the timed lap, and also in the race, because you have a long uphill straight afterwards where you can lose a lot of time if you make a mistake."
Safety issues have plagued Spa's history and the circuit has been modernised over the years, including slight changes to the Bus Stop chicane for this weekend's race. The pit lane entry has also been altered and parts of the track resurfaced. "Therefore not all of our data from Spa in 2002 is relevant for our preparation for the race this year," said BAR chief race engineer Craig Wilson.
Spa is a high-speed circuit and has a variety of corners; speeds vary from 60 kmph at the La Source hairpin, up to over 300 kmph through Blanchimont. Downforce will be medium to find a compromise for stability in the fast corners and traction for the slower parts of the track. Tyres are also important for the fast sections and the track is quite abrasive, so compounds will be in the mid to hard area of the range.
The weather can be temperamental and as it's a long track, it can often rain on one part of the circuit and not on another. The length of the circuit combined with the variety of corners and gradients places high demands on engines.
"Spa is one of the toughest circuits in terms of duty cycle, and indeed is a reference circuit for engine validations on the dyno: this means we actually do more simulations of Spa than any other circuit during the year," said Renault engine technical director Rob White. "The lap is very long, placing high mechanical and thermal loads on the engine's internal parts."
After the tedium of Hungary, F1 needs a return to racing to wake everyone up again and if anywhere can provide it, Spa is a likely contender. Let's hope the circuit lives up to its reputation. "You don't run too much downforce so the car feels like it is dancing," said Sauber's Felipe Massa. "You really know you are a racing driver when you are there."