Just one week after the Italian Grand Prix the Etihad Aldar Spyker Formula One Team will be back on track for the last European race of the season, the Belgian Grand Prix. After one year's absence from the calendar, the Spa-Francorchamps circuit...
Just one week after the Italian Grand Prix the Etihad Aldar Spyker Formula One Team will be back on track for the last European race of the season, the Belgian Grand Prix. After one year's absence from the calendar, the Spa-Francorchamps circuit makes a popular return to the 2007 championship.
The track is a favourite with drivers for its long, sweeping bends and dramatic climb from the tight La Source hairpin to Eau Rouge, one of the most challenging corners in the championship. With plenty of overtaking opportunities, the race is usually one of the most unpredictable of the season, not least due to the temperamental weather that can punctuate a race weekend.
As the longest track on the calendar at 7.004km, the circuit snakes its way through heavy forest, hills and valleys that can each experience different weather conditions and, as such, it's not uncommon for rain to be falling at one part of the circuit, but another part to be completely dry. Good tyre and set-up calls can be key to success and as the Etihad Aldar Spyker Formula One Team showed in the European Grand Prix, this race could be a great opportunity to pick up a competitive finish.
The team's new B-spec car will be making its second Grand Prix appearance in Spa. Two cars got to the finish in last week's Italian Grand Prix, but the unique low downforce package required at the Italian track made it hard to quantify how much progress has been made over the A-spec car. The Belgian GP at Spa should provide a much better guide to the team's form.
Colin Kolles, team principal and managing director:
Q: Was the B-spec debut in Monza as you had hoped and expected?
CK: When you look at the race results you'll see us in 19th and 20th positions and I'm sure you'll think not much has changed, but I think we can be very positive about the team's performance over the weekend. As a team we did not make any mistakes, two new cars ran faultlessly and both got to the finish despite only having a limited testing programme beforehand.
We also showed an improvement in race pace over the A-spec cars, with both Adrian and Sakon setting times very similar to the Toro Rossos and Super Aguris. This year we have struggled on tracks with low downforce and high speeds but in Monza we were much closer than before. I think it was a solid debut that we can certainly build on.
Q: Are you expecting more in Belgium?
CK: I think Spa-Francorchamps should suit us better than Monza, and we'd like to think that we can better our performance. Our goal has now got to be to get off the back row of the grid so we can take advantage of our improved race pace.
Q: This is now the last race in the European season, are you on course to achieve your objectives?
CK: We would like to secure 10th in the constructors' championship ahead of Toro Rosso and perhaps with a strong result in Belgium we could move up. We had a good test there in July, Adrian knows the track very well - he was the F3 lap record holder there - and as we showed in Germany, if the weather is changeable we are one of the few teams that are able to take full advantage of the conditions. There are also three races to run after Belgium where we have scheduled updates, so until the championship is actually finished, anything is possible.
Q: Do the team consider the Belgian Grand Prix to be another 'home race'?
CK: With our strong Dutch connections, it's inevitable that this Grand Prix will be a very busy one for us and we hope that we will have a lot of supporters as it's the race closest to the Netherlands. But for us, we won't treat it any differently to any other race weekend, it's important to stay focussed on the job in hand.
Mike Gascoyne, chief technical officer:
Q: What's your feeling about the debut of the B-spec at Monza?
MG: It was a bit of a mixed bag, there were good and bad bits. I was disappointed with qualifying. All year we've struggled to get one lap out of the car, and last weekend was no exception. I think we felt there was quite a bit more in the car than we got out in qualifying, and I think our race pace and Friday pace confirmed that. In fact our race pace was more competitive than we've been all year.
Q: Was that a bit of a gamble, going with two stops?
MG: Strategy-wise, we did two stops, and there were a lot of people in front of us doing one stop, so you have to get in front of them in the opening laps, which unfortunately with the safety car we couldn't. But in the second half of the race our pace was where we expected it to be. We wanted to be quite aggressive, and it can work at Monza as you've got good straightline speed, but in the end we weren't able to get past anyone and it didn't really work out as we planned.
All the same I think it was the right choice. It's not an easy circuit to go to with a new car and two rookie drivers, but we got two finishes under our belt, and our race pace was reasonable and definitely a step forward. It gave us some good data with which to move on to Spa and beyond.
Q: Were you pleased with the reliability of the new package?
MG: Yes, getting two cars to the finish was good. Sakon put in a very good performance, finishing 10 seconds down on his team mate, by far his most competitive finish of his F1 career. It was a good effort from him and he matched the pace of Adrian all weekend, so there are a lot of positives.
Q: Will Spa be more indicative of the step you've made with the B-spec, especially as the team tested there in July?
MG: I think most of the gain comes from aero, and at Monza you're just taking all the wing off and running it with no downforce, so you don't really see the benefits. We've got some improvements for Spa, including some updates coming on the diffuser, so we always said that this was just the start of the process. It is moving forward, and Spa will be better.
Q: Were you encouraged by Adrian's pace in the rain at the test?
MG: Yes, he was quick in testing, and the car should be noticeably better now. Hopefully we'll see the true potential of the car in Spa.
Q: Obviously it can rain at Spa and anything can happen. As you proved in Germany, the team is more than capable of getting the decision calls right. Do you see it as an opportunity?
MG: I think we proved at the Nurburgring that if there's rain or it's mixed up we're pretty quick at making decisions in that situation. So we wouldn't mind some typical Spa weather, on race day or even in qualifying. I think we'll be able to make the most of it. It's a good opportunity to capitalise on and if it does happen, we'll be up there.