Spa-Francorchamps is a circuit that most drivers relish and Lucky Strike B.A.R Honda's Jacques Villeneuve and Olivier Panis are no exception. So they're upbeat and optimistic as they head to Belgium this week for Round 14 of the FIA Formula One...
Spa-Francorchamps is a circuit that most drivers relish and Lucky Strike B.A.R Honda's Jacques Villeneuve and Olivier Panis are no exception. So they're upbeat and optimistic as they head to Belgium this week for Round 14 of the FIA Formula One World Championship at what is probably the most visually inspiring stop on the Grand Prix tour.
Widely regarded as one of the last real drivers' circuits, the legendary Spa is also the second fastest track on the F1 calendar and certainly one of the most challenging. It demands 100% driver focus at every stage of the lap and its fantastic high-speed corners calls for skill and bravery in no small measure.
With testing set to resume after the Belgian Grand Prix, the team's pre-race preparation has been mostly confined to B.A.R's HQ in Brackley, UK. Together with their race engineers, Jacques and Olivier have been analysing a disappointing performance at the Hungaroring two weeks ago and working hard on improvements for this weekend. Jacques also took part in a 50km shakedown at the team's home circuit, Silverstone, to put the Spa specification through its paces.
With four Grands Prix remaining, B.A.R are redoubling their efforts to maintain the development of the 004 package and regain the momentum they had found prior to Hungary. Points are still to be had and the team are hopeful of a more consistent weekend in Spa to make the most of every opportunity, including the typically unpredictable weather. It is not uncommon to experience a variety of conditions during the course of the Grand Prix weekend and this makes for some serious head-scratching for the engineers - especially when it can be dry at one end of the track and raining at the other!
David Richards, Team Principal
"The last race in Hungary was something of a procession but it should be quite a different story in Spa this weekend. We can all look forward to some fantastic racing and I hope to see Jacques and Olivier in the thick of it. The Hungarian Grand Prix wasn't the smoothest of race weekends for us and we didn't get the best from the car. We only have four races remaining though so we have to maintain the momentum. Spa is a track that both drivers enjoy enormously so we are optimistic that the Belgian Grand Prix should yield a more positive result."
Jacques Villeneuve on the Belgian Grand Prix
"I love this track. I've got memories of big crashes at Spa and actually I've never had a good race there, but I have had good qualifying. It's one of the last high-speed circuits that we have and it's a very long lap, but you really feel like you're going somewhere. It's got a good rhythm and it follows the layout of the land. You turn because there's a mountain so there's a reason for the layout. It's not like most modern tracks, which are like parking lots that you put cones around to create as many corners as you can with no logic or rhythm. This one has both. It's like you're driving to your house in the mountains."
"Eau Rouge is one of the most awesome corners of any circuit. It's fast - very fast. You're going downhill, it turns just a little bit left, and as soon as you want to change direction the track starts going up. It's completely blind, you see a wall in front of you, and you turn again. It's too tight for the speed you're going actually and you shouldn't be able to go that fast through it. It's just fantastic."
Olivier Panis on the Belgian Grand Prix
"Spa is one of the best circuits in the world. It's a real racing circuit and has some fantastic high-speed corners. This track has the tightest first corner in Formula One, La Source, and it can make for a very interesting start as 22 cars fight for position into a 2nd gear, 40-mph, right-hand hairpin."
"There are a couple of long straights that lead into slow corners so Spa offers more overtaking possibilities than the last race in Hungary. Braking is very important, particularly when we slow down from Blanchimont into the Bus Stop. We go from 300km/h down to 70km/h in a matter of metres."
"I'm looking forward to the Belgian Grand Prix. I've done a lot of work with my engineers after a disappointing result in Hungary and, generally, I think we're in much better shape going into this weekend."
Race Distance - 44 Laps. 189.942 miles (305.668 km)
Circuit Length - 4.316 miles (6.947 km)
Race Start - 14.00 local time (13.00 BST)
Nestling deep inside the Ardennes forest near Liege to the north of Belgium, Spa-Francorchamps is one of the most famous and evocative circuits in Formula One history. With a 4.316-mile lap length, Spa is the longest circuit on the GP calendar and its fantastic corners, wonderful scenery and adrenaline-pumping elevation changes make it a place where driver skill becomes an even more significant factor than normal.
In many ways, Spa is a throwback to a bygone era, and although changes have been made to the track to comply with modern Formula One requirements, the alterations have been carried out sympathetically and the home of the Belgian Grand Prix retains its special magic with drivers and fans alike.
Chassis set-up involves the all-important compromise between reducing drag to aid straight-line speed and generating downforce to help cornering. Braking stability is also an important consideration, particularly when slowing down from flat-out Blanchimont for the 'Bus Stop' chicane, which has been reprofiled this year to allow better access to the pit lane. Spectators can look forward to plenty of action at Spa since there are a couple of long straights leading into slow corners, while the extremely fickle Belgian weather often adds its own excitement.