Berthold Bouman, F1 Correspondent
- Senna replaces Heidfeld for Belgium GP
- Once more - can Red Bull be beaten again?
- Anything can happen at Spa-Francorchamps
For round 12 of the 2011 FIA (Federation Internationale de L’Automobile) Formula One World Championship teams have traveled to the famous Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps in the Belgian Ardennes. Spa is a classic drivers’ circuit with mainly super fast corners and only one slow chicane, just ahead of the start-finish line. A circuit with a rich history in motorsports, as the venue hosted its first real race in 1922 on the long triangular shaped 15 km track. But motor racing changed over the decades and after safety had become a hot issue due to numerous fatal accidents in the 1960s and 1970s, the circuit was abandoned by Formula One as teams and drivers favored the Belgian Zolder circuit, but returned to the new 7.004 km long Spa-Francorchamps circuit when it was re-opened in 1983.
It will be the first home Grand Prix for Marussia Virgin driver Jerome d’Ambrosio, the last Belgian Formula One driver to participate in the Belgian Grand Prix was Thierry Boutsen who in the 1980s and early 1990s drove for Arrows, Benetton, Williams, Ligier and Jordan. Boutsen ended his career after the 1993 season. The most famous Belgian driver is without a doubt the amiable now 66-year old Jacky Ickx, who was active in Formula One from 1966 to 1979, and won eight Grands Prix, scored 25 podium positions and 13 pole positions -- and won the 24 Hours of Le Mans five times.
First race after the summer break
Teams, their personnel and the drivers have enjoyed an almost 4 weeks long summer break, in which teams had to shut down their entire operation for at least 14 days to relief the pressure on their employees.
It feels good to be going back racing after a three-week break
Most drivers have enjoyed a holiday in the sun and had time to visit their family and friends, and have recharged the batteries for the second part of the season. All are now looking forward to the race at Spa, the favorite circuit of almost all drivers. Force India’s Paul di Resta, “It feels good to be going back racing after a three-week break. I spent most of the time at home with friends and family. After so much traveling it was nice to stay in the same place for a while and sleep in my own bed.”
Marussia Virgin’s Timo Glock had a similar opinion, “After the back-to-back races of Germany and Hungary it was really nice to have a break and relax, but now I can't wait for the second part of the year.” Also Lewis Hamilton was happy to get behind the wheel of his McLaren again, “After a month out of the cockpit, I think every driver on the grid is really looking forward to racing on a track like Spa-Francorchamps, which is easily one of the greatest circuits in the world.” Team Lotus driver Jarno Trulli, “"Since Hungary I've been able to spend the last couple of weeks with my family in Miami - I've had a good rest and after we took such a step forward for me in Hungary I can't wait to get back on track.”
Bruno Senna replaces Nick Heidfeld at Lotus Renault
Hottest news ahead of the Belgian Grand Prix is the announcement of Lotus Renault that Nick Heidfeld will be replaced by Bruno Senna. Rumors had already been circulating during the summer break and on Wednesday Lotus Renault officially confirmed Senna and not Heidfeld will be behind the wheel this weekend. The team only confirmed he will replace him for the Belgian Grand Prix, but the statement Lotus Renault issued said nothing about who will drive the car for the rest of the season. Senna will be present at the FIA press conference on Thursday and it is expected the Brazilian driver will offer more explanation as to the nature of the deal he struck with the Lotus Renault team. There have been rumors Lotus Renault has financial problems and the team would be better off with a driver who pays for his seat, rather than paying Heidfeld for his services.
Once more - can Red Bull be beaten again?
With Red Bull and Sebastian Vettel still miles ahead in the championship, but with their recent defeat in Germany and Hungary in mind, the question whether the recent slump in performance was a coincidence or perhaps a ‘two-off’ still remains. Red Bull was unbeatable during the first part of the season, but McLaren and Ferrari have worked hard and seem to have found more speed and during the last two races the Red Bull team has certainly not been as dominant as they were at the start of the season.
Vettel has still nothing to fear with his nearest rival and team colleague Mark Webber 85 points behind him, but the battle for second place is becoming more and more interesting. The numbers two to five in the drivers’ championship, Webber (149), Hamilton (146), Fernando Alonso (145) and Jenson Button (134) are separated by just 15 points, which means especially Webber has to watch his rearview mirrors this weekend if he is to hold on to second place.
Third place man Hamilton is only one point ahead of Alonso, and for either of them a bad race result or even a ‘did-not-finish’ would be a disaster. For Button the situation is even more precarious, he must stay within an arms-length of Alonso, who is 11 points ahead of him, to still have a chance for the second or third place in the championship, because realistically speaking, the Briton needs a true miracle to still be in contention for the 2011 title. But then again, the same can be said of Webber, Hamilton and Alonso, they also need a miracle to take this year’s title, and miracles don’t happen very often in Formula One.
Vettel is a fan of the Spa circuit and he’s certainly not worried about the championship, “The Spa circuit has everything that a driver dreams of -- unbelievably fast corners and slow chicanes, and it can be full of surprises due to the weather. It can be raining one minute and then the sun can be shining the next. The track follows the hills of the Ardennes -- and it's one of my absolute favorites.” And Webber’s expectations for this weekend? “I expect this weekend to be a tight, competitive fight between Ferrari, McLaren and Red Bull Racing. It was great to re-charge the batteries ready for the second part of the championship and it was really good to spend some time with family and friends. But three weeks is plenty, you certainly miss driving the car after that length of time,” the Australian said.
I'd prefer a dry race, but, to be honest, I'll take any track condition
As said, Vettel has nothing to fear, but McLaren and Ferrari are certainly going to fight for what they are worth, and with the summer break now behind them they are poised to score a good result at Spa. Hamilton is still feeling confident, “I think we go into the race weekend in a pretty good place -- we've won the last two Grands Prix and the car feels strong; we've worked hard to improve the set-up, so it's really inspiring confidence at the moment, which means you can push it that little bit further, particularly in qualifying.” And said about the weather conditions, “Of course, the weekend is likely to be affected by the weather, which is always somewhat unpredictable at Spa. I'd prefer a dry race, but, to be honest, I'll take any track condition: I just can't wait to get back out in my car!”
Button also knows McLaren will have to push hard this weekend, “Once again, our aim will be to put pressure on the championship frontrunners, particularly Red Bull.” He also reckons not just the weather, but also the tyres will play an important role, “Our car definitely feels really driveable right now, so I don't think this weekend's tyre compound selection will affect us too much. We learnt a lot about the Pirelli Medium [tyre] after the race in Valencia, and I think we've moved on quite a bit since then.”
Fourth place man Alonso is also looking forward to get back in the cockpit again, “Holiday over, it’s time to get back to the race track. I can’t wait to be back on track to continue with this run of positive results which goes back to Valencia. We will have some new parts on the 150º Italia which we hope will allow us to improve our performance a bit more.” About the championship the Spaniard added, “I am well aware that the championship situation is what it is, but that does not mean we have thrown in the towel. We always set out trying to win every race and, as I’ve been saying for a while now, we will do the maths at the end.”
Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali is also looking forward to battle for the win, “Everyone seems to be like me, very motivated with batteries fully charged for the rest of the season. We share the same state of mind, ready to return to the race tracks. Our realistic goal for the remaining eight Grands Prix is to win races, to score as many points as possible.”
Schumacher to celebrate 20 years of Formula One
There is no way of getting around it, Michael Schumacher, the most successful Formula One driver of all times, will celebrate the fact he made his debut at Spa exactly 20 years ago in a Jordan Formula One car. Although his team boss for one race Eddie Jordan recently said Schumacher is “an old fart” and should pack his bags and leave the sport, the man himself seems to be more relaxed and happier than ever. “It is a fact that I am somewhat more relaxed than I was before. I just have much more experience and simply know what is necessary at what moment. I know when I need to be concentrated and when I can ease up,” the 42-year old said.
The seven-times World Champion about this weekend’s prospect, “The race in Spa will certainly have a special touch to it this time, as this is where I drove my first ever Formula One race 20 years ago. It's hard to believe that this was such a long time ago. A lot has changed in those 20 years, but one thing has not: the track is still sensational!”
And he has planned a little celebration at Spa, “It will be a special moment for me, I will invite the whole paddock for a drink on Saturday evening.” And Schumacher continued, “For me, Spa remains my 'living room', because it has been the stage for so many things which have been remarkable for my sporting career. This is why this time I would like to specifically send a big thank you to all my fans for their loyalty and support, which I was happy to receive during those 20 years and also since my comeback.”
Peter Sauber, who had hired the then still very young German for his Sauber-Mercedes sports car team recalls, “He was a hard worker, very ambitious, mentally strong and also so well prepared physically. It soon became apparent that he was a very special talent You also need talent and technical knowledge and if you get all these factors close to 100 per cent, you get Michael Schumacher who wins seven titles.“
He was a hard worker, very ambitious, mentally strong and also so well prepared physically
The man who was really the mastermind of Schumacher’s success, Ross Brawn, now team principal of the Mercedes GP team,” It has been an honor and a privilege to work so closely with him for 17 of those 20 years, and I look forward to more good times ahead together.”
There have been many stories about Schumacher’s not so successful return to Formula One, but Ferrari’s Alonso is certain all the German needs is a good car. “When Michael finally has a good car again then we will certainly have some more fun together at the front, I am convinced that Schumacher could win again,” he said.
Spa-Francorchamps - Belgium
|Circuit length||7.004 km|
|Corners||20 turns (9 right and 11 left)|
|Longest straight||1.865 km|
|Total number of race laps||44|
|Total race distance||308.052 km|
|Estimated top speed||318 km/h|
|Average lap speed||242 km/h|
|Tyre compounds||Medium [Prime] white, Soft [Option] red|
|Lap record||Kimi Raikkonen - McLaren - 1:45.108 (2004)|
|2010 Pole Position||Mark Webber - Red Bull Racing - 1m45.778|
|2010 Race Winner||Lewis Hamilton - McLaren - 1h29m04.268|
|Speed limits in the pit lane||60 km/h during practice sessions, 100 km/h during qualifying and the race|
|FIA Stewards||Nigel Mansell (GB), Paul Gutjahr (CH), Paolo Longoni (I)|
|Speed limits in the pit lane||60 km/h during practice sessions; 100 km/h during qualifying and race|
Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium - three-day weather forecast
|Day||Forecast||Min Temperature||Max Temperature|
|Friday||Cloudy, heavy rain showers, warm and humid||12C||23C|
|Saturday||Mostly cloudy, heavy rain showers, colder weather||9C||16C|
|Sunday||Sunny, no rain expected, colder weather||10C||16C|
Pirelli tyre report
Spa-Francorchamps is a fast circuit with high-speed corners and it is also the longest track on this year’s calendar. It is a circuit that pushes man and machine to the limit, and the right tyre choice and a good race strategy will be very important. The circuit is famous for its unpredictable weather, and rain has many times ‘reigned’ the circuit, and Pirelli also expects to use the blue intermediate tyres. The Italian tyre manufacturer has allocated the Medium (white) and Soft (red) tyres for the event, the same tyre choice as for the European and German Grands Prix.
Pirelli Motorsport Director Paul Hembery about the tyre choice, “It is a track that tests ultimate commitment, so once again we have to supply tyres that are capable of not only absorbing the colossal forces that they are subjected to on a regular basis, but also of delivering maximum performance in complete safety.” And he added, “Spa is one of the most unpredictable tracks of the season, and since we have never tested here, we have very little data to go on. From what we have seen in the past though, in Valencia and at the Nurburgring especially, we are confident that this combination of the medium and the soft tyre strikes the correct balance between performance and durability, equipping the drivers to display every aspect of their talents.”
FIA Race Director Charlie Whiting announced on Monday the use of the DRS wing will be banned through Eau Rouge during practice and qualifying for safety reasons. The decision was made after several drivers had voiced their concerns about using the device in the flat-out Eau Rouge corner. Due to the high speed nature of the corner and the limited run-off area drivers feared using DRS in Eau Rouge could lead to a very undesirable high speed crash.
Another concern was that many drivers have in the past been confronted with the fact the DRS wing was still open when they entered a corner while it was supposed to be closed. Also the failsafe feature that makes the device snap back to its original position when a driver hits the breaks, would not work as there is no braking at all before and through Eau Rouge.
The FIA have set up the DRS as following: the detection zone, where a driver has to be less than one second behind the car he wants to overtake is after the La Source hairpin, 235 meters before Turn 2 (Eau Rouge) and the activation zone starts 235 meters after Turn 4 (Raidillon) on the long Kemmel straight and ends when a driver hits the breaks for Les Combes.
More team Notes and Quotes
It seems all drivers just love Spa, and Force India drivers Sutil and di Resta are no exception. Sutil is confident ahead of the race, “I think we can have another competitive weekend because the last couple of races have shown what we are capable of. We seem to have a car that is working well everywhere and our qualifying and race pace has been strong. We just need to keep up the momentum and keep picking up the points.” And after his excellent seventh place in Hungary di Resta is adamant he can perform well at Spa too, “Our recent form gives us every reason to believe we can carry on where we left off in Hungary.” And the Scotish rookie added, “We know our competitors won't have stood still, but we're still pushing hard with development and determined to get as much performance from the car before the focus shifts to next year.”
Sauber has had many ups and downs this season, and they are together with Force India, Lotus Renault and Toro Rosso fighting for a top place in the Constructors’ Championship. Lotus Renault is currently fifth, Sauber sixth, Force India seventh and Toro Rosso eighth.
Like all other drivers Sauber’s Kamui Kobayashi is all geared up for Spa, “Spa is a very beautiful circuit, and one of my favorites. It has a lot of high speed corners which should suit our car well, because it has a similar average speed to Silverstone. Normally the temperatures are not very hot there, so for the tyres it should not be too difficult.” And according to Technical Director James Key, the team will have some updates for Spa, an especially for Spa designed rear wing and updates for the front wing.
Williams is currently ninth in the championship, and have only scored four points this season, during the Monaco Grand Prix Rubens Barrichello scored two points, and he scored another two points during the Canadian Grand Prix. Nevertheless, Barrichello is still upbeat and can’t wait to take his car out on the famous Ardennes circuit.
“I love Spa-Francorchamps; the track is very special. It is the place where I claimed my first Formula One pole position back in 1994. It was in very tricky conditions as the track was drying out, but that is something that happens quite a lot at Spa. We are going to have a new aero package for this race that I hope will give us a better chance to fight for points,” the Brazilian said. Technical Director Sam Michael confirmed the team has new parts this weekend, “We will bring new rear wings which feature a different drag level and some diffuser modifications to evaluate during practice.”
Team Lotus suffered from reliability issues during the last race but are hopeful they have found the leak. “We will do our best in Spa to keep taking measured steps forward and we need to make sure we have put the reliability issues that have affected some of our recent performances behind us,” Malaysian team owner Tony Fernandes said. Heikki Kovalainen is hoping for rain, “It's almost certain it will rain somewhere on the circuit at some point over the weekend and that could well be an opportunity for our team. We just have to keep pushing and make sure we're in the hunt if there's an opportunity to be grabbed, work hard all weekend and keep taking little steps forward.”
Marussia Virgin team principal John Booth indicated finishing both cars will be their main goal, “We are raring to go and want to put in another good performance at the Belgian Grand Prix to continue with the good run of double-car finishes we enjoyed in the first part of the season. From Canada onwards we have been able to finish every single race with both our cars staying out of trouble and showing good reliability, so we've got to make sure we hang on to our good form.”
HRT driver Daniel Ricciardo is also looking forward to Spa, “Among several memories from my 55 career podiums, I started from pole and won one of the last Formula 3 British races in Spa in 2009, so it's a circuit that I know. In the small formula cars it gets boring because you run out of power on all those long straights, but I'm really looking forward to driving a Formula One car there. The weather is always a question mark. I love the middle sector and its great flow. It's one of the best circuits and should suit us well.”
What to expect this weekend
It has been said before, the weather in the Ardennes is very unpredictable, and while most drivers anticipate rain at some point during this weekend, it could well be the sun will be out all weekend and not one single drop of rain will fall down on the 7 km long track. But if it rains, the circuit becomes treacherous even for the most experienced drivers, as it can be dry in one place and wet in another place. Spa is a true drivers’ circuit, also a fast circuit which means downforce is not an all deciding factor, and the smaller teams certainly have a chance to score points when others fail to do so.
A lot will depend on the right tyre choice and the right pit stop strategy, rain would certainly reshuffle the cards and make the race more interesting, but also in rainy circumstances the tyre choice will be important, with the varying track conditions it will be difficult to make a choice between intermediates and full wet weather tyres.
Last year Hamilton won the race, but only because Vettel made a colossal mistake trying to overtake Button at the bus stop chicane, the pair collided and Button had to give up the race while Vettel ended his race in 15th place, one lap behind the leaders. Also Alonso made a rare mistake and spun off the track and unceremoniously hit the barrier and damaged his Ferrari, he also had to give up his race. In 2009 Giancarlo Fisichella scored Force India’s maiden pole position, and ended the race in second place, just 0.9 seconds behind race winner Kimi Raikkonen.
So in a nutshell, anything is possible at Spa-Francorchamps, enjoy the race and follow all the action this weekend on Motorsport.com.