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Why Red Bull are favourites for Spa

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Why Red Bull are favourites for Spa
Aug 26, 2010, 8:11 AM

It seems a very long time since the last race, after a summer break incorporating a two week compulsory shut down of all F1 team factories.

It seems a very long time since the last race, after a summer break incorporating a two week compulsory shut down of all F1 team factories.

This is probably because the championship had such momentum going. In addition to a thrilling title battle, there were two huge moments in the last two races before the break, with the Ferrari team orders episode and then the Schumacher/Barrichello battle in Budapest.

At Spa this weekend the energy will no doubt return.

Red Bull start the weekend as clear favourites, after their crushing performance in Budapest. Spa is a very different kind of track, but their car will still have a big advantage in the long middle sector of the lap, which runs from just before the Les Combes chicane to Stavelot. There are a lot of corners in that middle sector and the double left hander at Pouhon is one of the best on the circuit, a two-parter with an entry speed of around 180mph.

Significantly this sector is 45 seconds long, compared to barely half a minute for sectors one and three. There's no doubt that the Red Bull will be giving something away in sheer horsepower to the McLaren and Ferrari in those sectors, which feature two long straights. But it won't be as much as you might think - if you look at Montreal, the Red Bull was only a few hundredths slower than the McLaren on the final sector with the long straight. There's no doubt that sector two will be their trump card, thanks to the phenomenal amount of downforce they can produce.

In the two races before the break, there was a lot of talk about flexing front wings on the Red Bull and Ferrari. The FIA has said that it will run more strict tests this weekend, but has not told the teams what it will do, so it will be interesting to see if that makes any difference to relative performances.

If Red Bull does prevail, it will be the first time in 11 years that a team other than McLaren and Ferrari has won at Spa and would be a strong statement in that respect.

Another key to this weekend is going to be the performance of the F Duct, the drag reducing rear wings, on the cars. Spa is probably the circuit where the F Duct will have its biggest effect, as teams will be able to run more downforce for the medium and high speed corners, knowing that they can dump drag on the long straights. It will be interesting to see how it works out but it should be worth half a second a lap.

Renault are introducing their F Duct this weekend in response. The team has not introduced it until now as it has been focussed on getting the blown diffuser perfected in recent races. The wisdom of that strategy was shown by Vitaly Petrov's ultra competitive showing in Budapest. The Renault was the fastest car in the speed traps in Montreal. Now with the F Duct on the car, meaning more downforce for the same drag, lead driver Robert Kubica shouldn't be too far off the front runners.

Also now that most of the leading teams have now got this season's two technical must-haves, which really affect lap time - the F Duct and the blown diffuser - it's back to fine tuning details on the cars. Ferrari has a significant upgrade this weekend, particularly in the back end of the car. There was a rumour in Italy that this involves a new or significantly upgraded gearbox to maximise the diffuser, but we will see.

Ferrari is feeling confident, though. Alonso has finished the last two races in first and second places and of the three teams fighting for the title, he is the only driver who has the clear mandate to go for the title. The others are still fighting their team mates. Whether that decision to back Alonso in Hockenheim will cost Ferrari or its drivers points, we will find out before Monza. Former FIA president Max Mosley has called for Ferrari to lose points over the team orders charge. Mosley has a long running feud with Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo, so you would expect him to come out with this position.

But current FIA president Jean Todt runs things differently from Mosley, in that he plays no part in the disciplinary process once it has been launched. I still think that what will primarily come out of the hearing is a clarification of what is and is not allowed when it comes to team orders in F1. The team may also lose constructors' points.

Force India had a strong weekend at Spa last year, taking pole position and narrowly losing out to Ferrari for the race win. This year they don't expect to perform as well, because the F Duct, which most of the competitors are using, neutralises the characteristics of low or high drag cars. Teams aren't forced to make such a compromise on set up as they can have downforce and straight line speed.

During the break, Force India lost a court action from Italian wind tunnel company Aerolab for unpaid fees and has been ordered to pay over €1 million. However the team has a separate action going in the UK over IP rights as it claims that some of its IP went to fellow Aerolab user Lotus.

There were some threats about the teams assets being seized in the Monza paddock, but Force India has said that it will pay the money, while pursuing the IP case in the UK.

This will be a very special weekend for Rubens Barrichello, who celebrates his 300th Grand Prix, and almost unimagineable milestone a few years ago when the calendars featured fewer races and the cars were less safe. Barrichello has contributed a lot to F1 since his 1993 debut with Jordan and he showed, as he kept his foot down when Michael Schumacher tried to squeeze him into the wall in Budapest, that the fire still rages in his belly. He has been working on a new contract with Williams for 2011. I don't know if it's done yet, but it's likely to be pretty straightforward, so if they are feeling sentimental they may announce it this weekend.

Schumacher, meanwhile, accepted that he was over the top in Budapest and was handed a ten place grid drop for this weekend trying to put Barrichello in the wall in the closing stages of the last Grand Prix.

Don't forget we have a competition going here on JA on F1 around that. Guess where Schumacher will qualify (after he has added in his penalty) and where he will finish. The first correct answer will win a copy of my biography of Schumacher "The Edge of Greatness."

Leave your answer in the comments section below.

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