Formula 1: Belgian Grand Prix Preview

Neil JamesFeatured ColumnistAugust 29, 2012

Formula 1: Belgian Grand Prix Preview

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    After a long, seemingly never-ending summer break, Formula 1 returns this weekend for the 68th running of the Belgian Grand Prix.

    The majestic, historic and beloved Spa-Francorchamps circuit will be the venue.

    No track on the modern calendar can hold a candle to what is without question one of the greatest motorsport venues that the world has ever seen. The track layout has changed a lot since the first race was held back in 1922, but Spa has always retained that little something which allows it to stand apart in a class of its own.

    Driver input has always counted for a lot here, and at least six men are going into the weekend with a reasonable chance of victory.

As It Stands

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    Long-time championship leader Fernando Alonso increased his lead over second-placed Mark Webber to 40 points with a damage-limiting drive to fifth in the Hungarian Grand Prix.

    Webber's Red Bull teammate Sebastian Vettel is third, and good results for Lewis Hamilton and Kimi Raikkonen at the last race catapulted them back into contention. The current Top 10 are:

      Driver Team Points
    01 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 164
    02 Mark Webber Red Bull
    124
    03 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 122
    04 Lewis Hamilton McLaren 117
    05 Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 116
    06 Nico Rosberg
    Mercedes
    77
    07 Jenson Button McLaren 76
    08 Romain Grosjean
    Lotus 76
    09 Sergio Perez
    Sauber 47
    10 Kamui Kobayashi Sauber 33

     

    In the Constructors' Championship, Red Bull's lead over McLaren is down to 53 points, with the consistent Lotus an additional point behind in third. Here are the current standings:

      Team Points
    01 Red Bull 246
    02 McLaren 193
    03 Lotus 192
    04 Ferrari 189
    05 Mercedes 106
    06 Sauber 80
    07 Williams 53
    08 Force India 46
    09 Toro Rosso 6

     

    Caterham, Marussia and HRT remain pointless.

Circuit De Spa-Francorchamps

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    The current Spa-Francorchamps layout has been in use since 2007. With the exception of a few pieces of track, it's the same course which has been used since the 1983 Belgian Grand Prix.

    Most of the corners are named, and I'll attempt to provide a brief explanation of the origin of each.

    A lap begins on the pit straight, one of the shortest on the calendar. Almost as soon as a car has crossed the line, it's braking for the very tight Turn 1—La Source ("the source") hairpin. Overtaking is possible here, but not too common—the preceding straight just isn't long enough.

    However, if a car gets out of shape defending into the previous corner, the likelihood increases greatly.

    The cars then head flat-out through a tiny kink for Turn 2, and downhill into a valley—home to one of the most famous corners in the world.

    Eau Rouge ("red water" in French) is named after a stream that runs under the circuit at the base of the valley in which the corner sits. The water in the stream does indeed appear red, due to iron oxide deposits on the riverbed.

    You can follow the course of the stream through the infield of the circuit on an online map service—there's a good one from Bing on Virtual Globetrotting.

    Eau Rouge (Turn 3) is the left-hander at the very base of the dip and is followed immediately by an uphill right-hander called Raidillon (Turn 4). The final part of this awesome corner sequence is a left-handed flick (Turn 5) at the crest of the rise.

    The challenge today isn't quite what it once was—modern cars have so much downforce that taking it flat-out is relatively straightforward. But it remains a very special corner (or rather, sequence of corners), and a mistake here will usually end your race in a hurry.

    Next up is the longest straight at Spa, and another barely-there flick (Kemmel, named for a Belgian village) serves as Turn 6. Taking a better run through Eau Rouge opens up an overtaking opportunity here and under braking for the next corner.

    This is the first part of a medium-speed right-left chicane (Turns 7 and 8) called Les Combes (which I believe is "the combination"). It's followed immediately by a medium-speed right (Malmedy) on the exit, pointing the cars onto a short downhill straight.

    Turn 10 (Bruxelles) is a long, slow downhill hairpin which can easily catch out the unwary, especially on a slippery track.

    Turn 11 is a quite straightforward, unnamed left-hander taken at medium speed, which leads onto a fairly short straight.

    After this comes another of Spa's beautiful corners, the very fast double left-hander of Pouhon (Turn 12). I believe "pouhon" means "spring" (as in a natural water source). Spa is, after all, the original "spa town."

    The first part is slightly tighter than the second, and the cars can take a lot of speed out of here onto another short straight.

    Turns 13 and 14 are a quick right-left chicane called Fagnes, and they are followed immediately by a medium-speed pair of right-handers named Paul Frere and Stavelot (Turn 15 and 16).

    The drivers now re-join the route of the original Spa circuit. It's flat-out through the left-hand kink of Turn 17 and the foot stays planted to the floor through yet another legendary corner, the left-hander of Blanchimont (Turn 18—named after a small village).

    From here it's only a short run down to the new Bus Stop chicane, Turns 19 and 20. The chicane is slow and tight, and there's a strong likelihood that we'll see some passing here in the race.

    The cars are now back on the pit straight, and it's a short run down to the finish line.

    The pit lane entry is on the exit of the final chicane, and the exit is just after Turn 1.

Tyres and DRS

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    Spa is a fast and technical circuit which places high demands on the tyres. Multiple fast corners and several heavy braking zones mean that the teams will need a tyre that lasts.

    Pirelli's choice of the white-marked medium and silver-marked hard compounds reflects this.

    The difference in shade between the white and silver markings isn't too great, but we'll be able to easily tell them apart once our eyes are properly tuned in.


    DRS

    There's only one realistic place to put the DRS zone—the Kemmel straight—and that is exactly where it will be.

    The detection point will be on the downhill run out of Turn 2, with the activation point coming just after the Eau Rouge-Raidillon complex. The zone will end under braking for Les Combes.

Weather Forecast

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    Though Spa is famed for its unpredictable and rapidly-changing weather, everything looks quite settled for this weekend.

    BBC Weather predicts a mostly dry but somewhat cool weekend with a chance of rain on Friday, while Formula1.com and Weather.com say that it will be a slightly warmer race day.

    Accuweather suggests that rain could be a factor on Saturday too but agrees that the race will be dry.

    Of course, forecasts may change as we get closer to the event.

Session Times

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    As always, the Belgian Grand Prix weekend will consist of three free practice sessions, qualifying and the race.

    The session times are as follows:

    Practice One Friday 10:00-11:30
    Practice Two Friday 14:00-15:30
    Practice Three Saturday

    11:00-12:00

    Qualifying Saturday 14:00
    Race Sunday 14:00

     

    All times are local. Formula1.com has a handy tool to convert them to your own timezone.

    Enjoy the weekend!