Can Force India Repeat Last Year's Podium Achievement at Spa?

Alistair HunterContributor IAugust 20, 2010

SPA FRANCORCHAMPS, BELGIUM - AUGUST 30:  Second placed Giancarlo Fisichella of Italy and Force India celebrates on the podium following the Belgian Grand Prix at the Circuit of Spa Francorchamps on August 30, 2009 in Spa Francorchamps, Belgium.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
Mark Thompson/Getty Images

Last year, a title fight between the drivers of Red Bull Racing and Brawn GP was developing as the season progressed. However, a visit to the low downforce track of Spa-Francorchamps threw up its own battle between Ferrari's Kimi Räikkönen and the Force India of Giancarlo Fisichella, leaving championship contenders Sebastian Vettel, Rubens Barrichello, Mark Webber and Jenson Button trailing behind in the race. Can Force India repeat or even improve on their second place?

Firstly, we have to remember that Fisichella retired last year to Ferrari, so the drivers that are in Force India's line up for 2010 - Adrian Sutil and Vitantonio Liuzzi - have not won a Formula One Grand Prix, unlike Fisichella who had won three earlier in his career. However, unlike Fisichella's start to the 2009 season that gained no points, Sutil has gained 35 points this season and Liuzzi has gained 12 so far (under the 2009 scoring system they would have eight points and two points respectively), which shows that the car has improved, but this may have sacrificed its ability to get a podium at Spa.

This may be a race that the title contenders will dominate. Mathematically, the maximum number of points that a driver can receive in the last seven races is 175, meaning any driver could win the Championship. Despite this, the realistic contenders are from Red Bull, McLaren and Ferrari, and they have shown this throughout the season. These are the only teams to win this season, but Ferrari and McLaren have only been in contention due to Red Bull suffering from a lack of ability to convert 91% of pole positions and leading 68% of all laps into wins.

Watching the Red Bull car in action tells a different story. Even if the front wing is reported to be as flexible as the rules regarding it, they have consistently outpaced their rivals, with the one pole position that wasn't won by a Red Bull was overshadowed by Lewis Hamilton pushing his car back to the pit lane because it was so low on fuel. The blown diffuser gave an advantage to the team that no competitor could find, and is only likely to be overtaken in the race by the McLaren cars, armed with their F-ducts.

Renault and Mercedes have had promising results occasionally, but I only expect a Renault to qualify in the top ten. In the race Nico Rosberg is likely to move into the point scoring positions. Both Williams and BMW-Sauber have taken strides forward with their cars, so expect them to earn points from this race. Force India may grab a few points here, but it is likely to be another race without points for Scuderia Toro Rosso.

As for the new teams (Hispania, Virgin and Lotus), this may be the track where one of the drivers can escape into the second qualifying session for the second time this season, but Hispania Racing are unfortunately almost guaranteed to come last, especially as Sakon Yamamoto will continue to be in the #20 car, replacing Karun Chandhok for the third time this season. As there is no testing, it is unlikely that he will catch up to the pace of his teammate, let alone the rest of the field.

My opinion is that in qualifying, in dry conditions, McLaren may just find enough pace to get ahead of the Red Bulls. My top ten for qualifying would probably involve Hamilton, Webber, Vettel, Button, Kubica, Alonso, Sutil, Massa, Hulkenberg, and de la Rosa. Most of those drivers will probably get to the top ten shootout. And if it rains, qualifying will hopefully be very mixed up! At Spa, you can never be completely sure what will happen...