After the now traditional four-week hiatus, Formula 1 roars back into life this weekend around the confines of the steep Ardennes hills in Belgium.
The circuit is situated 20 miles south of Liege, close to the German border. The circuit itself is considered one of the most challenging and exciting pieces of road in Formula 1, and has seen a host of spectacular races down the years.
One of the most exhilarating races in recent memory was the 2008 running of the event. A relatively low-key Grand Prix in the early stages, the battle at the front was exacerbated by a late arrival of rain.
Kimi Raikkonen had been leading the majority of the race after overtaking the previous leader, Britain’s Lewis Hamilton, in the early laps.
As moderate rain started to fall, however, Hamilton began catching the Ferrari at a rapid rate of knots.
Within the last 10 laps, the McLaren driver was right behind Raikkonen’s gearbox heading into the reconfigured Bus Stop chicane, and attempted a move around the outside of the Finn going into the chicane.
Raikkonen left the width of a hair between Hamilton and the edge of the circuit, forcing the 2008 champion to cut the corner and come out in the lead.
Hamilton was forced to give way as he had gained a position illegally. This lasted all but 500 metres as Raikkonen defended, Hamilton dummied and flew down the inside into the tight La Source hairpin.
The Finn tapped the McLaren No. 1 exiting the first corner, as the rain started to intensify.
The penultimate lap saw conditions become almost undrivable, as both Raikkonen and Hamilton had elected to stay out on dry tyres. Both cars went well wide at Pouhon, electing to use the expansive run-off area rather than risking rejoining the track over the slippery kerbs.
Then at the Fagnes right-left corner, a recovering Nico Rosberg retook the circuit after a spin directly in front of Hamilton, forcing the Briton off the track onto the grass, thus handing the lead back to Raikkonen.
Lo and behold, on the exit of the second part of the corner, the Finn spun his car on the greasy circuit, which immediately gave the lead back to Hamilton.
Raikkonen finally bit the bullet on the approach to the last corner of the penultimate lap, when he touched a kerb which pitched his car on a collision course with the barrier.
Hamilton negotiated the last lap at a snail’s pace, desperate to make the finish on a wet track with dry tyres.
He duly crossed the line to jubilant scenes in the McLaren garage, after one of the most breathtaking finishes to a Grand Prix in years.
However, it wasn’t to last. FIA stewards deemed that Hamilton had not sufficiently handed the lead back to Raikkonen after cutting the last chicane.
It seemed a harsh penalty given that the only other option was to hit the Ferrari, which could have seen even heavier sanctions.
A 25-second time penalty relegated him to third, with Felipe Massa being handed the victory despite a quiet race where he didn’t threaten.
The scene is somewhat different as we approach the 2010 Belgian Grand Prix. After a summer shutdown, very little has been done in the way of development.
Ferrari, who have a WMSC hearing hanging over their heads in the days leading up to their home Grand Prix in Italy, are expected to bring a moderately substantial aerodynamic upgrade, which should see them consolidate their position amongst the front runners.
The nature of the Spa-Francorchamps circuit suggest that a Red Bull-style domination will not be a concern for this weekend's Grand Prix.
The relative disadvantage that Red Bull’s Renault engine has should be a hindrance on Spa’s long Kemmel straight, as well as the run down through Blanchimont.
Expect the Milton Keynes squad to be right at the front, however, with medium- to high-speed corners such as Pouhon and Fagnes to suit their machine.
Further down the field, the only news of note comes from Renault, who are introducing their F-duct mechanism at Spa.
The Renault is a nimble car that might not be best suited to the long confines of Spa-Francorchamps, meaning that any performance advantage they can gain will be of great use.
On a side note, a chance meeting occurred at Rome’s Fiumicino airport with Vitantonio Liuzzi of Force India a couple of weeks ago.
After a brief introduction and a question regarding his position for next year, he gave a noticeably apprehensive look and a stock answer of indifference.
At a time when Force India’s reserve (Paul di Resta) is impressing, and an Indian driver is looking for work, Liuzzi could find himself out in the cold before long.
Five drivers at the top within 20 points of each other, a classic racing circuit and light, patchy rain forecast for Friday and Sunday, the Belgian Grand Prix is going to be fascinating.
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