Belgian Grand Prix 2015 Preview: Start Time, TV Times, Weather, Schedule, Odds
The 2015 Formula One Belgian Grand Prix marks the end of the summer break and the start of the season's second half. Ten races are behind us; this will be Round 11 of 19.
The venue will be the majestic Spa-Francorchamps circuit in the Ardennes Forest, close to the country's eastern border. This will be the 48th Belgian Grand Prix at Spa and the 30th hosted by the shorter, modern layout.
Michael Schumacher is the man with the most wins around this most challenging and historic circuits, his tally of six placing him one ahead of Ayrton Senna in the list of Spa victors.
Of the current drivers, Kimi Raikkonen leads the way with four wins. Ferrari team-mate Sebastian Vettel has two, while Felipe Massa, Lewis Hamilton, Jenson Button and Daniel Ricciardo have one win apiece.
Spa is the only circuit on the current calendar at which the Mercedes team's new incarnation has never tasted victory.
It's likely the full set will be completed on Sunday—but with new rules governing the start procedure and a famously unpredictable microclimate to contend with, we could be heading for another surprise result.
Read on for a full preview of the weekend ahead, including a circuit map and detailed guide, TV times, session times, tyre and DRS information, current standings, weather and odds.
Current Formula 1 Championship Standings
Lewis Hamilton somehow emerged from his worst race in years with an increased championship lead—he now has a 21-point cushion over team-mate Nico Rosberg.
But the Mercedes duo may not have the title fight all to themselves. Sebastian Vettel is now just 21 points behind Rosberg, well clear of fourth-placed man Valtteri Bottas.
Mercedes retain a strong position in the constructors' championship despite Ferrari outscoring them in Hungary. Their slightly reduced lead is a still-mighty 147 points, with the Scuderia 85 points ahead of Williams.
Red Bull are a further 55 points behind.
The battle in the lower reaches of the table is a little more exciting. Force India, Lotus, Toro Rosso, Sauber and McLaren are separated by just 22 points, with nine races to go.
Data sourced from the official F1 website.
The 7.004 kilometre (4.352 mile) Circuit Spa-Francorchamps is the longest track on the modern calendar. Located in a beautiful valley in the mountainous Ardennes Forest, Spa is host to some of the most stunning elevation changes and challenging corners a racing driver will ever encounter.
The layout we see today is nearly identical to the one first used by F1 in 1983. Constructed in response to rising concerns over driver safety, modern Spa is a pared-down version of the famous 14.120-kilometre monster, which hosted world championship racing between 1950 and 1970.
Cutting a circuit down to size in the interest of safety can destroy its character, but if anything the changes to Spa were an improvement.
Iconic turns such asEau Rouge, Blanchimont and La Source were retained, joined by newcomers such as Pouhon and Bruxelles (Turn 8) to form what remains perhaps the finest grand prix circuit in the world.
There's nowhere quite like Spa.
A lap begins on the pit straight with a relatively short run down to the very tight and slow hairpin right of Turn 1 (La Source).
Often the scene of first-lap drama, this corner is a little easier than it once was. Substantial run-off now exists at the exit for anyone who gets it wrong or runs out of space—but there's still little room for error at the entry.
The drivers straighten out their cars at the exit and get on the accelerator as early as possible, speeding downhill toward the foot of the valley.
Turns 2, 3 and 4
The straight is short, but the cars will have reached speeds in excess of 300 kilometres an hour by the time they reach its end. Waiting for them is one of the most famous, beautiful corner sequences in the world—Eau Rouge.
The track kinks left as it hits the valley floor (Turn 2), sweeps right up a steep hill (Turn 3) and flicks left again (Turn 4) at the crest of the rise. The car's speed at the entry is broadly the same as its speed at the exit—some of the modern cars can go through here flat-out, others require a tiny lift of the throttle.
Officially, Eau Rouge—literally "red water" and named after the stream of the same name which passes below the circuit at its apex—is just the easy left of Turn 2, while the more challenging right is called Raidillon.
However, fans, commentators and drivers prefer to keep it simple and refer to the whole three-turn sequence as Eau Rouge. The direction changes here are special, but what really makes it stand out is the elevation. The circuit website's track map reveals the height difference between the foot of Eau Rouge and the top is a staggering 24 metres.
Providing the driver made it through safely he keeps his foot firmly on the throttle, heads through a right-hand kink and out onto the long Kemmel Straight.
Turns 5, 6 and 7
The high entry speed makes the Kemmel one of the quickest straights in F1—the drivers will be travelling at close to 330 kilometres an hour as they brake hard for the slow-to-medium speed chicane of Les Combes (Turns 5 and 6).
It's first right, then left and a few seconds later right again for the slightly quicker right of Turn 7. The track slopes downhill at the exit and care must be taken on the kerbs as the cars head out onto a short straight.
Turns 8 and 9
Turn 8 (Bruxelles) is a long, slow-to-medium speed right-hander. Were it placed on flat land, the corner would be unremarkable and perhaps even boring, but the track slopes steeply downhill from braking zone to exit, making it deceptively tricky.
It's very easy to make a mistake here, especially on the entry. If tyre wear becomes a factor late in Sunday's race, we could even see some overtaking.
The corner which follows, Turn 9, is a fairly straightforward, slightly downhill left which leads out onto a medium-length straight.
Turns 10 and 11
The drivers hit speeds of around 300 kilometres an hour as they shoot downhill and throw their cars into the entry of another of Spa's greatest corners—Pouhon.
A double-left comprising Turns 10 and 11, this majestic corner is taken with only a light tap of the brakes and a big lift at the entry. The drivers start to get back on the throttle as they hit the first apex, putting as much power down as early as possible as they fly through the turn's second part.
Though Eau Rouge is the most beautiful and famous of Spa's turns, Pouhon is just as difficult.
At the exit the drivers take a dash of kerb and continue downhill onto another short straight.
Turns 12 and 13
At the end of the straight, with the track still sloping downhill, comes the narrow but quick Fagnes chicane.
The drivers brake and turn in, bleeding off speed gradually until they tap the apex of the medium-speed left of Turn 12. A rapid direction change and squirt of the throttle follows before they glide through the left-hand Turn 13.
On most circuits this pair would be considered special—at Spa, they don't really stand out at all.
Turns 14 and 15
After a short downhill straight, it's back on the brakes for the tricky medium-speed right-hander of Turn 14. A very short straight is next, followed by the quick right-hander of Paul Frere (Turn 15).
This is the circuit's lowest point, at 363 metres above sea level—97 metres lower than the high point, back at Turn 7.
With Turn 15 cleared, the drivers head off onto a long, curving flat-out section of track.
Turns 16 and 17
Accelerating hard and now heading uphill, the drivers fly through the left-hand Turn 16 like it wasn't even there. But a few seconds later, they encounter Blanchimont (Turn 17)—another quick left and the last of Spa's famous old corners.
For modern cars it's not difficult—everyone can go through here flat-out if the track is dry. But a little sprinkling of rain transforms Blanchimont from a walk in the park to the stuff of nightmares.
It was here that Kimi Raikkonen crashed out of the 2008 Belgian Grand Prix—an error which would cost him the race win.
Turns 18 and 19
With the corner safely negotiated, the drivers have a short run at full speed before the circuit's hardest braking zone. From around 320 kilometres an hour, the cars slow to just 70 kilometres an hour for the tight, slow final chicane.
Comprising Turns 18 and 19, the chicane represents a good overtaking opportunity for anyone able to follow a rival closely through Blanchimont.
At the exit the drivers often end up fighting the car as they try to get the power down as quickly as possible, accelerating hard toward the finish line and the start of another lap.
The pit-lane entry is at the outside of Turn 19, and the exit is on the inside just after Turn 1.
Slide Image: Creative Commons.
Tyres and DRS
Spa features a lot of long, fast corners, such as Pouhon and Blanchimont. These put significant lateral stresses through the tyres and heat the tread, but there are also plenty of opportunities for the tyres to cool and take a break.
The comfortable temperatures usually seen at the race also aid tyre management, and there are only two truly significant traction zones out of low-speed corners. This aids in looking after the rears.
Pirelli are providing the teams with the yellow-marked soft- and white-marked medium-compound tyres. The supplier's race preview states these are its most versatile compounds, and the performance gap between the two over a lap is likely to be in excess of one-and-a-half seconds.
Two stops was the strategy of choice last season. The mediums should have excellent durability; how well the drivers manage the softs is likely to be the key to how many pit visits they need to make this year.
There will be two DRS zones at the Belgian Grand Prix.
The first will have its detection point midway between Turns 1 and 2. The activation point will be after the right-hand kink leading onto the Kemmel Straight, and the zone will end with braking for Turn 5.
The second zone will run from a detection point just before the final chicane. Its activation point will be immediately after the chicane, and the zone will run the length of the pit straight before ending with braking for Turn 1.
Belgium has a temperate maritime climate with warm summers and winters which are occasionally cold. For the most part, Spa follows where the country leads; average daytime highs in August are around 20 degrees Celsius and rain falls almost every other day.
However, the circuit's location in the mountainous Ardennes forest gives it a very unique microclimate and weather, which is often unpredictable. So though we can get a general idea in advance, precision is very difficult.
The current forecast suggests Friday and Saturday will be predominantly dry, with temperatures in the low-to mid 20s Celsius. Sunday looks set for similar temperatures, but the arrival of a frontal system could mean a high chance of rain for the race.
However, this is Spa—the forecast is likely to change as we get closer to the weekend.
Lewis Hamilton is favourite with Nico Rosberg close behind. The pair have occupied these positions in the betting for every race since the start of 2014.
Behind them, the chasing pack's odds are significantly shorter than they were in Hungary—perhaps due to how badly the Mercedes pair performed in Budapest. Spa specialist Kimi Raikkonen is an especially big mover.
The top 10 favourites are:
We haven't seen a safety car at Spa since Romain Grosjean caused a huge crash at the start of the 2012 race, but an appearance by the third Mercedes (4-7) is considered more likely than a no-show (5-4).
On the subject of Grosjean, he's only finished in the points at Spa once. He's 6-5 for a top-10 result this time out, while team-mate Pastor Maldonado is 6-4. They could find themselves duking it out with McLaren pair Fernando Alonso (7-4 for points) and Jenson Button (2-1).
And in our pre-race predictions, we (perhaps optimistically) backed Nico Rosberg for his first-ever F1 hat-trick. He's 10-1 to take the pole, win the race and set the fastest lap; team-mate Lewis Hamilton is 5-2, and Sebastian Vettel is 125-1.
Odds sourced from Oddschecker.com and correct at the time of publication.
TV Times and Session Times
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 1||Friday||10 a.m.|
|Practice 2||Friday||2 p.m.|
|Practice 3||Saturday||11 a.m.|
All times given are Spa local time (CEST, UTC+1). The official Formula One website has a useful tool on its homepage to convert them to your own time zone.
|Session||Day||Session Start||Sky Start||BBC Start|
|Practice 1||Friday||9 a.m.||8:45 a.m.||8:45 a.m. (Two)|
|Practice 2||Friday||1 p.m.||12:45 p.m.||12:45 p.m. (Two)|
|Practice 3||Saturday||10 a.m.||9:45 a.m.||9:55 p.m. (Two)|
|Qualifying||Saturday||1 p.m.||12 p.m.||12:10 p.m. (Two)|
|Race||Sunday||1 p.m.||11:30 a.m.||12:10 p.m. (One)|
In the United States, live coverage is provided by NBC network across NBCSN, CNBC and NBC Sports Live Extra (SLE). The times are as follows (all times EDT):
|Session||Day||Session Start||NBC Start|
|Practice 1||Friday||4 a.m.||5 a.m. (SLE)|
|Practice 2||Friday||8 a.m.||9 a.m. (NBCSN)|
|Practice 3||Saturday||5 a.m.||5 a.m. (SLE)|
|Qualifying||Saturday||8 a.m.||8 a.m. (CNBC)|
|Race||Sunday||8 a.m.||7:30 am (NBCSN)|
Enjoy the weekend!
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Slide Image: Creative Commons.