PRIXVIEW – Belgian Grand Prix

Features Prixview

Round seven of the season sees Formula One come to the Arden Forrest for the Belgian Grand Prix. Spa is one and has always been one of the favourite circuits for drivers and fans since it was created in the 1920s winding its way around the hills and forests of South West Belgium.

Spa has always been the longest and one of the challenging circuits in motorsport, originally thirteen miles long the circuit requires drivers to focus on multiple things, speed, cornering, weather and accidents. Despite now being 4.3 miles the length still makes strategy complex as it can be raining at one end of the circuit and completely dry at the other end.

Speed and downforce have always been key at Spa, where it be Ferrari with a top-four lockout in 1961 or Mercedes winning most of the races in the hybrid era. However, Spa challenges mean having car advantage isn’t always key, as anything can happen in the Arden Forrest around the longest circuit of the season.

This will create even more opportunities in the competitive midfield with long flat out sections and big braking zones around the lap. The drivers need to be careful this remains one of the most challenging circuits of the season, often it’s said its man verse machine verse the Arden Forest.

The drivers favourite it is often called, as it is a high-speed circuit with fast following corners, making good downforce and speed a very important factor. But Spa’s length can also have its added complications collisions in the first sector mean a long drive back to the pits and the circuit has its unique weather patterns. This means that it can rain in one part of the circuit and be dry in another part.

The first Grand Prix at the first incantation of Spa was held in 1925 around the 9km circuit and won by Antonio Ascari, his son would go on to win in 1952 and 1953 when the race Fangio crashed at the old Stavelot corner. The Following years the race was dominated by Mercedes with the argentine leading teammate Stirling Moss before taking the victory.

1960 would prove to be the darkest weekend in the sport until the events of Imola in 1994,  Moss crashing heavily at Burnenville and thrown out of his car and landed unconscious in the middle of the track. The Englishman broke both legs, three vertebrae, several ribs. Mike Taylor crashing and being held upside down with head injuries.

Things got worst as Willy Mairesse and Mike Bristow crashed throwing the Englishman from the car onto the fence killing him instantly. It was the worst Formula One event in terms of fatalities until the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix.

Spa was getting increasingly dangerous for drivers and this commutated in 1970 with the final race on the old circuit, with the final race at spa where the FIA decided it has been to dangerous and cancelled the race.

Zolder would hold the race through the 1970s with Niki Lauda scored back-to-back victories at the track in 1975 and 1976, and in 1977 Gunnar Nilsson scored his only F1 victory at Zolder. The following year Mario Andretti dominated the race for Lotus, driving the 79 in its debut race.

Zolder also proved dangerous with Gilles Villeneuve being killed in practice in 1982 race prompting a return to Spa the following season. The current 4.3mi circuit we see today first made its debut in 1983 before becoming the permanent home of the race in 1985.

Ayrton Senna took the first of five wins in a wet/dry race in 1985, with Nigel Mansell winning the following year. Senna and Mansell took each other out the following year when the Brazilian on the outside of a wide corner. Senna won the next four Belgian Grands Prix, the first two being rain-soaked events

1998, 2009, and 2013 races stand out for the multi-car pile-ups on the opening laps. David Coulthard lost control of his car in wet conditions causing a thirteen car pile-up into Eua Rouge causing a red flag.

Later in that race, Coulthard in the awful spray crashed into the back of Schumacher, leading to them both retiring and a punch up in the pits. This gave Michael brother Ralf a battle with teammate Damon Hill, however, Jordan intervened and used team orders to give Hill the win.

Michael Schumacher made his debut at Spa in 1991, over the next decade and a half his talent would become clear. He took his first-ever win with Benetton in 1992. In the early 2000s, Schumacher dominated surpassing Alain Prost’s win record in 2001 and claiming his seventh title in 2004.

While Mercedes has been quick at Spa since the beginning of the hybrid era, 2014 saw both Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg crash into each other, the opening lap. Although Ferrari managed to beat Mercedes with Charles Leclerc, the speed of Ferrari allowed him to take an emotional win last year.

Leclerc became the first Monegasque driver to win a championship Grand Prix, in an emotional weekend for the Ferrari driver following the death of close friend Anthoine Hubert in the F2 feature race.

Facts and figures

Round 07
Race Formula 1 Rolex Belgian Grand Prix 2020
Venue Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps, Francorchamps, Stavelot, Belgium
Circuit Length 7.004km (4.352mi)
Laps 44
Race Distance 308.052km (191.410 mi)
Lap Record 01:47.263 Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull, 2009
Most wins drivers Michael Schumacher (6)
Most wins manufacture Ferrari (16)

Fast facts

  • Spa has a very high probability of a safety car, Most accidents at Spa are high-speed and take a lot of clearing up, but the weather can also bring out the Safety Car. A heavy downpour prior to the start of the 1997 race resulted in the sport’s first ever Safety Car start.
  • Spa is the longest lap of the season and one of the fastest, with an average speed of around 230 kph. Cars are flat out for about 70% of the time.
  • The town of Spa is where the word ‘spa’ comes from. People as far back as ancient Roman times used to come to the town to bathe in the famed cold springs for health and healing purposes.
  • The Arden Forest has the highest rainfall annually of any where in Belgium, often the weather can create unqiue pattern with wet and dry sections.
  • Spa-Francorchamps features arguably the most famous corner in all of motorsport, Eau Rouge. Though technically a series of corners including Raidillon, this iconic section of Spa-Francorchamps features a downhill left-hand turn followed by a sharp uphill section and right-left combination with a blind summit that the best drivers take flat out.

Event timetable

Session

Local

BST

Friday

P1 11:00-12:30 10:00-11:30
P2 15:00-16:30 14:00-15:30

Saturday

P3 12:00-13:00 11:00-12:00
Qualifying 15:00-16:00 14:00-15:00

Sunday

Race 15:10 14:10

What happened in 2019?

Ahead of the Belgian Grand Prix, and despite repeating that Pierre Gasly would finish the season with Red Bull the team announced the Frenchman would be replaced by Alex Albon for the remainder of the year. A rapid promotion for the British-Thai who hadn’t driven an F1 car until Barcelona testing.

Ferrari started the second half of the season strongly, Charles Leclerc beat Sebastian Vettel on his first lap in Q3. Vettel pushed Lewis Hamilton off the front row by hundredths of a second, to take second claiming a front row

Following qualifying disaster struck again, in the Formula Two race. The Frenchman Anthoine Hubert crashed at the exit of Eau Rouge and Radillon and suffered a heavy impact with the outside tyre barrier before his BWT Arden ran back across the run-off area and was struck while sideways by the Sauber driver Juan Manuel Correa as he attempted to avoid the spinning Trident of Giuliano Alesi.

Hurbert’s car broke in two and he passed away a few hours after. While Corea rushed to hospital in a critical condition with a ‘minor spinal injury’, he returned to the states where he continues to recover.

Emotions were still running high on Sunday, Leclerc made a brilliant start as teammate Vettel slipped away at the start. An accident between Max Verstappen, Kimi Raikkonen and Sergio Perez saw the Alfa Romeo pitched into the air at the first corner on the restart.

Things didn’t get better for Alfa as Antonio Giovinazzi in ninth on the penultimate lap when he crashed into the wall at Pouhon, spoiling what would have been the best result of his difficult 2019 season.

But there was no trouble for the Leclerc, despite Hamilton’s best efforts held off Hamilton to take the victory. The five times champion finished the race almost a second behind the Monacan, despite his best efforts could not close the gap to Leclerc and lead his teammate Valtteri Bottas by eleven seconds. The five-times champion was closing at a second a lap.

Verstappen crashed out of his home Grand Prix in the first corner crash. But celebrations of Ferrari’s first win of 2019 and Leclerc’s maiden win were muted because of the events on Saturday, it was certain that the twenty-one year old would be a winner again…

Race Result – 1) C. Leclerc, Ferrari, 01:23:45.170, 2) L. Hamilton, Mercedes, +0.981, 3) V. Bottas, Mercedes, +12.585

What to watch for?

Spa is a circuit where anything can happen and often is the defining race as F1 heads into the autumn. It’s an old school circuit which the drivers love as it rewards the brave while punishing mistakes, this mix provides for overtaking and unpredictability. Drivers will try to find a balance between going for position while defending, as multiple lines can be used.

Mercedes were beaten last year by Ferrari, but the world champions have a really strong car. The circuit I believe is a more Lewis Hamilton style, as it requires a more aggressive style, while knowing where not to be overly aggressive. Knowing where to defend and attack for everyone is going to be the key factor in this race. It’s also difficult to predict weather patterns.

Red Bull are going to be the main challengers to Mercedes, however despite beating them at Silverstone are likely to face a bigger challenge as its going to be cooler and Barcelona I think proved that Mercedes had found a fix for those issues. Power is better for Red Bull, but I feel its not at the same level as Mercedes.

Racing Point are likely to be leading the midfield, putting aside the on going row about design, this circuit historically has been one which has been a strong race for the Silverstone team. You need to say that this could put them into a fight with Ferrari who are not performing as we would expect.

The midfield battle is also going to be a close one, they will likely be fighting for the lower end of the points. Over the next few days the thing to watch is whether teams do bring upgrades, this was due to be the first race post the summer break, which is when we see upgrades.

2018 vs 2019 Race Data

P1 Fastest

P2 Fastest

P3 Fastest

Q1 Fastest

Q2 Fastest

Q3 Fastest

Race Time

Fastest Lap

2019

01:44.574 01:44.123 01:44.206 01:43.587 01:42.938 01:42.519 01:23:45.170 01:46.409

Diff

+0.224 +0.768 +1.454 +1.002 +1.437 -15.660 -12.306 -0.168

2018

01:44.358 01:43.355 01:42.661 01:42.585 01:41.501 01:58.179 01:23:34.476 01:46.577

A lap of Spa – Francorchamps

Lewis Hamilton goes to the inside on the exit of the Bus Stop, kick of oversteer but lines it up to go down the centre of the straight. He breaks slightly before the 150m board slight lock up as he turns into La Source, runs close to the outside. He then crosses for the inside, before heading back to the inside to enter Eau Rouge/Raidillon. Carrying speed as he climbs the hill, going to the inside carrying all the speed onto the Kemmel Straight.

Breaking 100m before the hairpin, at the end of the sector, he is two tenths up on his best. Turns in slowing the car right down, carefully avoiding the kerbs in the damp he weaves his car to the third part running to the outside. He dips down  the hill, breaking 100m before the Brussels hairpin, going through the centre before returning to the outside midway through Corner With No Name gets bit of oversteer. Breaks into Pouhon going to the inside mid-way through  he picks up speed running to thirteen and backs off a bit at Campus. Then sight pickup as he approaches Stavelot, going to outside and then through Courbe Pau Frere. He is down 1.4 at the timing mark.

Gets a good exit before putting the power down on exit, speed carried through Blachimont. This is effectively now about running as fast as you can to the Bus Stop, breaking 150m before the chicane. He slows right down and gets through well. Stays in the centre of the track setting a 01:58.179 three tenths up on Sebastian Vettel.

Tyres

White Hard (C2)

Yellow Medium (C3)

Red Soft (C4)

Jack

Jack is responsible for the day-to-day running of Formula One Vault. He brings you all the brilliant content. Has an obsession with all things Formula One and anything with an engine.