PRIXVIEW – Belgian Grand Prix

Features Prixview Testing & Race Reports

Round thirteen kicks of a triple header, at one of the most iconic circuits in the world at Spa in Belgium, since 1920 and various different layouts this former street circuit is one of the most challenging and rewarding races of the season. The current 4.3-mile circuit is one that both rewards drivers but punishes mistakes.

Spa boasts iconic races, accidents, and corners, making it one of the highlights of the season as it creates close racing and one where anything can happen. The drivers love this and always have, it’s an old school circuit with gravel and barriers meaning any mistake can be costly, but overtaking rewarding.

A high-speed following rollercoaster ride through the Arden Forrest has created many memorable races as well as trady. It’s a demanding circuit and often said the race is about driver v car v the Arden Forest, anything can happen, and this circuit punishes any mistake and rewards the brave.

This years race is set to be another battle btween Sir Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen, for the dutchman this is his first of two home races as he was born to a Belgian mother in Hasselt, the regional capital of the Flemish Community. Its also a second home race for Lando Norris, who has Belgian citizenship as his mother was born in Flanders.

This weekends race should be a circuit which I think leans more towards Mercedes, however they have been beaten by Ferrari in the past this is a circuit where you need power and downforce. But strategy plays an important role because of this being the longest circuit of the season, and the microclimate in the Ardennes region, which mean it can rain in one part and dry in another.

The original street circuit was built in 1921 a fourteen kilometre circuit between the towns of Spa, Stavelot and Malmedy before the first Grand Prix was held in 1925. The circuit was essentially a speed course, with drivers managing higher average speeds than on other race tracks. It can be compared to the Nürburgring in terms of it danger and excitement.

One of the sports most iconic set of corners is at Spa, called Raidillon/Eau Rouge drivers face a blind 300kmh ride up a bend to the top of the hill. It’s probably one of the most important corners in motorsport, requiring skill and bravery to be taken at full speed. One of the longest flat-out sections runs from La Source to Le Combe. The corner at Blanchimont marks the start of the shortened circuit.

The corner marks the first major braking point following La Source, this, in turn, mean accidents can happen in 2001, when Luciano Burti lost the front wing of his Prost due to a clash with Eddie Irvine’s Jaguar, losing front downforce and steering, leaving the track at 298 km/h (185 mph) and piling into the tyre wall, the impact knocking him out and burying the car into a mound of tyres.

F1 left Spa following 1970 as the GPDA deemed the circuit as too dangerous prompting a boycott by the British, French and Italians prompting the race to move to Zolder, originally alternating with Nielles, but after two races the street circuit near Brussels became unviable.

The first race at the modern Spa we know today was in 1979, with a new section being built between Les Combes and Blachimont, the new Spa was a hit with fans and drivers. Alain Prost won the race at the new shortened Spa. 1985 marked the move to the late August to mid September slot we now have for the race.

Ayrton Senna took the first of five wins in 1985, before going on to win in wet/dry races in 1988 and 1989. 1990 saw one of several accidents through La Source, opening lap drama is common, especially at the first real braking point at Les Combes where we saw an accident in

1991 saw Michael Schumacher make his debut with Jordan, the following season the German took his first win in a Benetton before a battle with Damon Hill and Senna the following season with the Englishman taking victory. In the wake of Senna and Roland Ratzenberger’s deaths at Imola, a temporary chicane was introduced at the bottom of Eau Rouge.

Schumacher would go on to win again in 1995 and 1996. The 1998 race stands out as one of the craziest races starts in the history of F1, the late Murray Walker declaring “This is the worst start to a Grand Prix I have seen in the whole of my life.” That race saw Jordan take their first win after Schumacher crashed into the back of David Coulthard admit the poor visibility and spray.

Only eight drivers were classified finishers (two of whom were five laps behind, one of whom was Coulthard) and Damon Hill secured a victory ahead of his teammate Ralf Schumacher to record the Jordan team’s first Formula One win. That came after Michael crashed into Coulthard as the McLaren tried to unlap himself, resulting in a pit lane punch up.

Michael meanwhile would go on to equal Prost’s record of fifty-one wins in 2001, he would also take his final world title in 2004. But the 2000s were patchy with the race being dropped in 2003 due to tobacco advertising laws and delays to upgrade work in 2006. The three races in 2004, 2005 and 2007 all being won by Kimi Raikkonen.

The 2008 race saw a dramatic conclusion as rain started to fall, Sir Lewis Hamilton lost the Räikkönen with an early spin but fought back in the closing laps to re-take the lead with two laps to go. On a soaking track, Hamilton passed Räikkönen, lost the lead again with a spin, re-took it and then saw Räikkönen crash. Ferrari’s Felipe Massa took second leaving him eight points behind Hamilton.

Hamilton had been deemed to have passed Raikkonen by cutting the Bus Stop Chicane, demoting him to third following a twenty-five second penalty. The following season saw another shunt at Les Combe caused by Romain Grosjean, after going into the back of Jenson Button, as Hamilton backed off Jaime Alguersuari to run into him; both crashed into the barrier and retired.

The safety car came in on lap 5 with Fisichella still leading and Räikkönen right behind him. Raikkonen retained the lead following the final round of pit stops, holding off the Force India to take his final victory for Ferrari until Austin 2018.

The first of four victories for Hamilton came in 2010, the McLaren diver won the race after getting past Mark Webber at the start of the race, but then despite making a mistake on lap 35 he still managed to take victory by a second and a half. Sebastian Vettel won two of the next three races.

2014 was the beginning of the Hamilton-Rosberg rivalry, again a collision at Les Combe saw the two collide before Vettel ran into the back of Hamilton. Rosberg giving up the lead after being forced to pit for an new rear wing, he was later given a displinary by Mercedes. The lead went to Daniel Ricciardo, despite Rosberg remain quick through the race, the Australian went onto take victory.

Mercedes went on to win the next three races with Hamilton winning two and Rosberg winning in 2016. Charles Leclerc took his first F1 victory at Spa in 2019, admit difficult circumstances following the death in the F2 race of friend Anthoine Hurbert. The Monegasque driver to win a Formula One Grand Prix, after holding off the Mercedes, partly helped by a collision between Valtteri Bottas and Max Verstappen.

His teammate also played his part in allowing Leclerc to retake the lead, of the race with eleven laps to go. On his debut for Red Bull, Alex Albon finished fifth working his way up from fifteenth after penalties for the car for exceeding its engine allocation.

Last years race saw another win for Hamilton leading his Mercedes teammate Bottas through out the race and eventually took victory by eight seconds.

Facts and figures

Round 13 of 24
Race Formula 1 Rolex Belgian Grand Prix 2021
Venue Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps, Stavelot, Wallonia, Belgium
Configuration 2007
Circuit Length 7.004 km (4.352 mi)
Laps 44
Race Distance 308.052km (191.398 mi)
Lap Record Race 01:46.286 (Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes, 2018)
Outright 01:41.252 (Sir Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, 2020)
Most wins drivers Michael Schumacher (6)
Most wins manufacture Ferrari (18)

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.
  • Of current drivers, Kimi Raikkonen and Lewis Hamilton share the best record at Spa with four victories. Sebastian Vettel has won three times.
  • In 2019, Charles Leclerc became the first driver to score a maiden Grand Prix Victory at Spa since Michael Schumacher did so in 1992.
  • At 7.004km long, Spa is the longest current F1 circuit. Despite this, it has one of the smaller spectator capacities on the current calendar (70,000 fans)
  • The Ardennes region, where Spa-Francorchamps is located, experiences the highest annual rainfall of anywhere in Belgium. At one stage, it rained at the Belgian Grand Prix for twenty years in a row.

Event timetable

Session

Local

BST

Friday
P1 11:30-12:30 10:30-11:30
P2 15:00-16:00 14:00-15:00
Saturday
P3 12:00-13:00 11:00-12:00
Qualifying 15:00-16:00 14:00-15:00
Sunday
Race 15:00 14:00

What happened in 2020?

A year on from the death of Antoine Hubert the return to Spa was always going to be a highly emotional weekend for the paddock. Two of the most memorable images came on Thursday when Juan-Manwell Correa who was seriously injured in the accident and Pierre Gasly returned to Raidillon to lay flowers an mourn.

Sir Lewis Hamilton set two personal best sectors on his way to his seventh pole at Spa which put him half a second faster than his Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas. The world champion had dominated the whole session topping all three sessions of qualifying, Max Verstappen was third.

Ferrari’s dismal season continued, Charles Leclerc who took his maiden win here in 2019, was almost knocked out in Q1 and was a second and a half off pole but was four-tenths faster than Sebastian Vettel.

Hamilton went on to dominate the race, leading the race by leading every lap after winning the drag race from the exit of La Source to the braking point at Les Combe defending off teammate Valtteri Bottas. Red Bull appeared to struggle to find the same race pace as Mercedes, Verstappen in third unchallenged for much of the race finishing seven second behind.

The early safety car caused by a collision between Antonio Giovinazzi and George Russell, turned the closing stages of the race into one of tyre management, the front runners needing to nurse the tyres home after making pit stops under the safety car. But while there was a concern about a repeat of Silverstone, the race passed without tyre drama.

Race Result – 1) L. Hamilton, Mercedes, 01:27:08.761, 2) V. Bottas, Mercedes, +8.448, 3) M. Verstappen, Red Bull – Honda, +15.455

What to watch for?

The story of the weekend again will be the battle between Max Verstappen and Sir Lewis Hamilton, Red Bull say they can beat Mercedes any where and both drivers appear to have gone well here in the past. I think the weekend will swing towards Mercedes, having been quickest here at all the races in the hybrid era.

Last year Mercedes however had a seven-second lead by the end of the race over Verstappen, but this season we know is different as we know Red Bull have a car which you need to believe can beat Mercedes. Spa and Monza tend to give roughly the same in performance, Zandvoort I think will be a bit of an outlier as looking at maps I think tricky to overtake.

But this is Spa, it’s a race where teams need to be on their game, this is the longest circuit of the season meaning weather plays an important role. This adds to the importance of being on the right tyres at the right time, we know the weather can also play a role, being dry in one part wet in another. Depending on how wet it is, some could gamble on tyres.

After the summer break, we also normally get probably the final big upgrade of the season, but the question is have those still in tight championship battles decided to stop developing this years car. I think its likely that there could not be as big upgrades given this years restrictions and the development programmes will be more limited.

Ferrari could have a more difficult race at this power dependent circuit having decided not to introduce their final power unit upgrade this weekend. Mattia Binotto admits that this could be a difficult race with them being seven tenths down at worst, but I think it’s unlikely that the gap will be that big.

Lando Norris comes into his second home race following an incurably strong first half of the season, McLaren have proved themselves to be quick this season at these types of circuits. We need to see how he continues to progress after the summer break, this is, of course, his second home race, I think McLaren are facing a slightly stronger challenge from Alpine who had that victory in Budapest.

We have seen some great midfield scraps this year and you need to believe that Spa can give a good race. Alpha Tauri could put in a surprise result, historically in various names Aston Martin. It could be tight, but we often have we said that this season, we just don’t know with this season.

2019 vs 2020 Race Data

P1 Fastest
P2 Fastest
P3 Fastest
Q1 Fastest
Q2 Fastest
Q3 Fastest
Race Time
Fastest Lap

2020

01:44.493 01:43.744 01:43.255 01:42.323 01:42.014 01:41.252 01:24:08.761 01:47.483

Diff

-0.081 -0.379 -0.951 -1.264 -0.924 -1.267 +37.611 -01.086

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

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.