Wednesday, August 24, 2016


This weekend F1 roars back into life after the summer break at the Spa Francorchamps circuit in Belgium one of the heritage jewels in the F1 calendar. With 19 corners on a 7km lap, Spa is the longest track on the calendar and one of the toughest on engines, with two sustained periods of flat out full throttle each lap; from La Source hairpin to Les Combes chicane which is around 25 seconds and then later in the lap the run through Blanchimont to Bus Stop chicane.

The first national race of Belgium was held in 1925 at the Spa region's race course, an area of the country that had been associated with motor sport since the very early years of racing. To accommodate Grand Prix motor racing, the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps race course was built in 1921 but it was only used for motorcycle racing until 1924. After the 1923 success of the new 24 hours of Le Mans in France, the Spa 24 Hours, a similar 24-hour endurance race, was run at the Spa track. Since inception, Spa-Francorchamps has been known for its unpredictable weather. At one stage in its history it had rained at the Belgian Grand Prix for twenty years in a row.

Frequently drivers confront a part of the course that is clear and bright while another stretch is rainy and slippery. The Belgian Grand Prix was designated the European Grand Prix six times between 1925 and 1973, when this title was an honorary designation given each year to one grand prix race in Europe. It is one of the most popular races on the Formula One calendar, due to the scenic and historical Spa-Francorchamps circuit being a favorite of drivers and fans.

Spa Francorchamps has many claims to fame; popularity among drivers, a superb collection of high speed corners, unpredictable weather. But the factor which will probably stand out this weekend is that it is the highest engine power factor circuit on the F1 calendar. The track is 70% full throttle and the run from La Source hairpin to the braking point for Les Combes features 23.5 seconds of constant full throttle. And in this first season of the hybrid turbo power units, that will have a significant bearing on the result.


Track Length : 7.004 kilometres.
Race Distance : 44 laps (308.052 kilometres).
Corners : 19 corners in total.
Average speed : 238km/h. Circuit based on public roads.
Aerodynamic Setup : Medium to Low downforce.
Top speed : 322km/h (with Drag Reduction System active on rear wing) – 312km/h without.
Full Throttle : 70% of the lap (high).
Time Spent Braking : 14% of lap.
Number Of Brake Zones : 9.
Brake Wear : Low.
Total Time Needed For Pit Stop : 21 seconds.
Lap record: Sebastian Vettel - 1:47.263 (Red Bull, 2009).

Last six winners at Spa:

2015: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes); 2014: Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull); 2013: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull); 2012: Jenson Button (McLaren); 2011: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull); 2010: Lewis Hamilton (McLaren).


According to UBIMET, the official meteorological service provider to the FIA, there will be fine and sunny conditions across the week at Spa-Francorchamps, albeit with the risk of a shower on Sunday afternoon. Fine, sunny and stable weather conditions are expected through the week as an extensive high-pressure system covers Belgium.

However, the influence of an approaching Atlantic low will see the risk of rainfall increase toward the latter half of the weekend. Despite this, conditions remain exceptionally good for August, a month where Spa averages fifteen days of rainfall. From Wednesday to Friday mostly fine conditions are forecast with daily maximum temperatures of 29 to 31 degrees. Moderate winds from a generally southerly direction.

On Saturday, partly cloudy conditions are forecast with a maximum of 30 degrees. Winds light and variable with dry conditions likely to remain for the qualifying races. Sunday will also see dry and partly cloudy conditions at first with a 30-40% chance of a shower in the afternoon. With a wind shift to the southwest, temperatures will slightly lower with a maximum temperature of 28 degrees. No doubt most fans will be hoping that UBIMET is wrong and that the chance of rain increases to 70-80%.


Like in previous years, there will be two DRS zones. The detection point for the first zone will be 240m before Turn 2, with the activation point 310m after Turn 4. The second detection point will be 160m before Turn 18, with the activation point 30m after Turn 19.


The P Zero medium, soft and supersoft tyres have been nominated for the longest lap of the year at 7.004 kilometres, which places high-energy loads through the tyres. Spa-Francorchamps in fact provides a real multi-faceted challenge for the tyres, and by extension for the teams and drivers as well. The historic circuit at the foothills of the Ardennes is renowned for its changeable weather, meaning that there is a true microclimate to provide a constant additional parameter for the strategists to consider.

White medium: a mandatory set that must be available for the race, low working range.
Yellow soft: again a mandatory set, should feature in the race but not ideal for long stints.
Red supersoft: will be used for qualifying with a focus on performance rather than durability.

  • Loads through the tyres are among the biggest of the year due to the long and fast corners.
  • Elevation changes also create vertical forces for tyres through compressions like Eau Rouge.
  • Rain is quite likely, but it frequently rains just on one part of the circuit and not on another.
  • Set-up is a compromise between low drag for straights and downforce for corners: not easy.
  • There are plenty of overtaking opportunities, which mean that strategy options are quite open.
  • There are no significant changes to the Spa-Francorchamps circuit and infrastructure this year.
  • F1 returns with yet another back-to-back: after Spa it's straight to Pirelli's home race at Monza.


The chance of a safety car at Spa is statistically high at 80% and 1.4 per race. Rain is one reason, but also accidents tend to be high speed and so there can be quite a lot of debris.


It will be a test of character for Nico Rosberg in his battle for victory with Lewis Hamilton; a test of performance for Red Bull, who should be very fast here, especially in the middle sector and a test of resilience for Ferrari, which dispensed with its technical director before the break and now needs to regroup and finish the season strongly. This is Round 13 of 21 so there is still a long way to go and plenty to fight for as Ferrari fell behind Red Bull in the Constructors’ championship before the break.

If any Mercedes powered car starts on the front row this weekend, the manufacturer will move ahead of Ford and into third on the all-time table of front row starts for F1 engine suppliers. The two companies are currently tied on 301 each, while Renault (388) and Ferrari (472) head the list.

Hamilton led every lap of the German Grand Prix last time out in Hockenheim, and in the process he surpassed Alain Prost’s 2,684 total of F1 laps led to slot into third on the all-time table with 2,732. Ayrton Senna (2,987) and Michael Schumacher (5,111) remain in front of the world champion, but it is possible he could pass the Brazilian if he leads 255 more laps before the end of the season.

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