Preview: Belgian GP

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F1 Grand Prix, GP Belgium, Circuit de Spa-Francorchampsbe

Following a long 4 week summer break, Formula One gets back in action at one of its traditional and most loved circuits. Spa-Francorchamps provides a combination of high speed corners and tough demands on the engines.

The challenging circuit tends to give the edge to cars with strong engines while it is also clear that some drivers tend to excel more than others at this track. Michael Schumacher was notoriously fruitful at this track while Fernando Alonso has suffered all sorts of events, making this one of the few circuits where the Spaniard did not win yet.

The high speed 'straights' also make this a circuit that eases overtaking, helped by 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.

Small circuit modifications have also been made since 2012 as additional higher kerbs were added behind the existing kerbs on the apex of Turns 5, 7, 8, 9, 12, 13, 14 and 15.

Spa-Francorchamps circuit map

Pirelli are bringing their two hardest compounds to the Ardennes, as was the case in 2012. Last year Jenson Button won with a one-stop strategy, while the majority of the field, including third-placed Kimi Räikkönen, opted for two. Of course Spa is one of the most-likely F1 venues to see the intermediate or full-wet tyres in action, and with rain forecast for the weekend there’s every chance of seeing another classic, chaotic Belgian Grand Prix.

Spa was one of the venues for the inaugural F1 World Championship season in 1950. It has been the circuit used for the bulk of Belgian Grands Prix, hosting the race for 45 of its 57 runnings.

Circuit highlights

Turn 1 A tight first corner named 'La Source' is the slowest point on the track. It's heavy braking down to 60km/h before leading into the downhill section.

Turn 2 to 4 Spa is most famous for its challenging section that includes Eau Rouge and Raidillon. The compression at the bottom of the descent exerts huge pressure on the car. The vertical load will be close to +5g, squashing everything downwards into the base of the car – fuel, lubricants, the driver – every part will be positively loaded. At the end of the old pits, in the middle of turn 3, the track starts to climb very sharply, with a gradient close to 1 in 4, equivalent to one of the steepest climbs in the Tour de France. This is particularly tough for the engine as loads suddenly change. Going over the crest of the hill, they will change even more dramatically, with the vertical force suddenly lifted – imagine how your stomach feels when you come over the top of a dip in a rollercoaster. The parts are suddenly unloaded, with the vertical forces switching to -3g. This can affect fluid flow through the lubricant and fuel systems as they too ‘rise’ within the system and away from their respective pumps – the systems therefore need to be ultra-effective to avoid starvation.

Turn 5 The end of the Kemmel straight marks top speeds of 330km/h – one of the highest of the season – before braking down to 3rd gear and 140km/h for this right hander.

Turn 8 Rivage - also known as Bruxelles - provides a good challenge as it is a medium speed 180 degree corner heading straight into Turn 9. Good balance and change of direction are required here. Braking is particularly tricky here as the track falls down quickly, with the entry, the corner itself and the exit all featuring a downhill slope.

Turn 10 Pouhon is a high speed left-hander, with entry taken at nearly 300kph.

Turns 14 + 15 Turn 14 is taken at 140kph before the cars accelerate through Curve Paul Frère – which is taken at 100kph faster than that – before leading into the flat out Turns 16 and 17.

Turn 18 With heavy braking into the chicane after a prolonged high speed section, the brakes need to be ready instantly. Turn 18 provides a good overtaking opportunity.

Car setup

Front Wing More front wing here compared to lower speed tracks to help diminish understeer in the high speed corners.

Rear Wing Spa is very much an aerodynamic efficiency circuit where you need a reasonable amount of downforce without too much detrimental drag. Teams run a similar amount of rear wing to Canada which is a medium downforce setting.

Suspension This is primarily a high speed circuit and there isn’t much use of the kerbs, so suspension is tailored to high speed balance rather than low speed travel.

Brakes There are not many braking demands here which means the focus is on keeping the brakes warm so they work immediately when required. There are three major braking areas; into the first corner, the Turn 5 chicane, and then the former bus stop chicane. These sections also offer the main overtaking opportunities.

Engine A massive 70% of the 7km track is spent flat out, equating to almost 5.5km, or the length of a standard F1 circuit. Over one lap the engine will have a total wide open throttle time of over 75secs, making it an incredible test for engines. Outright power and top speed are therefore crucial and any gains will be twice as effective in reducing lap time compared to a less power sensitive track such as Monaco. As a result, almost all our partners will use fresh engines for this race to give as much power advantage as possible.

Even though Monza sees the engines at full throttle for a longer time, it is the combination of this wide open throttle with the compressions and steep gradients that gives such an awesome workout. Having the right balance between reliability and top end power is always a juggling act so, for these reasons it’s one of the circuits we use as a control circuit.

Tyres Pirelli is bringing the P Zero Orange hard and P Zero White medium tyres: the two hardest compounds in the range, chosen to cope with the high-energy demands of the circuit, with its rapid corners and fast compressions. It's the first time this season where these two tyre compounds are used. Last time the medium and hards were nominated, at Silverstone, the tyres were still of a different specification.

Quick facts

Number of corners: 19 (10 left & 9 right)
Maximum speed (no DRS): 330 km/h
Minimum speed: 70 km/h
Corners below 100 km/h (qualifying): 3
Corners above 250 km/h (qualifying): 6
Average lap speed (qualifying): 230 km/h
Distance to from pole to apex of T1: 265m
Braking events: 8, 2 heavy
Pit-lane length under speed-limit control: 387m
Pit-lane time at 80 km/h: 17.4s

Full throttle per lap (% lap distance): 72%
Full throttle per lap (% lap time): 61%
Longest period at full throttle: 22.7s
Average gear changes per race lap: 45 (1980/race)
Braking energy: low