Belgian Grand Prix – Preview

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After a week off, the FIA Formula One World Championship returns to action as the field descends at Spa for the Belgian Grand Prix, Round 6 of the curtailed 2020 F1 season.

Formula One is approaching an emotional weekend as the Belgian Grand Prix marks the first anniversary of the tragic death of Formula 2 driver Anthoine Hubert. Drivers will drive for the talented Frenchman this weekend who could have definitely had a shot at a Formula 1 career given his immense talent.

The track designed by a chevalier

The Spa-Francorchamps race track was designed by the chevalier Jules de Thier in 1920 who wanted to revive the La Meuse Cup, a car race which was run before the World War One. The site for the circuit was marked in a triangle formed by the routes 32, 23 and 440 connecting Spa-Francorchamps to Malmedy and Stavelot.

The first race was cancelled because there was only one entrant. The next event which became the first ever race on the 15.820km long track was entered by 23 motorbikes.

In 1922, the Royal Automobile Club of Beligum organized the first ever race for cars on the track which was an endurance race. The first ever GP was held in 1925 which was won by Alfa Romeo’s Alberto Ascari.

Three years later, tarmac was laid down to avoid stones being thrown up. 1939 saw a big change in the layout of the track. The old Customs bend was removed and replaced by the high-speed turn, baptised Raidillon. It resulted in the creation of the corner complex of Eau Rouge and Raidillon which are connected by a steep uphill section of an incline of 17 per cent. It contributed to the international fame and reputation of the circuit.

In 1951, the track was enlarged and the Stavelot bend was created. In 1963, the first safety rails were installed to the high-speed circuit. In 1979, a shorter layout was created in a length of 6.9km. 2007 saw the last major overhaul of the track. The famous, but problematic bus stop chicane was removed and the run-off area at many fast corners have been extended.

Drivers’ favourite roller coaster

The 7.004km long track is made up of 19 corners. Following a relatively short start straight, drivers brake down to just 90kph for the first corner of the track, named La Source. An excellent acceleration is vital as the following section is the longest period spent at full throttle not just at Spa, but on the entire calendar. Turns 2-3-4, the famous Eau Rouge and Radillon are taken at full throttle in a modern F1 car, but it is still a big challange, mainly in race trim with degrading tyres or on damp surface.

The Kemmel straight is the continuation of this section where drivers spend around 18 seconds at full throttle. The end of the Kemmel straight offers the best overtaking opportunity and with DRS it could be a straighforward affair if drivers can stay close to their rival exiting Turn 1.

The second sector begins with the Les Combes corner. With Turn 7 and 8, this forms a fantastic sequence of corners where drivers needs a faultless car balance with a strong front end at Turn 6 and 8 and a very stable rear end at Turn 7.

The track goes downhill when drivers head towards Turn 9, the Rivage corner. It is a 180-degree bend where drivers need to show patience initially to have then a good exit. Turn 10 invites drivers to use th last inch of the wide kerbs to gain as much speed at the exit as they can for the next sequence of corners. Turn 11, Pouhon allows drivers to stay at full thorttle for almost the entire length of the corner. Turn 12, the Fagnes opens up a section of three medium-speed corners where excellent car balance and high-downforce levels are desired.

Sector 3 starts with Turn 15 which is called Stavelot. When drivers exit this medium-speed bend, they are in a rush to apply full throttle which they keep through Turns 16 and 18 until they arrive at the Bus Stop chicane that comprises two low-speed corners. At the exit of the final turn, drivers always are on the limit regarding the rear grip level, but they are adamant to apply full throttle as quickly as they can to complete the last metres of the longest circuit of the curent F1 calendar.