It’s race week again! Following a four-week summer break after the Hungarian Grand Prix, teams and drivers are ready to return to action for the first of nine events in just 13 weeks that will close out the 2022 FIA Formula One World Championship. F1Technical’s Balázs Szabó picks out the vital facts about the forthcoming Belgian Grand Prix.
Spa is one of the most demanding circuits on the calendar, featuring particularly high lateral loads. The Eau Rouge-Raidillon complex is probably the most famous corner combination on the entire grand prix calendar, but the middle sector of the Belgian track also keeps drivers entertained and busy behind the wheel thanks to the punishingly quick corners such as Pouhon or Campus. As a result of its nature, tyres are subjected to multiple forces: pushed into the ground by downforce and compression, while cornering at the same time.
Formula One’s tyre supplier Pirelli have chosen the C2 (hard), C3 (medium) and C4 (soft) tyres, in the middle of their compound range, for the Belgian Grand Prix weekend with the Spa track being one of the most demanding circuits for tyres on the calendar.
Another factor that teams need to take into consideration is the variable weather that can be changeable. The 7.004km track sometimes presents itself in mixed conditions with parts of its being wet while other parts still being dry. These changeable weather conditions make an outing for the Cinturato Green intermediate or Cinturato Blue full wet tyre a distinct possibility.
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 Belgium 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.
However, the circuit has gone through some changes for this year with the modifications aimed at improving the safety of the high-speed track. Although the circuit is favourite among fans and drivers, the history proved that it can be dangerous not only in damp conditions, but also in the dry given the speeds drivers carry through several parts of the Spa track.
Among the changes is the introduction of new gravel traps at four separate corners (Turns 1, 6, 7, and 9) with these traps featuring sharp stones, and there are also some sharp edges close to the concrete kerbing. Furthermore, the track has gone through a resurfacing process at four corners (Turns 2, 4, 8 and 9), with the aim to remove the bumps and increase grip.
Dromo Circuit Design was tasked with the redesign that has been recently undertaken at the historic Spa-Francorchamps.
Commenting on the changes, Jarno Zaffelli founder of Dromo Circuit Design said: “The target was to modernize and improve the safety of the Eau Rouge. We were engaged after the floods that did a lot of damage.
“We determined how to restore the area and improve the racing show, reducing the bumps, allowing for rainfall disbursement and overall safer. This whilst ensuring the most iconic corner in motorsport retained its unique character.”
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 challenge, 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 straightforward 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 are in need of a faultless car balance with a strong front end at Turns 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 throttle 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 current F1 calendar.