McLaren ready for challenging Belgian weekend

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The next stop for the 2007 Formula 1 World Championship sees the sport return to the much celebrated and dramatic Spa Francorchamps for the Belgian Grand Prix. Following a sabbatical year due to construction and improvement works, the longest track of the season returns for the final race in Europe, prior to the remaining three fly-aways of Japan, China and Brazil.

Vodafone McLaren Mercedes arrives at the legendary track with 166 points in the Constructors’ Championships, 23 ahead of Ferrari. Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso sit atop the Drivers’ standings with 92 and 89 points respectively.

Fast facts
What are the main modifications that have been made to the Spa track?

There are four main areas that have undergone work prior to the 2007 race; the pitlane entry; La Source hairpin; the Bus Stop Chicane and the pitlane and paddock facilities. The two track layout modifications are intended to provide more opportunities to overtake and create space for the new facilities. The change to La Source sees a longer run down to the first corner, with the relocation of the walls. The wide run off area often used by the drivers when challenging for position, particularly at the start of the race, has been replaced with a kerb and some astroturf. The Bus Stop Chicane has moved back towards Blanchimont, and switched to a right - left chicane. Technical in nature and fairly slow, the drivers will need to attack the kerbs and read the camber change as they flick right then left, however the wider entry will hopefully see some passing.

Eau Rouge is considered to be one of the most challenging corners of the season, why is this?

Spa-Francorchamps boasts what is widely regarded as the greatest and most daunting corner in the world: Eau Rouge. Commitment and precision are required in equal measure to take on the climbing right-hander. The vertical wall of concrete challenges the drivers to carry as much speed as possible over the brow and into the 190mph sprint towards Les Combes. A good exit to Eau Rouge will see drivers able to challenge the car ahead at the right hander. Through Eau Rouge the drivers are placed under lateral G forces of more than 5G and compression. It also sees high structural loads placed on the car and engine.

Why is the Belgian race known as one of the most historic?

The inaugural Belgian Grand Prix, which was held on 18th June in 1950, was the fifth race in the history of Formula 1. The 492.8km race was won by Juan Manuel Fangio. The Argentinean repeated this success twice - 1954 and 1955 with Mercedes. In 1968, McLaren founder Bruce took the first Formula 1 World Championship victory for the marque, which had been established two years previously. Until 1970 a 14.08km circuit in Spa was used, primarily consisting of public roads. In 1972 and 1974 the races were staged in Nivelles near Brussels, and in 1973, 1975 - 1982 and 1984 Zolder was the venue of the Belgian Grand Prix. The new 6.94 kilometre circuit in Spa featured on the Formula 1 calendar for the first time in 1983. With the exception of 1984, 2003 and 2006 it has been the home of the Belgian Grand Prix ever since. McLaren-Mercedes has won four out of the last six Belgian races. David Coulthard began the run in 1999, with Mika Häkkinen taking victory after overtaking Michael Schumacher and lapping Ricardo Zonta in a passing manoeuvre that is considered one of the most exhilarating in the history of the sport. Kimi Raikkonen then took victories in 2004 and 2005 for the team.

Fernando Alonso "I am really excited to be going back to racing at Spa, it is my favourite track. It is very demanding and with the long lap and all the different characteristics, you need to work hard with the team to get the right balance. Everybody always talks about Eau Rouge, and yes it is a great corner, but I think the whole lap is special, you are on the limit the whole time and as a driver that is a great challenge. You need to have total concentration for every lap and I am motivated to get there and fight for the win. Last weekend in Italy was a special result for me and the team. The car was really fast and we are working to take that performance to Spa. There are some similar characteristics between Spa and Monza, as both demand a lot of power, so hopefully we will carry that over and be quick. The Championship battles are really exciting, after this race we have only three left, so it is very important to have another good result here, but of course it is the same for Lewis, Kimi and Felipe, so we will have to wait and see how it goes. There are a lot of laps to be raced still, my goal is to win as many races as possible and I hope we can have an exciting end to the season for the fans."

Lewis Hamilton "Spa is a track that everyone has always talked about and it is with good reason. I love the circuit, it does require a compromise with the set-up to account for the fast straights and corners whilst also ensure you can have the right amount of traction through the slower sections, and it is all about being precise. Eau Rouge is just awesome, it is so quick and I look forward to it every single lap. It is definitely one of the pleasures of being a Formula 1 driver! You always try to go that bit quicker, and as it is flat out now with no lifting, the only way to do this is by steering as little as possible. The forces that are placed on your body feel a bit weird, but you don’t really think about that after the first lap. I raced here in 2005, race one was in the wet, race two in the dry, so I have some good experience and won race two. We tested here in July and completed some positive work with Bridgestone. Now I am just waiting to get out there and race in a Formula 1 car for the first time. The situation in both Championships is very close, and people keep talking about pressure, but it just provides me with extra motivation, I certainly don’t feel any stress. There are four races to go, including Belgium, and I will take them all individually and do my best to try and win them."

Martin Whitmarsh, CEO Formula 1, Vodafone McLaren Mercedes "The performance of the team at Monza was faultless and a demonstration of the effort that every single member of the team is putting into this season, whether they are at the races, tests, or the facilities in Woking, Brixworth and Stuttgart. It is great for the sport that the Championship is going down to the wire, it is leading to some dramatic and exciting racing and we hope that continues here in Spa. It is a challenge for both the drivers and cars alike, placing a lot of quite unique pressures on both. With some similarities to Monza, we hope to transfer our performance to Belgium, but with the race renowned for torrential rain due to the tracks location in the Ardennes forest, the result is definitely unpredictable."

Norbert Haug, Vice President, Mercedes-Benz Motorsport “Spa has everything for an interesting and challenging race track from long straights like Kemmel where the cars reach speeds of more than 300 kph, to long and sweeping corners like Pouhon and tight hairpins like La Source. The weather often is like crazy here at Spa. The track is the longest on the calendar at over seven kilometres after the modifications, and therefore when it rains it isn't necessarily wet everywhere. Our results balance at Spa is not bad – the team’s drivers won four out of the six most recent Belgian Grands Prix. As required by the rules, Fernando and Lewis will race in Spa with the same engines they used last weekend in Monza, which is similarly demanding for the engines as the circuit in the Ardennes; Monza and Spa combined represent the highest strain for the engines since the new V8 engine generation has been introduced. Three out of our seven Grand Prix wins this season we have achieved in the respective second races for the engines, in Malaysia, Canada and at the Nürburgring.”