After the summer break, Formula One reconvenes at the legendary Spa-Francorchamps circuit for the Belgian Grand Prix. The track, at just over 7 kilometres long, is steeped in history having first hosted a Grand Prix in 1925.
It is one of the few “classics” on the calendar; an old style circuit that rewards commitment and skill and around which only the best succeed. Cutting through forests and rolling up hills and down into valleys, the circuit is a firm favourite of fans and drivers alike.
A good exit out of the slow final chicane is, getting on the throttle early but feathering it to avoid too much wheelspin, is crucial to build up as much speed as you can on the short blast down the start-finish straight to La Source, a tight second gear hairpin. Entry speed can be sacrificed here but it is critical to get on the power early and get a tidy exit as you head down towards the legendary Eau Rouge. The corner, part of motor-racing folklore, has been reprofiled in recent years and is not as challenging as it used to be.
But even though Eau Rouge is “easy-flat” in a modern day Formula One car, it is taken at over 300km/h, and getting the racing line just right as you jink left before immediately turning right up the hill and then left again at the crest into Raidillon is absolutely crucial as that will determine how much you load the car up. You want to keep the steering wheel as straight as possible and avoid scrubbing off too much speed as you carry that momentum on to the long Kemmel straight. Scrub off too much speed through Eau Rouge and you will be a sitting duck for the car behind, losing time all the way as you head up the long run to the Les Combes corner.
You need to get the braking absolutely right for this third-gear right-left corner as, if you brake too late, you’re going to miss the first apex which will cost you important tenths and compromise the speed you carry through the corner. A quick right hander follows immediately as you exit Les Combes. Dab on the brakes slightly, shift down a gear, get on the power before the apex and you swing onto the short run down to Rivage. It’s very easy to lock up as you brake downhill into this long, second-gear right-hander and you have to be patient on the throttle otherwise you will end up running wide and having to come off the power to get the car to turn in again.
A quick left-hander at Malmedy follows where, again, it’s important to use the throttle all the way around the corner so you carry enough speed on the run to the high-speed Pouhon. With Eau Rouge easy flat these days, Pouhon is now the most challenging corner at Spa. After Pouhon you head into Fagnes, a right-left section for which you brake late, third gear on entry, late turn in, before shifting up to fourth as you change direction.
Swing over to the left hand side of the track once you exit Fagnes to take your line for Stavelot, a third-gear right hander, followed by another right hander through which you lift only a tad bit before nailing it onto the long flat out stretch that takes you through the left-hander at Blanchimont and up to the extremely tight final chicane. Clip the kerb as you turn right, apply a burst of throttle mid-corner, dab on the brakes, flick the car left and ease the power back on as you turn onto the start-finish straight and accelerate across the finish line.
CAR SETUP WITH WILLIAM TYSON
Spa Francorchamps is a unique venue in that there is more than one way to set up the car for the circuit, as proved by the two McLaren cars of Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button in 2012. Lower downforce improves performance in the first and final sectors drastically as the driver will gain time from La Source, through Eau Rouge and all the way up to Les Combes, as well as the back straight through Blanchimont.
Higher downforce, however, gains heaps of time in the twisty middle sector so there’s some consideration put into aero figures alone. Couple this with high camber angles, long corners and high fuel effect (0.38 seconds for every 10kg of fuel), the engineers have a big task to suit both qualifying and race conditions.
Track: Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps
Lap Record: Sebastian Vettel 1:47.263 (2009)
Tyre Compounds: Soft (Option); Medium (Prime)
2013 Winner: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull)
2013 Pole Position: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 2:01.012
2013 Fastest Lap: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull) 1:50.756
DRS Zones: Main Straight (T19 to T1); T4 to T5
Images courtesy of Octane Photographic.