Spa Francorchamps: What You Need to Know

Fact File: Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium

Laps 44
Lap Length 7.004 km (4.352 miles)
Race Length 308.052 km (191.415 miles)
First Race 1950
Fastest Lap S Vettel 1:47.263 (Red Bull, 2009)
2010 Winner Lewis Hamilton (McLaren)

Layout:

There is one thing certain about Spa-Francorchamps, it is synonymous with Formula One and forever will be. It’s a drivers circuit, an engineers circuit, a fan circuit and a meteorologists happy place. The fluctuating elevation tempts the drivers through the valleys of the Ardennes, and encourages the pilots of technological wonders slice through the forests with the rumble of exhaust bouncing off the landscape. With its own micro-climate, the weather often plays havoc with the pitwall and the final results, and therefore thousands of pounds/euros are poured into forecasting systems, but when the rain is falling over a small section of the track getting the edge is worth the budget allocation.

Eau Rouge used to be the most challenging corner on the circuit, but with the increase in aerodynamic performance, it has become easier to take flat out. This hasn’t stopped it from remaining one of the most recognisable corners in F1 though, the drivers hit the bottom of the corner before launching themselves towards the crest. Not to say Spa has not been completely stripped of a challenge, this is still a highly demanding track. When it comes to qualifying there is 7km of track to make a mistake on when trying to piece together a pole winning lap. But they’ve been given a little help around turn 8, Rivage, by widening the section of track through the hairpin, the organisers have also swapped out the gravel trap for a more familiar asphalt run-off area.

The Lap:

There’s a short dash, approximately the length of the pit lane, before the full field slams on the brakes for the first corner. La Source is a tight right handed hairpin which, on the first lap, can be the scene of a few scrapes and all run the risk of being hit from behind as driver try to predict each others brake distances. After tackling this first hurdle they are launched into the famous Eau Rouge section, this tricky chicane is easy to get wrong. Drivers enter downhill and pass through a left handed kink which is then followed by a right turn. The descent quickly shifts into a steep ascent and as they hit the crest they are blind going into the next left.

Once they’ve negotiated Eau Rouge the drivers have a brief reprieve along an uphill straight towards Les Combes, a relatively easy right-left chicane. Another right turn and they’re on a short straight downhill to a long right that is Rivage. Still going downhill they sweep through turn 9 on their way to Pouhon, a double left. Continuing their descent a short straight is followed by another right-left chicane, the exit Fagnes leads into the lowest point of the track, Stavelot (right turn). Another right turn sends them back uphill towards a fast left kink that is Blanchimont. The final hurdle to tackle is the Bus-Stop chicane, a super tight right-left chicane at the crest of the ascent from turn 15.

Overtaking and Strategy:

There are a few options for overtaking around Spa, namely the long uphill straight on the approach to Les Combes, as they climb towards the highest point of the circuit drivers must be carrying a good level of speed as well as a the right selection of gear ratios. This year they will be helped by the DRS zone that has been placed along the Kemmel Straight (see below). Another option is Pouhon, but only if the driver can carry the pace through the double left-hander while negotiating the steep downhill section.

Weather is a major concern for all involved during the weekend, the engineers will be eagerly watching the radar in order to read the subtle clues as the where rain will fall next. And if it does fall it doesn’t necessarily fall across the whole track, with 7km to cover it’s often a section of the track that gets soaked. This then leaves the pitwall with the difficult decision over which tyres to affix to their cars. Of course the drivers will have to on their toes to keep one step ahead of the weather as well, and as it stands the circuit is going to have heavy rain on Friday, heavy showers on Saturday, but sun on Sunday. Considering set up  is such an integral part of success in Belgium, this forecast could certainly up the ante come race day.

Tyres:

Prime compound: Medium (White)

Option compound: Soft (yellow)

DRS:

Spa-Francorchamps will be hosting a single DRS zone around it’s legendary asphalt. The detection zone will be 235m before Eau Rouge and, if the chasing driver is within 1 second of the car in front, then 270m after Raidillon they can deploy their rear wing.

Why Spa-Francorchamps Rocks:

It’s a favourite of drivers past and present due to the high speed nature and therefore the challenge it provides them, from the moment the lights go out they have to be on high alert until they cross the line 44 laps later. With sections of the track hidden from the live audience the drivers feels it’s just them, the car and the track creating that old school atmosphere that has them looking forward to the testing track each year. When a challenge is presented, however, you can be sure there will be some unexpected results thrown into the mix. Massive elevation changes, isolated sections, long and fast corners separates the men from the boys, and along with grandstands full of eager fans make this is a fantastic circuit. It’s also provided some memorable moments throughout the years, one notable example is the double manoeuver by Mika Hakkinen and Michael Schumacher on Ricardo Zonta in 2000. In 2009 it was the turn of Force India to dominate the headlines, Giancarlo Fisichella stunned the world when he lined up in pole position and converted it into 2nd place. Last Year Sebastian Vettel threw his nose cone into Jenson Button and with his his title hopes apparently, who knows what will happen this time around. It lines up alongside the likes of Monaco and Silverstone with its traditions and it’s a rare season when it’s not considered a classic.

5 Key Points:

  • Crazy weather
  • High speed circuit
  • Big challenge
  • Home of Eau Rouge
  • Jerome d’Ambrosio’s home race
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