Belgian GP Preview: A special track, a special race

After a long four week break, Formula 1 returned a vengeance with two races in a week. There isn’t much time to dwell on what happened in Valencia as it is straight onto to Spa Francorchamps for the Belgian GP this weekend.

If you did a poll of F1 fans asking them for their favourite circuit, then Spa would very likely win it comfortably. It is one of F1’s all time legendary tracks.

A perfect race track needs a variety of characteristics: character, a challenging and wide variety of corners, elevation changes, great scenery, places to overtake, unpredictable weather, and great places for spectators to see the action.

Spa is one of the few tracks in the world that features all of these characteristics. It has the great scenery with it being the middle of the dramatic Ardennes Forest. Eau Rouge, Blanchimont and Pouhon provide the challenging and classic corners. Overtaking is also a possibility. We have seen some thrilling wheel to wheel action in the past here.

Then there is Spa’s unique micro-climate. One minute it might be sunny, and the next it could be tipping it down with rain. You never what the weather might do in Spa. The track is so long that it could be raining one part of the track, and still be bone dry in the other.

Best of all Spa is a huge challenge for the drivers. The best drivers can make a real difference around this place. All the drivers love the challenges that the track provides.

“Spa is a fantastic track and definitely my favourite in Formula One. It is a real driver’s circuit and that suits me perfectly. There is almost every type of corner, so all the way around the lap you are challenged and I love that” says Jarno Trulli.

Overall Spa is one of the fastest circuits on the calendar so is therefore tough on engines, and requires good aero efficiency, which wasn’t so vital in Hungary and Valencia.

The weather this weekend is expected to the opposite of Valencia, with cool temperatures, and the possibility of rain.

After Red Bull‘s dreadful showing in Valencia they will want to get straight back on track here. They should be very strong this weekend as their car is at its best in high speed corners. The car is also mightily quick at warming its tyres so which gives the team an advantage in cool track conditions.

There is no doubt that this race is a must win for the Red Bull team. They have to close the gap again straight away on Brawn GP, and ensure that their fightback in Valencia was short-lived.

If Red Bull can’t perform on one of their strongest tracks, then their championship campaign will be in jeopardy.

Valencia was a great race for Brawn GP that showed that they still possess a very strong car. A fast car doesn’t turn into a slow one overnight.

However the conditions played a critical part in their victory. The European GP was one of the hottest races of the season so far, and this car has always been very strong in the instense heat.

Brawn GP have made changes to the car so that its operating window is widened. The fact that their operating window is too small has been exposed in the cooler races. The car needs to be able to perform in all conditions. As the team have found this season, you can’t always rely on most of the races being boiling hot

Spa will tell us whether that win in Valencia was purely down to the hot conditions, or if Brawn GP really have turned a corner.

Jenson Button desperately needs a good showing this weekend after four poor races. He is very lucky that he still has a healthy championship lead (18 points). Due to the see-saw nature of the 2009 season there has not been a driver consistently getting big results and closing the gap quickly on Jenson. The four races since Button’s last victory in Turkey have been won by four different drivers, which shows you how competitive 2009 is.

Barrichello, Vettel and Webber have all had races where they have scored no points during this period. These three guys haven’t really made the most of Button’s recent dip in form. They could live to regret that come the end of the season, especially if Button can regain his form.

Button has admitted he needs to be more aggressive. “It is better to be consistent and not crash, but if you are consistent and get two points it is not enough. I am going to go to Spa and be more aggressive, for sure. In every way, not just driving, but with the strategy and with the tyres” explained Button

Now that his goal of being world champion is starting to get closer, Button has to raise his game as other champions have done in the past. It’s still his title to lose.

Barrichello is a man who has now found some form. That win in Valencia must have given him a huge confidence lift. He will go to Spa and Monza (two tracks he loves) fancying his chances.

Mclaren‘s dramatic rise in form has been one of the biggest stories in the last couple of races. Spa though may not as successful for them. Fast corners expose the problem which this year’s Mclaren has had with it’s aerodynamic efficency. Hungary and Valencia were both dominated by slow corners masking this weakness

Spa is the first really quick circuit since Silverstone where the Mclaren was absolutely woeful. Loads of upgrades have been put on the car since then so it will be interesting to see how much quicker Mclaren are now on a fast circuit. Certainly they will be hoping for a double points finish at the very least, but victory is probably beyond them.

“I don’t think we’ll be as competitive as we’ve been at the last few races, because Spa is a circuit where you need a lot of downforce” admits the Mclaren driver.

Kimi Raikkonen did another great job at Valencia by finishing on the podium for the second race in succession. Kimi Raikkonen has a great history at Spa. He has always loved this circuit and he seems to always be inspired around the place. Even last season when he his form was off the boil he nearly the won the race. Kimi has actually won the race three times and could easily produce another good result for Ferrari this weekend.

Toyota’s season continues to deteriorate. They are now even struggling to get into the top 10 shootout. You begin sense the annoucement that Toyota are pulling out isn’t far away. The board

Nico Rosberg has become F1’s Mr consistent recently. At the beginning of the season he was criticised for not making the most of his car but he has finished in the top 5 in the last five GPs. He will be aiming for that again in Spa.

Alonso was tipped for a very strong race in his home GP but the Renault wasn’t as strong as the team were hoping. He may be hoping that Spa delivers some rain so that he can get right up there.

BMW Sauber had an improved weekend in Valencia with Robert Kubica getting into the top 10 and scoring a point for 8th. They will be hoping to improve again in Spa.

Vijay Mallya declared himself delighted with Force India’s performance in Valencia, and again they will keep on pushing for that elusive first point of the season. Sutil will be another one of those drivers doing a rain dance. He has performed brilliantly in the wet in the past and a wet Spa race could see him right up there.

Toro Rosso seemed to be permanently marooned at the back of the grid at the moment. They will be hoping for rain in order to take anything away from the race.

In conclusion Red Bull should be the quickest team this weekend, but I think Brawn will be much closer to them than they were back at Silverstone, where the scenario weather and track wise, was remarkably similar.

I am sure Ross Brawn would accept a 3-4 finish behind the two Red Bulls right now. If they could somehow beat the Red Bulls in Spa, Brawn GP would have one hand on both trophies again.

If the race is wet it could really upset the predicted order, and change the complexion of the title race.

My top 8 prediction

1. Sebastien Vettel
2. Rubens Barrichello
3. Kimi Raikkonen
4. Mark Webber
5. Jenson Button
6. Lewis Hamilton
7. Nico Rosberg
8. Adrian Sutil