Belgian GP: McLaren previews Spa

Aug.24 (McLaren Press Release) One of the most revered racetracks in the world, Spa-Francorchamps featured on the inaugural Formula One World Championship calendar in 1950 and has retained much of its original high-speed character to this day.

There have been two iterations of the circuit. The first was designed in 1920, using public roads and the natural elevation changes of the local Ardennes countryside. This layout measured 14km and was extremely fast: F1’s final visit in 1970 saw cars averaging 150mph per lap.

A substantial redesign 30 years ago shortened the circuit to seven kilometres and made it safer, while still retaining many famous corners from the original layout such as Eau Rouge and Blanchimont. It’s now the longest circuit in F1 and a favourite among the drivers as a result of its challenging high-speed sweeps.

Average lap speeds are in excess of 140mph, which means that the drivers and engineers search for a good high-speed balance on their cars. Engine power and aerodynamic efficiency are also important because the cars are flat-out for more than 20 seconds between the La Source hairpin and Les Combes corner.

The fickle microclimate of the Ardennes can also play a role in the outcome of the race, too. Rain often plays havoc with race strategies, while also making track conditions treacherous, which is why the Belgian Grand Prix sees such a regular occurrence of Safety Cars.

McLaren has an enviable record at Spa. The team’s founder, Bruce McLaren, won at the track in 1968 and the team has taken 12 subsequent wins at the circuit. Lewis and Jenson will be hoping to add further to that tally this year.

Race distance: 44 laps (191.410 miles/308.052km)
Start time: 14:00 (local)/13:00 BST
Circuit length: 4.352 miles/7.004km
2011 winner: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing) 44 laps in 1hr26m44.893s (213.066km/h)
2011 pole: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing) 1m48.298s (232.824km/h)
Lap record: Kimi Raikkonen (McLaren-Mercedes MP4-19) 1m45.108s (238.931km/h)

McLaren at the Belgian Grand Prix
Wins: 13 (1968, 1974, 1982, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1999, 2000, 2004, 2005, 2010)
Poles: 10 (1985, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2005, 2008)
Fastest Laps: 8 (1974, 1982, 1986, 1987, 1989, 1999, 2004, 2010)

Car 3: Jenson Button:
“The past few weeks have been a perfect combination of a bit of downtime to relax and some great training, all of which has had me raring to get back in the car. I’ve been out in the Philippines; and Hawaii, training, and having a bit of a holiday and then back in the UK for a bit more of the same and while I’ve had a great break, I’m really looking forward to getting back to work. In fact, you couldn’t really ask for a more spectacular double-header for F1’s return: Spa is the daddy of them all, one of the all-time great grand prix tracks, and Monza is one of the most historic and evocative circuits on the calendar. They’re each places with their own unique atmosphere. I’ve got some really great memories of both circuits, but I’ve won neither. Given our pace in the last few races, I go forward feeling positive about rectifying that over the coming weekends.”

Car 4: Lewis Hamilton:
“My win in Hungary was a fantastic way to go into the summer break: it had the added bonus of sending the whole team away for their holidays with a positive feeling in their hearts. It’s also given me the hope and assurance that we can come back for the final nine races with a real chance to go for both world championships. I really couldn’t be happier that the season gets back down to business again in Belgium. Spa is one of the best circuits in the world – it’s always a buzz to nail a fast lap around there, and, after five weeks out of the cockpit, that first lap on Friday morning is going to feel absolutely sensational. Given the unpredictability of the sport, I think it’s still difficult to predict accurately who’ll win the next grand prix, but I reckon the coming few weeks ought to give us a much clearer idea of the destination of the world title. It’s going to be an extremely tough, tactical and interesting finale to the season. There’s no team with a clear advantage – although we’re all pushing hard to catch Fernando [Alonso]’s points tally in the drivers’ championship – so there’s still everything to play for.”

Martin Whitmarsh, Team principal, Vodafone McLaren Mercedes:
“The summer break has given everybody at Vodafone McLaren Mercedes the chance to rest and recharge, ahead of the nine remaining grands prix – all of which are set to be thrilling and fascinating in equal measure. It feels appropriate to be returning to the fray at Spa-Francorchamps. Formula One’s historic venues provide us with a richly storied backdrop that few sports can match, and Spa is truly one of the greats. Everybody is looking forward to hearing the engines fire up once again, and there are few better places on earth to watch a Formula One car at speed than around Spa. Following the mandatory factory shutdown, we’re fortunate to have had two full weeks available to prepare ahead of the Belgian Grand Prix. As usual, we’re going into this double-header hopeful of closing the gap to the leaders in both the drivers’ and constructors’ championships. Lewis’s victory in Hungary certainly provided further proof to us that we can take on the fight for both – and that remains our aim: to win both world championships.”

McLaren has been winning races in Belgium for more than 40 years. Here’s how the team defined 14 days in the history of the Belgian Grand Prix.

1. June 9 1968
Denny Hulme leads for McLaren early on, until he’s forced out with a driveshaft problem. This leaves Jackie Stewart in the lead, but the Scot runs out of fuel on the penultimate lap and hands victory to Bruce McLaren in his M7A. It’s Bruce’s fourth grand prix win, but, crucially, it’s the first-ever victory for the McLaren marque. We’re still winning regularly, 177 wins later.

2. May 12 1974 (Nivelles)
Emerson Fittipaldi’s second win for McLaren. He passes Jody Scheckter for second on the opening lap and takes the lead late in the race when Clay Regazzoni is pushed wide by a backmarker. Emmo crosses the line 0.35s ahead of Niki Lauda’s Ferrari and wins McLaren’s first world championship later that year.

3. May 9 1982 (Zolder)
The race takes place under a cloud, following the death of Gilles Villeneuve during qualifying. John Watson starts 10th and works his way to the front. On the harder tyre, Watson takes the lead from Keke Rosberg on the penultimate lap when the Finn runs wide on his worn tyres.

4. May 17 1987
Williams lock out the front row of the grid, but McLaren dominates the race with an emphatic one-two for Alain Prost and Stefan Johansson. Their quest is helped by a string of retirements and they end up the only drivers on the lead lap after third-placed Andrea de Cesaris runs out of fuel almost within sight of the chequered flag.

5. August 28 1988
The first of Ayrton Senna’s four Belgian GP victories for McLaren. He’s beaten away from pole position by Alain Prost, but he out-brakes the Frenchman at Les Combes on lap one and is never headed thereafter. Alain follows him home to give McLaren its second consecutive one-two at Spa-Francorchamps.

6. August 27 1989
The third consecutive one-two for McLaren at this track. Ayrton is at his best all weekend: he takes pole position by 0.5s and is never headed in a wet race. Alain fends off a spirited challenge from Nigel Mansell to come home 1.3s behind his team-mate.

7. August 26 1990
It takes three starts to get the race underway owing to accidents. When everyone gets around lap one cleanly, Ayrton is leading from his McLaren team-mate Gerhard Berger. Ayrton runs away with the race, but Prost overtakes Gerhard for second place and the Austrian drops behind Alessandro Nannini as well. Berger then re-takes third place with three laps to go.

8. August 25 1991
A brilliant one-two for Ayrton and Gerhard, but there are some heart-stopping moments along the way. Ayrton withstands intense pressure from Nigel Mansell during the early laps and he then has to bump-start his Honda engine when it stalls at half distance. Gearbox problems for Riccardo Patrese allow Gerhard to pass him for second in the closing laps.

9. August 29 1999
David Coulthard’s only victory at Spa-Francorchamps. He qualifies second to team-mate Mika Hakkinen, but takes the lead at La Source on lap one and is never headed after that. Mika’s second place gives McLaren another one-two at Spa and takes him one-point clear at the top of the world championship table.

10. August 27 2000
That overtaking manoeuvre! On lap 41 of 44 Mika gets a run on race leader Michael Schumacher through Eau Rouge, just as Schumi stumbles upon backmarker Ricardo Zonta. Schumi darts around the outside of Zonta, while Hakkinen passes them both on the inside. “That was pretty exciting,” said Hakkinen afterwards. David finishes fourth in the second MP4-15.

11. August 29 2004
A hugely eventful race, in which there are three Safety Car periods and six different race leaders. Kimi Raikkonen battles to the front from 10th on the grid to win the race by three seconds from Michael Schumacher. David qualifies fourth, but comes home seventh after colliding with Christian Klein.

12. September 11 2005
Juan Pablo Montoya takes pole position, ahead of team-mate Kimi. The order remains unchanged during the early laps, but Kimi stays out two laps longer than Juan Pablo at the pitstops and emerges in the lead. Kimi wins by 28s, but the chance of a McLaren one-two disappears when Juan Pablo tangles with Antonio Pizzonia late in the race.

13. September 07 2008
Pole-sitter Lewis Hamilton snatches victory from Kimi Raikkonen in the closing stages, but his celebrations are short-lived. The stewards think he gained an unfair advantage by running across the chicane late in the race and they add 25s to his race time, which demotes him to third. Felipe Massa takes the win.

14. August 29 2010
Mixed weather conditions make this a tense race, but there’s no stopping the sure-footed Lewis. He passes pole-sitter Mark Webber on the opening lap and never looks back – despite a brief, heart-stopping ‘off’ into the gravel almost within sight of the chequer. He also takes the fastest lap of the race.

Subbed by AJN.