The Big Preview: Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps

The magnificent Spa-Francorchamps circuit welcomes Formula 1 back from its summer break for the Belgian Grand Prix, round 11 of the 2013 FIA F1 World Championship. With nine races in the next 14 weeks the second half the season packs a lot of action into a short space of time.

The championships are delicately poised: Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull Racing hold the lead in their respective competitions but the chasing pack has stayed within range. A good run of form now could see the world champion and his Milton Keynes-based squad build an unassailable position, while poor races here and in Italy – neither of which have been strong for RBR in recent history – will set up a furious finish to the season.

Grid girl at Spa

Grid girl at Spa

Spa-Francorchamps provides a thorough test of man and machine. The sweeping curves, high speeds and roller-coaster profile make this circuit a firm favourite with drivers but a headache for engineers who have to find a workable compromise between very different demands. Do you bring a low-downforce package for the fast first and third sectors and lose time in the make-or-break middle part of the lap or go for higher downforce and potentially be a sitting duck for overtaking on the long, fast Kemmel straight? Over the years the advantage has swung back and forth.

Pirelli are bringing their two hardest compounds to the Ardennes, as was the case in 2012. Last year Jenson Button won with a one-stop strategy, while the majority of the field, including third-placed Kimi Räikkönen, opted for two stops. Of course Spa is one of the most-likely F1 venues to see the intermediate or full-wet tyres in action, and with rain forecast for the weekend there’s every chance of seeing another classic, chaotic Belgian Grand Prix.

The awesome Eau Rouge is hallowed ground in motorsport

The awesome Eau Rouge is hallowed ground in motorsport

Spa-Francorchamps Circuit Data

  • Length of lap: 7.004 km
  • Lap record: 1:47.263 (Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull Racing, 2009)
  • Start line/finish line offset: 0.124 km
  • Total number of race laps: 44
  • Total race distance: 308.052 km
  • Pitlane speed limits: 80km/h throughout the entire event weekend.

Changes to circuit since 2012

  • The tyre barriers around the outside of Turns 3 and 4 have been renewed.
  • Additional kerbs, 50mm above the existing kerbs, will be installed behind the kerbs on the apex of Turns 5, 7, 8, 9, 12, 13, 14 and 15.

DRS Zones

  • There will be a two DRS zones in Belgium. The detection point for the first zone will be 240 m before Turn 2, with the activation point 310 m after Turn 4. The second detection point will be 160 m before Turn 18, with the activation point 30 m after Turn 19.
Michael Schumacher is king of Spa with six wins the first in 1992

Michael Schumacher is king of Spa with six wins, the first of which came in 1992

Belgian Grand Prix Fast Facts

  • Spa was one of the venues for the inaugural Formula 1 World Championship season in 1950. It has been the circuit used for the bulk of Belgian Grands Prix, hosting the race for 45 of its 57 runnings.
  • Sebastian Vettel leads the World Championship after the Hungarian Grand Prix. This traditionally has been a point at which championship potential is assessed, regardless of the number of races that follow. Recent history suggests the leader after Hungary is rarely overhauled. In the last 13 seasons, only four times has the lead been relinquished. Michael Schumacher trailed Mika Häkkinen in 2000, Kimi Räikkönen was third in 2007 with Lewis Hamilton leading, and Vettel himself lay third in both 2010 and 2012, Mark Webber and Fernando Alonso spending those summer breaks on top.
  • The calendar has become increasingly back-loaded in recent years. The Belgian Grand Prix used to herald the beginning of the run-in to the end of the season with three or four races (depending on whether it preceded or followed the Italian Grand Prix) coming after. Eight further grand prix will follow Spa in 2013.
  • Michael Schumacher reigns supreme at Spa-Franchorchamps with six victories (’92, 95-97, 2001-02). He made his F1 debut at Spa in 1991 and came back to record his first F1 victory a year later. Victory in 2001 was Schumacher’s 52nd, overtaking Alain Prost at the top of the order. He refers to it affectionately as his ‘living room’. In 2012 it was the venue of his 300th grand prix.
  • The 2012 Belgian Grand Prix marked the end of an unusual run for another world champion. Räikkönen’s F1 record at Spa prior to this saw the Finn either win or fail to finish every time he came to the famous circuit. With Sauber in 2001 he failed to get off the line. He had an engine failure with McLaren in 2002 and spun off in the final laps while dicing for the lead in 2008. He won the race in 2003-05 and 2009. His ’04 and ’09 victories came in uncompetitive cars that failed to record other wins in those seasons. In 2012 he could only manage third – which nevertheless means he’s been on the podium at every Belgium Grand Prix ever time he’s seen the chequered flag.
  • Ferrari is the most successful constructor in Belgium with 16 victories to McLaren’s 14. Both, however, have won the race a dozen times at Spa-Franchorchamps.
  • McLaren share with Lotus the distinction of having won the Belgian Grand Prix at all three venues to host it. In addition to their 12 wins at Spa, McLaren have a John Watson victory at Zolder in 1982, while Emerson Fittipaldi triumphed at Nivelles in 1974. The only other grand prix held at the Nivelles circuit was also won by Fittipaldi, driving for Lotus in 1972, for whom Gunnar Nilsson (1977) and Mario Andretti (1978) won at Zolder, while Jim Clark (1962-65) and Ayrton Senna (1985) triumphed at Spa.
Jenson Button won the 2012 Belgian GP

Jenson Button won the 2012 Belgian GP

Reuters Belgian Grand Prix Stats

  • Four different teams have won the nine races so far this year (Lotus, Red Bull, Ferrari, Mercedes).
  • Red Bull’s triple champion Sebastian Vettel is the only driver with four wins in 2013. Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso and Mercedes’s Nico Rosberg have won two races each. Lotus’s Kimi Raikkonen and Mercedes’s Lewis Hamilton each have taken a victory this year.
  • Alonso has 32 career wins, Vettel 30, Hamilton 22, Raikkonen 20 and McLaren’s Jenson Button 15.
  • Ferrari have won 221 races since the championship started in 1950, McLaren 182, Williams 114 and Red Bull 38.
  • Mercedes have been on pole seven times in 10 races. Vettel has taken the other three.
  • Vettel has 39 poles to his credit, putting him third in the all-time list (Michael Schumacher had 68 and Ayrton Senna 65). Hamilton has 30 and Alonso 22.
  • Hamilton’s pole in Hungary last month was his third in a row and lifted him ahead of the late Argentine five-time champion Juan Manuel Fangio in the all-time lists.
  • Mercedes have locked out the front row in qualifying three times this year.
  • Alonso has not been on the front row in the last 20 races, with his last appearance being his pole in Germany in July 2012. He has not been on pole in a dry qualifying since 2010.
  • Caterham and Marussia have yet to score a point after three seasons in F1.
  • None of the five 2013 rookies has scored points so far.
  • Kimi Raikkonen has now finished a record 27 successive races in the points for Lotus, although scoring systems have changed since Michael Schumacher set 24 in a row in 2001-03.
  • Raikkonen last failed to score in China in 2012. He is the only driver to have scored points in every race this year and has also racked up 38 successive grand prix finishes – three short of Nick Heidfeld’s record of 41.
  • Former champions Williams scored their first point of the season in Hungary, ending a run of 10 races in a row without scoring.
  • There are no Belgian drivers at present. Only seven Belgians have scored points in F1. The last to do so was Thierry Boutsen in 1992.
  • Ferrari have won 16 times in Belgium to McLaren’s 14. Both have won 12 times at Spa.
  • Apart from Vettel’s win with Red Bull in 2011, Ferrari and McLaren have won every Belgian Grand Prix since 1999.
  • Five of the last 11 races at Spa have been won from pole.
  • Five of the current drivers have won the Belgian GP: Button (2012), Vettel (2011), Hamilton (2010), Raikkonen (2009, 2007, 2005, 2004) and Felipe Massa (2008).
  • McLaren’s first world championship grand prix win was in Belgium with Bruce McLaren in 1968.
Romain Grosjean got it all wrong heading into Turn 1 at the start of the 2012 race

Romain Grosjean got it all wrong heading into Turn 1 at the start of the 2012 race

Race Stewards Biographies

  • Lars Österlind is a highly experienced FIA steward who has officiated at more than 100 grands prix and a similar number of World Rally Championship rounds. A social sciences graduate and lifelong motor sport enthusiast, Österlind was President of the Swedish Rally Commission from 1978-1982, then President of the Swedish Automobile Sport Federation from 1982-1996. He became Honorary President in 1996 and has been a member of the FIA World Council since 1984. Outside motor sport Österlind has specialised in management, working as a consultant and pursuing his own business interests. He is also experienced in local government at city council level.
  • Farhan Vohra, an economics graduate from Loyola College, Chennai, and a member of the FMSCI, India’s national motor sport authority, is best known to the F1 paddock for his work at Buddh International Circuit, home of the Indian Grand Prix. Last year his work at Buddh was recognised when he was won the Best Clerk of the Course award at the FIA Gala.
  • Vohra is one of the FMSCI’s senior stewards and alongside his duties at several grands prix for the FIA has also been a steward for FIM, motorcycling’s governing body. A long-time competitor, involved in motor sport since the mid-1990s, Vohra started officiating in 2006 after taking a break from active competition. He has since been the Clerk of the Course for all Indian national championships, both racing and karting.
  • Derek Warwick raced in 146 grands prix from 1981 to 1993, appearing for Toleman, Renault, Brabham, Arrows and Lotus. He scored 71 points and achieved four podium finishes, with two fastest laps. He was World Sportscar Champion in 1992, driving for Peugeot. He also won Le Mans in the same year. He raced Jaguar sportscars in 1986 and 1991 and competed in the British Touring Car Championship between 1995 and 1998, as well as a futher appearance at the Le Mans in 1996, driving for the Courage Competition team. Warwick is a frequent FIA driver steward and is President of the British Racing Drivers’ Club.

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