The Big Preview: Belgian Grand Prix

Action through Eau Rouge during the 1965 Belgian Grand Prix

Action through Eau Rouge during the 1965 Belgian Grand Prix

After enjoying its traditional summer break, Formula One returns for round 12 of the 2014 championship, the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps, one of the calendar’s true classics and one of its toughest tests.

The 7.004km circuit features every kind of challenge. From the run down through Eau Rouge and up the steep incline towards the blind Radillon corner, to the flat-out blast of the Kemmel Straight, through Les Combes and the technically difficult stretch down through Rivage, Pouhon and Fagnes and on to the fearsomely fast Blanchimont left-hander, Spa-Francorchamps is a circuit that, despite myriad alterations over the years, still pushes man and machine to the limit.

Spa is one of the season’s fastest tracks with average speeds of 230km/h and the stretch from the exit of La Source to Les Combes sees the throttle wide open for 23 seconds – the longest single period on the calendar.

Indeed, in the past as much as 70 per cent of each lap has been spent at full throttle so it will be interesting to see how teams meet that demand with 2014’s hybrid power units. Set-up is tricky too, with the key to success being the right balance between low downforce for the high-speed first and third sectors and good grip for the twistier middle sector.

Formula 1 World Championship Round 12

Formula 1 World Championship Round 12 at Spa-Francorchamps

And then there’s the weather. The Ardennes defines the phrase ‘four seasons in one day’ and while one end of the circuit can be bathed in sunshine the opposite side can be drenched with rain. The changeable conditions can present a real headache for teams especially regarding tyre choice.

All told, Spa is the perfect venue for F1’s title hopefuls to renew hostilities. In the Driver’s Championship, just 11 points separate leader Nico Rosberg from Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton, while the battle for third spot sees Daniel Ricciardo, a two-time GP winner this season, 16 points clear of Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso. Of these, only Hamilton has won here before, but at mercurial Spa past form often counts for little. A thrilling race lies in prospect.

Spa-Francorchamps Circuit Data

  • Length of lap 7.004km
  • Lap record 1:47.263 (Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull Racing, 2009)
  • Start line/finish line offset 0.124km
  • Total number of race laps 44
  • Total race distance 308.052km
  • Pitlane speed limits 80km/h in practice, qualifying and the race
  • New debris fences have been installed at Turn One.
  • Drainage has been installed or improved at Turns Two, Four, Eight, 11, 16 and 17.
  • The wall on the driver’s left after Turn 11 has been renewed.
  • There will be two DRS zones in Belgium. The detection point for the first zone will be 240m before Turn Two, with the activation point 310m after Turn Four. The second detection point will be 160m before Turn 18, with the activation point 30m after Turn 19.
2013 Belgian Grand Prix podium

2013 Belgian Grand Prix podium

Belgian Grand Prix Fast Facts

  • This will be the 59th Formula One Belgian Grand Prix, the first having been held in 1950 when it formed the fifth round of the inaugural F1 championship. The race was won by Juan Manuel Fangio.
  • That first edition of the race was held at Spa-Francorchamps, on the original 14.1km circuit. That circuit, with minor modifications, was used from 1950-’56, 1958 and from 1960-’70, after which the track was deemed too dangerous for Formula One. The Nivelles circuit was used in 1972 and 1974, with Zolder hosting the race in 1973 and then from 1975 until 1982. Spa hosted the 1983 race on a shortened 6.949km circuit and Zolder hosted its final Belgian GP in 1984.
  • With just two exceptions (2003 and 2006, when the Belgian GP was not held) the race has been staged at Spa-Francorchamps every year since 1985. The circuit has been subject to frequent modifications since then, the largest being the construction of new pit and paddock facilities prior to the 2007 race. The resultant 7.004km layout is the one currently in use. This will be the 47th F1 grand prix held at Spa-Francorchamps.
  • The most successful driver at the Belgian Grand Prix is Michael Schumacher, with six wins. The first of the German’s 91 career wins was scored here in 1992 with Benetton. He won with the same team in 1995 before recording a quartet of victories for Ferrari in 1996, ’97, 2001 and 2002. Ayrton Senna comes next, with five wins, in 1985, ’88, ’89, ’90 and ’91.
  • No driver has won the Belgian Grand Prix at more than one venue. Emerson Fittipaldi, however, is the only man to have won at Nivelles. The unloved 3.7km circuit near Brussels hosted just two Formula One grands prix and the Brazilian won both, the first with Lotus in 1972 and then in 1974 with McLaren.
  • Ferrari is the most successful constructors at the Belgian Grand Prix. The Italian squad has 16 wins, followed by 14 for McLaren and eight for Lotus. Williams have four wins, while Red Bull Racing have two. Mercedes also have a win to their credit too, in 1955, courtesy of Fangio.
  • There are five Belgian Grand Prix winners entered this weekend. Felipe Massa won in 2008, Lewis Hamilton in 2010, Sebastian Vettel in 2011 and 2013 and Hamilton again in 2012. None comes close to the achievements of Kimi Räikkönen, however. The Finn has won this race four times, starting with back-to-back wins with McLaren in 2004 and 2005. He next won for Ferrari in his championship-winning season of 2007 and most recently won again in 2009, the final year of his previous stint with the Scuderia.
  • Räikkonen’s first win at Spa-Francorchamps came from a starting position of 10th on the grid. It’s not the lowest grid slot from which victory has been scored, however. Schumacher’s 1995 win was scored from a starting position of 16th.
Michael Schumacher has been the most successful driver at Spa-Francorchamps

Michael Schumacher has been the most successful driver at Spa-Francorchamps

Belgian Grand Prix Statistics by Reuters

  • Mercedes have won all but two races so far this season. The exceptions were Canada and Hungary, both won by Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo.
  • Red Bull’s quadruple world champion Sebastian Vettel has 39 career wins, Fernando Alonso 32, Lewis Hamilton 27, Kimi Raikkonen 20 and Jenson Button 15. Championship leader Nico Rosberg has seven.
  • Hamilton is level with triple champion Jackie Stewart in the all-time list of winners. The only British driver to have won more is 1992 champion Nigel Mansell (31).
  • Ferrari have won 221 races, McLaren 182, Williams 114 and Red Bull 49. Mercedes have won 22 and one more would lift them level with now-defunct Tyrrell.McLaren have not won for 30 races, a run that dates back to Brazil 2012.
  • Ferrari’s last victory was in Spain in May 2013 – the last time a team other than Mercedes or Red Bull won.Mercedes and Williams are the only teams to have started a race on pole position this year.
  • Rosberg (Bahrain/Monaco/Canada/Britain/Germany/Hungary) has had six poles this year to Hamilton’s four (Australia/Malaysia/China/Spain). Brazilian Felipe Massa was on pole for Williams in Austria.Vettel has 45 career poles. Hamilton has 35.
  • Ferrari’s last pole was in Germany with Alonso in 2012.
  • Mercedes scored more points in the first 10 races of the year (366) than in all of 2013 (360).Caterham, who came into the sport in 2010, are the only team on the grid who have yet to score a point.
  • Ferrari have finished a record 78 successive races with at least one car in the points, a run that dates back to the 2010 German Grand Prix.
  • Alonso is the only driver to have scored points in every race this season.
  • Sauber have gone 11 races without scoring, their longest barren run since they entered the sport in 1993. They went nine in a row between October 1995 and May 1996, at a time when only the top six cars scored points.
  • Ferrari’s Raikkonen is the only driver who has yet to beat his team mate this season.
  • Spa is the longest lap of the season and one of the fastest, with an average speed of around 230kph. Cars are flat out for about 70 percent of the time, making it the hardest circuit of the year for engines.
  • The circuit has hosted 46 of the 57 Belgian GPs to date.
  • Michael Schumacher won six times at Spa, more than any driver. Kimi Raikkonen has four wins there.
  • There are no Belgian Formula One drivers at present. The last Belgian to score points in F1 was Thierry Boutsen in 1992.
  • Ferrari and McLaren have both won 12 times at Spa.
  • Only five of the last 12 races at Spa have been won from pole position.
  • Germany’s triple Le Mans winner Andre Lotterer will be making his F1 debut this weekend with Caterham at the age of 32, replacing Japan’s Kamui Kobayashi.
  • American Alexander Rossi will make his Formula One debut when he replaces Briton Max Chilton in the Marussia team’s line-up.
Romain Grosjean triggered one of the biggest shunts in recent memory at the 2012 Belgian Grand Prix

Romain Grosjean triggered one of the biggest shunts in recent memory at the 2012 Belgian Grand Prix

Belgian Grand Prix Race Stewards Biographies

  • Dr Gerd Ennser has successfully combined his formal education in law with his passion for motor racing. While still active as a racing driver he began helping out with the management of his local motor sport club and since 2006 has been a permanent steward at every round of Germany’s DTM championship. Since 2010 he has also been a Formula One steward. Dr Ennser, who has worked as a judge, a prosecutor and in the legal department of an automotive-industry company, has also acted as a member of the steering committee of German motor sport body, the DMSB, since spring 2010, where he is responsible for automobile sport. In addition, Dr Ennser is a board member of the South Bavaria Section of ADAC, Germany’s biggest auto club.
  • Italian-born Vincenzo Spano grew up in Venezuela, where he went on to study at the Universidad Central de Venezuela, becoming an attorney-at-law. Spano has wide-ranging experience in motor sport, from national to international level. He has worked for the Touring y Automóvil Club de Venezuela since 1991, and served as President of the Sporting Commission since 2001. He was president for two terms and now sits as a member of the Board of the Nacam-FIA zone. Since 1995 Spano has been a licenced steward and obtained his FIA steward superlicence in 2003.Spano has been involved with the FIA and FIA Institute in various roles since 2001: a member of the World Motor Sport Council, the FIA Committee, and the executive committee of the FIA Institute.
  • During a motor sport career spanning almost 40 years, Emanuele Pirro has achieved a huge amount of success, most notably in sportscar racing, with five Le Mans wins, victory at the Daytona 24 Hours and two wins at the Sebring 12 Hours. In addition, the Italian driver has won the German and Italian Touring Car championships (the latter twice) and has twice been American Le Mans Series Champion. Pirro, enjoyed a three-season F1 career from 1989 to 1991, firstly with Benetton and then for Scuderia Italia. His debut as an FIA Steward came at the 2010 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and he has returned regularly since.