Round 12 of the 2014 Formula One World Championship brings us to Spa for the Belgian Grand Prix, held at the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps.
Spa is a very different type of circuit to any other on the current calendar. It is very much a power-dominated track, with the high-speed nature of the layout very much playing to the strengths of the 2014 Power Unit. There are a number of long straights with a real mix of different corners throughout. Similar to Barcelona in many respects, albeit to a more exaggerated extent, each of the three sectors holds different demands. The first features a lot of full-throttle content, the second a high quantity of technical corners with mid-level entry speeds and the third a mixture of fast curves capped off with a heavy braking zone to end the lap. Year in, year out, debate centres around whether the biggest advantage lies in reducing drag to increase overtaking opportunities down the straights, or in running slightly higher levels of downforce to increase performance through the corners. Qualifying also throws a different factor into the equation, as the use of DRS reduces the effect of a lower drag configuration – although, of course, in this case higher speeds can be reached before the DRS is activated.
In the same vein as the following race at Monza, Spa will see aerodynamic packages designed exclusively for this event. The circuit is sufficiently unique in terms of optimising the car that teams will go out of their way to produce a special package for this race weekend alone. Whilst not necessarily affecting the larger outfits, this can work in one of two ways for the smaller teams on the grid. Some may choose not to pour resource into a single event, while others may take advantage of the opportunity to capitalise on the distinct nature of the circuit and gain an advantage over their rivals. This can lead to some interesting midfield battles that can potentially prove crucial come the end of the season, depending on whether a team gets it right or wrong.
Nico Rosberg: “It’s good to be back after the break and to see everyone looking really refreshed and up for the fight in the remaining months of the season. The Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps is a fantastic racetrack. It’s where the special features of a Formula One car really shine through, with all the fast, flowing corners and right, left combinations that come together to make a fantastically varied lap. It really is a very enjoyable circuit to drive and a big challenge too – especially as the weather is always all over the place. That’s a big consideration in the way you approach the weekend and it can cause a bit of chaos sometimes!
There are so many fast corners and it’s difficult to get them all right – but this is crucial to a strong lap as maintaining momentum is the key to good speed. There are also some really good overtaking opportunities – in particular at the end the long straight after Eau Rouge and then again into the final chicane at the end of the high-speed final sector before you cross the start / finish line. So again, that rhythm is very important in terms of both attacking and defending a position.
Eau Rouge is, of course, the signature corner – and one of the most spectacular features of any track we go to. Even though we have much less downforce on the cars this year with the new regulations it will still be taken flat out. It’s an incredible feeling, as the g-forces you experience through the corner are just unbelievable! These kinds of forces are actually quite unusual, as we’re used to lateral loads but not the intensity and speed of the vertical compression you experience through this corner. You’re suddenly pushed down into the seat and then you find yourself looking straight up at the sky – you can literally see nothing but blue! You have to go by memory to feel where the next part of the corner is coming up over the hill, take aim and hope you get it right!
The circuit is just unreal and it’s one I think every driver looks forward to. My record there hasn’t been as good as at some other circuits in the past, but I’m determined to change that and get the season kicked off again in style!”
Lewis Hamilton: “The summer break was a good chance to relax and to reflect on what’s been an incredible start to the year for us as a team. But personally, I can’t wait to get back in the car and back into the battle for the Championship. Spa is an amazing circuit. Heading down into Turn One, it’s really important not to lock up and run wide as traction is usually pretty weak on the exit of the corner and you need good drive down onto the following straight. It’s flat out down there and then on through the spectacular Eau Rouge – the corner everyone knows at Spa! Carrying good speed through the whole of this section is crucial, as a lot of time can be gained or lost.
The long straight down to Turn Five is the best overtaking opportunity around the circuit. With a low downforce configuration on the car, braking from such high speed into this corner can be really tricky. You’re then straight into the second part of the chicane at Turn Six and accelerating through Turn Seven. This is another corner where good traction is required on exit before heading downhill into Turn Eight – a beautiful, long, sweeping right-handed corner. You then have to position the car quickly on the right to ensure you carry good speed through Turn Nine and can get on the power nice and early.
You need a decent lift on entry to Turn Ten, then it’s straight back on the power again through Turn 11 and down a short straight into the Turn 12 / 13 chicane, where it’s important to really hug the apex through the first part as you can quite often get understeer through the second. It’s back on the brakes into Turn 14, but from there it’s flat out through the kinks of Turns 15, 16 and 17. Through this section you have to keep the steering as smooth and straight as possible to avoid scrubbing off too much speed.
The final chicane of Turn 18 / 19 is tricky, as by this stage both your tyres and brakes have dropped a lot of temperature. It’s so easy to lock up on entry and there’s very little grip through this tight right / left combination, but it’s important to get it right as a small mistake can put you on the back foot heading into the next lap – particularly if another car is close on your tail.”
Source: Mercedes AMG Petronas