2014 Belgian GP preview image

Built over 90 years ago, the Belgian track remains the most exciting in the calendar, with fearsome corners like Eau Rouge and Blanchimont and a very technical, flowing section that reveals the best out of cars and drivers.

Qualifying rarely determines the final race result; the pole sitter has only won the race four times since 2000. Overtaking is not a problem at Spa and the DRS wing makes it very straightforward anyway.

Track characteristics and demands

Length:7.004 kilometres. Race distance – 44 laps = 308.052 kilometers. 19 corners in total. Average speed : over 230km/h.
Full throttle – 70% of the lap (high).
Time spent braking: 14% of lap. Brake wear- Low.
Aerodynamic setup – Medium to Low downforce.
Top speed 330km/h (with Drag Reduction System active on rear wing) – 315km/h without.
Total time needed for pit stop: 21 seconds
Tires choice: soft and medium; the majority will probably go for two stops, around laps 12-13 and 27-28. A safety car, if it is long enough, could push teams to switch from two stops to one in the hope of stealing a result.The key to Spa is managing the colossal amount of energy going through the tires, from every direction. At Eau Rouge, for example, the engines are at maximum power, the cars are travelling at 300kph, and there is a negative compression in the region of 1g, as well as about 5g of lateral force.

This adds up to an unparalleled demand on the tire structure and shoulder, not seen anywhere else during the year. The medium tire is a low working range compound, capable of achieving optimal performance even at a wide range of low temperatures – which is often the case at Spa. The soft tire by contrast is a high working range compound, suitable for higher temperatures. Rain is common at Spa, but there was no rain at the Spa 24 Hours last month or last year’s Belgian Grand Prix either.

Paul Hembery, Pirelli motorsport director: “Spa is one of the most epic circuits of the year, and a track we know well from our experience of GT racing at the Spa 24 Hours too. An adaptable tire is the key element, able to work equally well within the very wide range of track and weather conditions that we often see in Belgium. Despite the fact that tire wear and degradation is traditionally high at Spa – the result of the multiple energy loadings put through the tires – we have been able to nominate the soft tires here as well as the medium for the first time since 2011, with the softer option liable to be the preferred choice in qualifying due to a significant time gap. This is because of the length of the lap, meaning also that strategy is a very big factor in Spa: there is more time to be won and lost by being on the right tire at the right time than at many other venues. It’s the sort of race where, under the right circumstances, it’s absolutely possible to go from last to first – and that always makes for a very exciting grand prix.”

Favourites and outsiders
Mercedes are overwhelming favorites like on any other race track. Having the best engine, the most effective ERS and the best chassis. Hamilton won here in 2010 and is a good choice for the winner, and NicoRosberg showed well with not a great car in 2011 against Vettel. This year the superior performance of the Mercedes hybrid power unit is likely to tell and this should help Williams, which has been its most competitive customer engine team. It is a circuit on which another Mercedes customer, Force India, has always gone well.

Last year Red Bull won in Spa; part of the tactic was to run low downforce to allow overtaking on the straights. But with the weakest hybrid at their disposal don’t expect miracles.

KimiRaikkonen is the actual king of Spa, with 4 victories here, but his recent form and the fact that F14T is not a very good car will minimize his chances. Alonso never won at Spa but looked strong almost every time he came in Belgium.

Weather
Spa is notorious for unpredictable weather. The forecast for this weekend is for cloudy weather, with a chance of rain on Saturday qualifying day.
But this can change very quickly.

The expert’s opinion: Pat Symonds, Williams chief technical officer
“Spa Francorcahamps is rightly recognized as the most challenging race track in calendar-primarily because of his twisty, undulating and fast sections…Combining the length (and geographical breadth) of the track with unpredictable local weather means that there can be some peculiar sessions, with parts of the track ending up soaking wet while other remain bone dry. Since the forecasts are often uncertain, and radar images can prove misleading, this can lead to some difficult strategy calls…

The track itself is littered with challenging corners, but the section that stand above all others is the run trough Eau Rouge and Radillon. Here the drivers race down a slope , crossing the Eau Rouge stream before thrusting into a uphill complex, containing a left-right-left combination of fast corners, with a blind summit that makes it even more difficult. It’s not hard to get it right, it’s downright scary, as launching over the crest the driver is unsure quite where the car will land…It will be exciting to see the 2014 challengers race through since the new units potentially allow higher speeds than in recent years”.

By Berndt