Twenty six days after the Hungarian Grand Prix, the sound of Formula 1 engines will be heard once again this Friday, echoing around the Ardennes, as the World Championship resumes after its summer break, with round 13, the Belgian Grand Prix. This year’s event will be its fifty fifth running, the forty third at Spa Francorchamps, with the first Grand Prix dating back to the start of the Formula 1 World Championship in 1950. Scuderia Ferrari has won here sixteen times and even if the sport moves so quickly that past form is not really a pointer to what might happen this year, the Prancing Horse can face the weekend with confidence, arriving in Belgium on the back of a hat-trick of Spa wins, courtesy of Kimi Raikkonen in 2007 and ’09 and Felipe Massa in 2008. The Brazilian also finished second in 2007, one place ahead of Fernando Alonso, for whom this was his best finish here.
Although the cars that Felipe and Fernando will use this weekend have not turned a wheel in over three weeks, the F10 will nevertheless feature some changes on the technical front, apart from generally running in a lower downforce configuration to that last seen in Budapest: Friday’s free practice session will be the time for the Scuderia to evaluate some new aerodynamic parts, with the most significant change being an update to the diffuser. As usual, in this era of the testing ban, it will be the data from Friday’s track time which will decide whether or not the team will use some or all of the new elements for qualifying and the race. Naturally, the aim of these latest developments on the car is to continue the positive performance demonstrated by the Scuderia in the races leading up to the summer break. However, with both championships, Drivers and Constructors, so closely balanced, Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro’s rivals will also be working hard and the effect of the latest batch of technical changes on the hierarchy in the pack will not be clear, at least until after Friday’s free practice sessions. The official Formula 1 break ended for Ferrari last Sunday at midnight and all members of the Gestione Sportiva have been back at work since Monday, preparing for the resumption of hostilities in Spa. The only concession to the longer than usual gap between the last race and this one is that the bulk of the team, who would normally have arrived at the race track on Thursday morning, will actually arrive in the Spa area on Wednesday afternoon. This will allow them to make an earlier start in the garage the following day, given that apart from the usual pre-race preparation, there are new parts to be fitted and there was not much time available back in Maranello, in between the return to work on Monday and the cars’ departure for Belgium on Tuesday evening.
The fast and flowing nature of the Spa-Francorchamps circuit should suit the characteristics of the F10, although as usual at this circuit there is always a question mark about the weather: indeed “fast and flowing” is a phrase that can often be attributed to the water running across the track surface! This key element to the Belgian weekend is further complicated by the fact that, at 7.004 kilometres, the track is the longest on the calendar and, as it rises and falls through the forests, it is not uncommon for rain to fall on one part while being completely dry on another. The length of the track also affects the work schedule for the teams, given that one lap takes around 1m 46s to complete, which drastically reduces the number of laps that can be completed in a session, meaning less opportunities to change components or make adjustments to the set-up. This year’s layout at the Bahrain GP was also very long, but in the desert, at least one could rely on perfectly dry conditions, whereas in Belgium, the chance of rain making the lap even longer is an ever-present threat. Currently the forecasters are predicting a chance of showers on Sunday afternoon.
Sunday’s race will be a special occasion for a couple of former Ferrari drivers: for Michael Schumacher this weekend will mark the nineteenth anniversary of his Formula 1 debut in the 1991 Belgian Grand Prix. It will also be a landmark race for Rubens Barrichello, Michael’s former team-mate in the Prancing Horse squad and indeed the two men hold the record for the highest number (24) of one-two finishes for a driver pairing. “In Spa, Rubens celebrates his three hundredth Grand Prix participation, which is a remarkable achievement,” commented Team Principal, Stefano Domenicali. “On behalf of everyone at Ferrari, I congratulate him and wish him all the best, as he was part of our team when it was living through a great period in its history and he made a very significant contribution to our success at that time.” That contribution can clearly be seen from the statistics: during his time at Ferrari, Barrichello drove in 104 Grands Prix, winning 9 of them. He started from pole 11 times, finishing on the podium 55 times, with 71 points finishes to his name, as well as setting 15 fastest race laps and scoring a total of 412 points. He twice finished second in the Drivers’ World Championship, in 2002 and 2004.