Brackley - 19/08/2014
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.
Driver / Senior Management Quotes
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. I had some difficult weekends in the first part of the season, but then a bit of good fortune at the last race in Budapest kept me from damaging my car on the wall during that first lap, so hopefully that was a sign that my fortunes are changing at just the right time. There were so many positives to take from the opening eleven races, but both myself and the team always want more and know we are capable of more. The aim is to put the more difficult times of some of the previous weekends behind us and to recreate the best moments at every race from now on. I love driving at Spa, so there are few better places to start. I had good results there in 2008 and on my first visit to the circuit with this team last year, plus the win in 2010 of course. I haven't won there as many times as I'd like but that win was a really special one, so I really want to add to that and that's definitely the target this weekend.
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 last race didn't turn out how I had hoped after taking pole in tricky conditions the day before, but I still managed to come away with my Championship lead intact and that's a good place to be heading into the next part of the year. Although we have had a great start with plenty of good results, that race showed that the other teams are never too far away. In Formula One you just can't afford to give away any advantage and I know that both the team and myself will be working harder than ever to keep improving and maintain our position right to the very end. On top of that, the battle with Lewis has been so close all season - and it could well stay that way right up to the final race - so every last point will be crucial in that contest too. Next up, of course, we have Belgium, which is definitely one of the most spectacular races of the year. 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!
Toto Wolff, Head of Mercedes-Benz Motorsport
It has been good for the sport to take a break during these past two weeks after an intense start to the season. Aside from the demanding schedule which we encounter each and every year, the challenges of this new formula have placed an extra demand on all the people who have worked so hard to produce what is an almost entirely new car for these revolutionary regulations. The big positive from that, however, is that what we have already seen an impressive display in terms of both the technology underneath the drivers and some spectacular racing on track. Looking ahead to Spa, and also reflecting on our recent performances, it is clear that reliability must be a key focus for the team if we are to maintain the hard-earned advantage established in the opening stages of the year. We approach the remaining eight races with the firm target of making this next phase of the season even better than what we have achieved so far. Although the team has done a fantastic job, we are fully aware that this Championship is far from decided - as demonstrated clearly in Hungary by the performance of some of our competitors. As always, we are taking nothing for granted.
Paddy Lowe, Executive Director (Technical)
Spa is one of the truly great circuits in Formula One, with plenty of heritage and some fantastic racing on show throughout the many years of its presence on the calendar. Eau Rouge is, naturally, the highlight. It has always been a tricky challenge to master and is arguably the most symbolic corner of any racetrack we visit. Overall, Spa is a very fast, low downforce circuit, requiring the cars to run with a quite different configuration to that seen so far this season. It's also a very long lap which, combined with the variable weather conditions almost inevitably encountered in Belgium, can make for a tricky race. If rain begins to fall at the wrong moment, there is plenty of time for mistakes to be made before a driver can return to the pits for wet tyres. Again, the circuit presents quite a different challenge to those seen thus far this year, so we're looking forward to seeing how the F1 W05 Hybrid fares. We're certainly hoping for a strong performance and, if we can get the setup right and manage the weather conditions correctly, we can be optimistic of a good result. Having said that, we are under no illusions that a number of other cars will also come to the fore here. Our priority as a team is to re-establish a trouble-free weekend, which is something we unfortunately haven't seen for a few races. But we are now just over halfway through the season and, with everyone having had a chance to recharge the batteries during the summer break, we head to Spa refreshed and fully focused on making the most of the remaining eight races.
Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps: The Inside Line
Spa is an amazing circuit. You really feel like you're going somewhere here - up into the woods, around the back and then all way back down again. 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.
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!
On the Pit Wall
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.
Spa presents an intriguing and almost unique scenario in terms of ERS usage. The regulations state that drivers can deploy a maximum of 4MJ of energy to the MGU-K per lap. However, some circuits feature a lap distance of around 4km, others up to 7km. Clearly, between these two different lengths of circuit, there is a significant delta in the power available to the driver per kilometre. Sitting at the top end of that scale, with a lap length around 30% higher than the normalised average, restrictions on ERS deployment will have a greater impact here than at most other circuits, with the Power Unit restricted from being utilised to its ultimate efficiency level.
As has been the case at a number of circuits this season, the tyre allocation for Spa takes a step towards the softer end of the scale than that of last year, with the soft and medium compounds now nominated. In normal track temperatures these tyres should be well suited, however they may struggle if the track is cool. With the softer compounds in 2014, and the added punch of the new Power Units, we could see lap times falling nearer to the 2013 benchmark than at any other venue thus far in 2014 - perhaps even more so than in Bahrain, which has provided the closest comparison to date.
One of the key considerations at Spa invariably lies in the weather fronts, with significant swings in climatic conditions typically occurring year-on-year. Over the course of a race weekend, however, this will more often than not remain stable, with weather fronts tending to arrive for a sustained period - usually enough to cover the three days of on-track action at least. Throughout its many years on the calendar, the Belgian Grand Prix weekend has seen temperatures ranging from the lowest of the season all the way up to the high twenties, so the variations are quite significant. Rain is also a frequent feature - potentially forming around any one of the mountains in the region and producing very interesting races from a strategic perspective.
Safety Cars / Overtaking
Safety car probability has been dramatically reduced over the years through the introduction of extensive run-off areas around key areas of the circuit - in particular at the first corner. Overtaking is also relatively straightforward, with plenty of opportunities to regain position should a car find itself out of position. The run down into Turn Five is where most passing manoeuvres occur, in the form of a routine straight line performance pass.
20 August 1939 - 75 Years Ago:
The Swiss Grand Prix at the Bremgarten circuit near Bern ends with a triple triumph for Mercedes-Benz: Hermann Lang wins, followed by Rudolf Caracciola and Manfred von Brauchitsch to end the season as the most successful driver.
22 - 23 August 1914 - 100 Years Ago:
In Elgin, Illinois/USA, Ralph DePalma wins the Chicago Automobile Club Trophy and the Elgin National Trophy. His racing car is a 4.5-litre Grand Prix Mercedes acquired from DMG after the triple victory in Lyon in July 1914.
2013 Belgian Grand Prix - One Year Ago:
Lewis Hamilton takes the 275th Formula One podium finish for Mercedes-Benz power - his fifth for the team during an impressive debut season with the Silver Arrows
2001 Belgian Grand Prix - 13 Years Ago:
David Coulthard takes the 100th Formula One podium finish for Mercedes-Benz power with second place at the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps.
1955 Belgian Grand Prix - 59 Years Ago
Sir Stirling Moss takes the tenth Formula One podium finish for the Silver Arrows around the original 14km Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps.