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Spa-Francorchamps - the engineer's view 26 Aug 2004

Sam Michael (AUS) Williams Chief Operations Engineer is interviewed by the media.
Formula One World Championship, Rd12, German Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Hockenheim, Germany, 24 July 2004 Craig Wilson (GBR) BAR.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 5, Spanish Grand Prix, Barcelona, Spain, 7 May 2004 (L to R): Bob Bell (GBR) Renault Technical Director talks with Rob White (GBR) Renault Engineer.
Formula One World Championship, Rd9, United States Grand Prix, Practice Day, Indianapolis, USA, 18 June 2004 Mark Gillan (GBR) Jaguar.
Malaysian Grand Prix, Rd 2, Sepang, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 20 March 2004

It’s not just drivers that enthuse about the Belgian Grand Prix circuit, but engineers too. Why? Because with the longest lap of the year, some of the most taxing corners and some highly unpredictable weather, Spa is a supreme challenge – and there is nothing a Formula One engineer loves more than a challenge.

Sam Michael, Technical Director, Williams:
“Spa is one of the great circuits of Formula One racing and it's fantastic to have the Grand Prix back on the calendar again. With the aero and tyre developments made since we last raced there, watching the cars going through Eau Rouge and Blanchimont will be impressive. There has also been a change to the circuit at the last "Bus Stop" corner which will slow the cars down slightly. The set-up is not geared towards high downforce, but it's important to have stability through the medium speed flowing corners as the car makes its way back from the far part of the circuit. Changing weather conditions can play havoc as it can sometimes rain on one part of the circuit, but not the other.

“We will have some more aerodynamic developments on the FW26's bodywork, particularly around the winglet and cooling chimney area, a result of the on-going wind tunnel programme. We have also been working hard to improve our starts for the Belgium Grand Prix, Antonio Pizzonia recently completed another shakedown at Silverstone to this end. Ralf has not been cleared to drive yet, so Antonio will once again be driving for us at Spa. Our strong partnership with Michelin has enabled us to precisely calculate the tyre compound and casing requirements for Spa. This is particularly impressive given the changes to the surface, and indeed to the car, since we were last at the track.”

Mario Theissen, BMW Motorsport Director:
“The roller-coaster circuit, which measures nearly seven kilometres, offers plenty of scope for a variety of racing lines and consequently wheel-to-wheel action. From that point of view, it boasts many of the pre-requisites for a great Formula One event, which should create a more exciting show for the spectators than the last Grand Prix in Hungary.

“In Belgium, we are aiming to further increase our competitiveness. Although the on-going testing ban is not exactly helping us with the continued development of the car, the race in Hungary demonstrated that the new nose and improved start performance have met our expectations. Both are foundations upon which we can build. The forthcoming Grands Prix in Belgium and Italy pose particular challenges for the BMW P84 engine. At Spa, this is primarily due to the gradients, while in Monza it will be the long straight, which invokes the highest, full-throttle percentage on the Grand Prix calendar.”

Craig Wilson, Chief Race Engineer, BAR:
"Spa is one of the last few proper tracks with a good combination of slow, medium and fast corners together with long 'straights' and gradients, requiring a medium downforce set-up and mechanically balancing the cornering grip against accommodating the track undulations. The 'Bus-Stop' chicane and pit-lane entry have been re-profiled and parts of the track have been re-surfaced; therefore not all of our data from Spa in 2002 is relevant for our preparation for the race this year. We shall utilise some of the free practice session time to make adjustments to the cars for the revised track and for working towards our race strategy assessment as well as the normal tyre evaluation work for the race."

Bob Bell, Technical Director, Renault:
“Aerodynamically, Spa requires a finer balancing act than a superficially comparable circuit such as Silverstone: although they both feature many high speed corners, the compromise between straightline speed and downforce is more delicate at the Belgian venue, making aerodynamic efficiency rather than overall downforce the key factor. We are confident we have made sufficient progress with the car's handling at high speed to be competitive in those quick corners, and the R24 has very good traction for the slow sectors. We believe we can fight for a podium finish.”

Denis Chevrier, Head of Engine Operations, Renault:
“From a reliability point of view, Spa can be considered as the most demanding circuit of the season. From the hairpin at La Source to the chicane of Les Combes at the top of the hill, the cars spend 22 seconds at full throttle, which is significantly higher than the season average of 13.5 seconds. A continuous full throttle period is significantly more demanding for the engine than a number of repeated shorter bursts, and this additional load is exercised on certain components in particular: the pistons, the valves and also the crankshaft and con-rods.

“Furthermore, this 22 second period at full throttle includes the passage through Eau Rouge. This section of the track generates very high vertical "g", which has an influence on the engine's oil feed. When designing and testing the lubrication system, this is a factor we have to take into account and while we cannot wholly eliminate the potential risks associated with the vertical loads imposed on the engine at such high engine speeds, we succeed in reducing them to such an extent that the engine can cope.

“However, it would be untrue to suggest that this opening 22 second portion is the only severe section of the circuit for the engines. At approximately 100 seconds, Spa is the longest lap of the year, and it also requires a very wide operating range from the engine: the drivers need good low-speed performance on the exit of the hairpin and the Bus Stop chicane, but also high top speeds on the two long full throttle sections (La Source to Les Combes, and Stavelot to the Bus Stop chicane).

“This demand for comprehensive engine performance throughout the rev range means in practical terms that we need as much available torque as possible throughout the rev range. This includes acceleration from the slow corners, as previously mentioned, but also in-gear acceleration at higher revs: Spa sees the drivers at full throttle for 65% of the lap, one of the highest values of the year aside from the exceptional case of Monza. Furthermore, unlike more modern circuits such as Hockenheim, these accelerations often follow fast third or fourth gear corners rather than slow first or second gear hairpins, and consequently place different demands on the engine's performance.”

Willy Rampf, Technical Director, Sauber:
"Spa-Francorchamps has a large variety of corners and is such a high-speed circuit; that is what makes it great and why it poses a big challenge not only to the drivers but also to the engineers. On the one hand you have the La Source hairpin, at the start of the lap. This is taken at only 60 kph. But then you have corners such as Blanchimont, on the final leg, which is taken at more than 300 kph. Between these two, complicating this compromise further, there is Eau Rouge at the bottom of the fast downhill plunge from La Source. It is a very demanding corner and requires complete commitment from the driver. But the car must also have excellent handling balance. The problem of Eau Rouge is not just that it is taken flat-out by some drivers, but also that the car bottoms out as it reaches the lowest part of the corner just prior to the dramatic uphill sweep at Raidillon.

"Despite this remarkable difference in maximum and minimum speeds the overall lap speed average is around 230 kph in qualifying, and cars may see as much as 350 kph in places. This is why the mechanical and aerodynamic set-up must take into account the absolute need for stability in the very fast and medium-speed corners, and also the need for mechanical traction to deal with the slower parts of the course such as the Bus Stop Chicane, which has been slightly relocated this year, and La Source.

"We will run a bespoke, medium-downforce aerodynamic package for Spa, developed from the set-up we used in Montreal but incorporating all of the important steps we have taken since then.

"Finally, you also have to take into account the notoriously fickle weather conditions in the Hautes-Fagnes region, which can completely upset all of your careful calculations."

Mike Gascoyne, Technical Director Chassis, Toyota:
“We have some small aero improvements this weekend, which will enable us to run with reduced downforce settings, as we try to balance grip in the corners with straight-line speed. Spa is the type of circuit at which we have been more competitive this season, so we will have to continue to build upon the improvements we have made recently with the TF104B to ensure that we begin to see some tangible results in the last five races of the season."

Dr Mark Gillan, Head of Vehicle Performance, Jaguar:
“This marks a return for us to a track where when we last raced we finished 6th. Since 2002 when we were last there, there have been a few circuit changes but I am not expecting things to be dramatically different. The track requires medium down-force from the car and the balance is all important. Despite the medium down-force you also need quite a bit of front wing due to the ride heights that are set to avoid excessive grounding. The weather will play a large part in the weekend and although we would like a dry weekend, with the mountains surrounding us, there is always some rain to liven things up.

“The circuit is also quite hard on the tyres, meaning that Michelin will be working with us very closely to ensure that we can produce the best package ahead of qualifying and the race. The R5 has had a slightly modified aero package for this weekend and the engine also continues to be developed and fine-tuned ahead of the remaining races. Looking back briefly to Hungary, we learnt a lot from the race and in particular on tyre management and will be taking this additional information with us to Spa in the hope that not only will the cars be finishing, but they will be scoring points as they cross the line.”

James Robinson, Head of Race and Test Engineering, Jordan:
"It's fantastic to be back at this circuit after missing out in 2003, as it is probably the ultimate drivers' circuit on the Formula One calendar, one of the only remaining high speed, high 'g', 'on the edge' tracks. The weather is both a trial and an opportunity - it can change at any time from dry to wet and if you can benefit if you are ready. The race promises to be exciting - we expect overtaking and we expect to see the weather play a part. The bus stop section has been modified and we have heard reports from those who have raced there already that the change has removed an overtaking opportunity but we will have to wait and see if that is the case with F1 - hopefully not. We return to a medium downforce set-up, which we have not used since Canada, where we were more competitive. Spa can be a little bit about luck, with the weather and if anything unusual happens, but at Jordan we have historically been good at strategy calls so we are looking forward to the challenge."

Martin Whitmarsh, CEO Formula One, McLaren:
"Our performance was not at the required level in Hungary as a result of our tyre choice. However we believe that Spa Francorchamps is a circuit that will play to the strengths of our current package. With its fast, sweeping characteristics it is very different in nature from the Hungaroring's tight and twisty feel. Spa is renowned for high rates of attrition and offers a long lap, with technical corners and a relatively low grip surface that sees us use a medium to low downforce configuration.”

Pierre Dupasquier, Michelin motorsport director:
“Spa is has changed subtly since Formula One last raced here in 2002 – but we have a good idea how the alterations will affect tyre performance. A number of Michelin teams competed successfully in the recent Spa 24 Hours. Michelin notched up yet another outright win, took six of the top seven places and scored three class victories. We also picked up some useful data that helped us to finalise our tyre specifications for the Belgian Grand Prix.

“Spa is extremely popular with drivers and spectators because it is one of the fastest and most spectacular tracks in the world. It is not, however, one of the most demanding in terms of tyre wear.”

Pascal Vasselon, Michelin F1 programme manager:
"As far as tyre choice is concerned, we know how Spa compares to other circuits we have raced at recently and have used that as a gauge when assessing the degree to which lap times are likely to be reduced. One major question remains, however, because about half the track has been resurfaced - and that affects virtually all the points at which cars used to be on the absolute limit of adhesion. Although we don't know precisely how much grip the fresh asphalt will generate, we have been given data about the type of material used and have a pretty clear idea of the direction we need to take. We'll have to wait until Friday to find out whether we've got our sums right."

Hisao Suganuma, Technical Manager, Bridgestone Motorsport:
"Spa-Francorchamps is another very challenging circuit. Its high speed nature means that the tyres must have good heat durability while also providing good stability through the fast corners, such as Eau Rouge. Like the Nurburgring, this circuit is in a mountainous region and therefore subject to variable weather conditions and temperature fluctuations. We have had to take this into consideration when choosing our dry tyre specifications and wet tyre specification as they need to perform whatever the weather brings. Our choice of compounds has been selected from our mid to hard range because of the abrasive nature of the track surface and the high speeds endured. Spa will be very interesting for us this year because while we expect to be competitive as it has traditionally suited Bridgestone's tyres, it has been resurfaced in some areas since the grand prix was last held there in 2002. The "Bus Stop" has also been modified but we do not expect this to have too much of an influence on tyre selection. We have not been able to test specifically for Spa but are confident that following the last tests in Jerez and Monza prior to the test ban commencing, we made the right choices in conjunction with our teams."