The Belgian Grand Prix Preview 13 Sep 2007
Regardless of what might happen in Paris on Thursday as the World Motor Sport Council reconvenes to discuss the McLaren-Ferrari espionage case, the two teams will clearly be locking horns again on the track this weekend at one of the greatest race tracks on the calendar.
After a year rebuilding and creating a new look, Spa-Francorchamps is back, and nobody in the paddock is anything but delighted about that.
This is what I would call an old-style circuit, says Renault driver Heikki Kovalainen as he tries to put into words why the drivers love Spa so much. Not in terms of the facilities, which have been improved a lot this year, but in terms of the track design.
There are many demanding, high-speed corners and this is a real drivers circuit, where we can make a big difference at the wheel. Even if the car does not have the perfect set-up, or if it is not the fastest on the grid, a very brave driver can go into the corners faster, accelerate earlier or not lift where others do. This is a circuit where you can really see who the good drivers are.
It is also a gruelling test of an Formula One car, with its 320 km/h straights, the 70 km/h La Source hairpin, and myriad sixth-gear sweeps. The highlight is, of course, the famed 300 km/h Eau Rouge, which still rewards commitment even if most said, after the test here in July, that it is easy flat in the V8 cars. This, and the fast left-hander at Blanchimont, remain outstanding places to watch Grand Prix artistry in the cockpit, while corners such as Pouhon, taken blind in sixth gear, still allow the drivers to make the difference.
Only Monza, with 77 per cent, exceeds Spas full-throttle motoring figure of 73 per cent, and only six of the 19 corners are taken at less than 150 km/h. But while normally this might prompt teams into high downforce configurations, the need to minimise drag brings other factors into the equation. The two long straights make top-speed critical, which is why most teams will use the sort of medium- to low-downforce configurations they used at Montreal and Indianapolis. That in turn will make things very interesting for the men at the wheel.
Bridgestone will bring along their medium and soft compounds dry tyres, but given the notoriously fickle weather in the Hautes Fagnes region, wets may also come into play. So far, the weather forecast suggests light rain on Friday, with cloudy but clear conditions at other times. Well see.
McLaren remain hugely confident after their performance here in July, but Ferrari believe they will be back in the hunt. Both will be keeping a weather eye on BMW Sauber, who were also very fast back then.
McLarens Fernando Alonso says Spa is his favourite track (he scored his first and only F3000 victory here in 2000), but so does team mate Lewis Hamilton and the series leader is determined to open up his points advantage again, after Alonso reduced it to three in Monza.
Spa is a track that everyone has always talked about and it is with good reason, the British driver explained. I love the circuit, it does require a compromise with the set-up to account for the fast straights and corners whilst also ensure you can have the right amount of traction through the slower sections, and it is all about being precise.
Eau Rouge is just awesome, it is so quick and I look forward to it every single lap. It is definitely one of the pleasures of being a Formula One driver! You always try to go that bit quicker, and as it is flat out now with no lifting, the only way to do this is by steering as little as possible. The forces that are placed on your body feel a bit weird, but you dont really think about that after the first lap.
I raced here (in Formula Three) in 2005, race one was in the wet, race two in the dry, so I have some good experience and won race two. We tested here in July and completed some positive work with Bridgestone. Now I am just waiting to get out there and race in a Formula One car for the first time. The situation in both championships is very close, and people keep talking about pressure, but it just provides me with extra motivation, I certainly dont feel any stress. There are four races to go, including Belgium, and I will take them all individually and do my best to try and win them.
After the Italian Grand Prix, Ferraris Kimi Raikkonen said: Probably this is a bit more like Montreal so we knew McLaren would be very strong here. Soon as we go back to Spa it should level out a bit and we should be close again.