Belgian Grand Prix Preview - will the Brawns cope in the cold? 27 Aug 2009
If there is a race track that every driver simply adores, its Spa-Francorchamps. And there isnt one of the 20 who are headed there for this weekends Belgian Grand Prix who doesnt rate it as one of their favourites.
The picturesque Hautes Fagnes region of the Ardennes, with its thick forests and unpredictable micro-climate, enjoyed a heat wave last week with reported ambient temperatures of 30 degrees Celsius. Predictably, that wont be the case when the Formula One paddock hits town, and markedly cooler weather could have a significant result on the outcome.
Brawn GP bounced back with a fine victory for Rubens Barrichello in Valencia - their seventh of the season - but the high track temperatures there left unanswered the question of whether they have successfully identified and resolved the tyre-warming issues that led to such a costly mid-season dip in performance.
The failure of the Red Bulls to score in Spain left Jenson Buttons world championship lead only half a point less, at 18, but he will want to add as many points as possible this weekend on a circuit that in theory will suit the Red Bulls, the Ferrari and the Williams better.
Although we believe that we now have a better understanding of our recent tyre issues, the lower track temperatures at Spa will be the proving ground for this, team principal Ross Brawn admits. We will have another busy testing programme on Friday to validate the conclusions reached in Valencia and then build our weekend from there.
Button, who has vowed to be more aggressive in his driving and chassis set-ups, said: "Spa is one of my favourite circuits and has a layout which gives everything you could want as a driver. It's one of the fastest and most challenging circuits in the world with hills, fast corners and long straights which combine to give you a real buzz to drive, just like Suzuka and Silverstone.
It's also a very beautiful circuit with the forest setting although the weather can be unpredictable! It can play a big part in the race weekend, even in the summer, so you have to be ready to react. But that unpredictability is part of the thrill of racing at Spa. Eau Rouge is still a legendary corner, although it is usually easy flat for us in the dry, but the feeling when you hit the bottom of the hill, touch the ground and shoot straight back up again is amazing.
It's been a tough few races for me recently but the car felt very good in Valencia and the pace was right up there when I was able to run in clear air during the race. So we're feeling positive and very much looking forward to the weekend."
Barrichello is now back in the title fight, and said: I always knew that we had both the car and the pace to deliver a win this season, and stayed positive. I've had a few days to relax and reflect now but I can't wait to get back in the car again in Spa! For me, Spa is unquestionably one of the best circuits in the world and I love racing there. The lap is really long and fast with some great corners and it gives you a fantastic feeling in a Formula One car.
Experience is a key factor as you can pick up a lot of time if you get the car set-up just right, and you have to be precise in your timing to make the most of the track time in practice and qualifying. We've picked up some momentum again now after the result in Valencia and know that we have to make the most of the next few races."
Red Bulls Sebastian Vettel desperately needs a good result to get back into the game, while Mark Webber could do with one after finishing only ninth in Valencia. The team have decided against risking running their KERS system for the first time. That should be a major advantage here for Ferrari and McLaren, however, especially up the hill to Les Combes and/or back round from Blanchimont to the Bus Stop chicane.
Ferrari should have at least one car on the pace at Spa, where Kimi Raikkonen aims to defend their third place in the constructors championship as McLaren close in. But he knows it wont be easy without any further development on the F60 as Ferrari look ahead to 2010. Luca Badoer will hope to be faster than he was in Valencia.
Spa has usually been good for me but I dont know if its good for our car right now, Raikkonen said, so we need to go there and see how it starts to go on Friday but we will push as much as we can. Were not going to get more new parts on the car, so its going to get more and more difficult at every race. Once we get everything running well, we always give ourselves a chance to be there at least. We try every race and see where we can end up.
Spa may not favour McLaren quite as much as did Nurburgring, Hungary and Valencia because the MP4-24 is less strong in really quick corners, but while Lewis Hamilton might not be able to challenge for victory he could be a podium contender.
Despite making some major improvements to MP4-24, we go to Spa knowing that the circuits high-speed configuration is unlikely to play to our strengths of our car, admitted team principal Martin Whitmarsh. Having said that, our new technical package makes us confident that well be a strong contender for points, as we look to improve on our fourth position in the constructors championship. Weve enjoyed a tremendous record here, winning 10 times, and both Lewis and Heikki (Kovalainen) love this place so Im looking forward to another exciting race.
Spa contains a variety of challenging corners to go with the long straights, and thus requires a compromise on aerodynamic set-up. Too much downforce for sector two, from Pouhon to Blanchimont, tends to penalise a car on the faster sections, though the movable front wing may help to alleviate that problem to some extent.
Bridgestone are bringing their soft and medium rubber compounds for the race and graining is not expected to be an issue.