Belgium preview - all to play for as battle resumes 30 Aug 2012
As the summer break finally ends and the second half of this years superb world championship gets started with the 2012 Formula 1 Shell Belgian Grand Prix, the major Formula One teams are ready for the intense fight that will end in Brazil in November.
Ferrari remain on a roll and believe that they have weathered the worst of the storm, when their F2012 was uncompetitive at the start of the season yet nevertheless took Fernando Alonso to the lead in the points table. The Spaniard has 164 points to Mark Webbers 124, Sebastian Vettels 122, Lewis Hamiltons 117 and Kimi Raikkonens 116.
But despite Alonsos advantage, all of his closest challengers believe they have time over the final nine races to turn the tables. With 225 points still up for grabs, a 40-point advantage is not much
The Spa circuit is defined by the surrounding nature and its one of my favourites, Vettel says. I was very happy to have won here last year. It offers every type of racing corner; ultra-fast, medium-fast and slow chicanes, that alternate with fast straights. The difference in altitude and the unpredictable weather really make the track a big challenge - and its one that every racing driver loves to compete on. Its good to be back after the summer break.
Webber agrees. Spa is the best track to have after a break and its extremely rewarding for drivers. Its obviously remained pretty much unchanged for some time and it has a lot of character. Eau Rouge is a very special part of the track, the spectators love going to watch the cars there and I would encourage anyone to see it live once in their lives - its mindblowing. Spa is one of the classic tracks where you feel like an F1 car belongs. Were looking forward to going there and challenging for the victory.
McLaren, too, are buoyant after Hamiltons victory last time out.
My win in Hungary was a fantastic way to go into the summer break, said Hamilton. It had the added bonus of sending the whole team away for their holidays with a positive feeling in their hearts. Its also given me the hope and assurance that we can come back for the final nine races with a real chance to go for both world championships.
I really couldnt be happier that the season gets back down to business again in Belgium. Spa is one of the best circuits in the world - its always a buzz to nail a fast lap around there, and, after five weeks out of the cockpit, that first lap on Friday morning is going to feel absolutely sensational. I think its still difficult to predict accurately wholl win the next grand prix, but I reckon the coming few weeks ought to give us a much clearer idea of the destination of the world title.
Its going to be an extremely tough, tactical and interesting finale to the season. Theres no team with a clear advantage - although were all pushing hard to catch Fernandos points tally in the drivers championship - so theres still everything to play for.
Team mate Jenson Button needs a solid result to keep his flagging chances alive, and comes to Spa fresh from training and relaxation in the Philippines and Hawaii.
You couldnt really ask for a more spectacular double-header for F1s return: Spa is the daddy of them all, one of the all-time great Grand Prix tracks, and Monza is one of the most historic and evocative circuits on the calendar. Theyre each places with their own unique atmosphere. Ive got some really great memories of both circuits, but Ive won neither. Given our pace in the last few races, I go forward feeling positive about rectifying that over the coming weekends.
Lotus came so close to winning in Hungary, and on a circuit with the overtaking opportunities that Spa presents they would have succeeded. Thus the Enstone team come full of optimism and a determination to race their double DRS for the first time if it shows well in practice.
Meanwhile, in the midfield Mercedes, Williams, Sauber, Force India and Toro Rosso are all pushing hard for every inch, as Caterham, Marussia and HRT seek their first-ever world championship points. HRT reserve Dani Clos will replace Narain Karthikeyan during Fridays opening practice session, whilst Valtteri Bottas will be in action for Bruno Senna at Williams.
Pirelli will bring their PZero Silver hard tyre and PZero White medium: a combination that has not been raced since the second Grand Prix of the season in Malaysia.
Spas fast sweeps and the tight nature of the Bus Stop chicane and La Source place very heavy demands on the tyres, which have to cope with extremely high lateral and longitudinal energy loadings, especially at the infamous Eau Rouge. Thus the company have chosen the two hardest compounds from their range for the 44-lap race.
Motorsport director Paul Hembery says: Spa is a personal favourite of mine. I recently visited the 24-hour race there: the configuration of the track and the variety of the weather always seems to produce some great racing. From a tyre perspective, its certainly one of the most demanding circuits that we face all year, because of the high speeds and extreme forces involved, which are often acting on the tyres in more than one dimension.
The nomination of the hard and the medium tyres will allow drivers to push hard from start to finish, which is what Spa was designed for. The first half of the season began with the most close and competitive start to a year ever seen in Formula Ones history, so I am looking forward to seeing how the rest of 2012 pans out, and which teams have made which steps forward over the summer break. Currently the grid is so closely-matched - particularly in the midfield - that its impossible to predict.
For the race, the DRS zone is on the Kemmel Straight heading into the right-left of Les Combes, with the detection point midway down the hill on the run into Eau-Rouge.
It will be rainy in the Hautes Fagnes region on Friday, when the ambient temperature will be 15 degrees Celsius. But it will be brighter on Saturday, with partial cloud and 18 degrees. This will rise again to 20 on Sunday when it will also be sunny.
The 7.004 kilometre (4.352 mile) circuit is to all intents and purposes unchanged and the race, which begins at 1400 hours local time (two hours ahead of GMT), will be run over 44 laps or 308.052 kms (191.410 miles).
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