Drivers looking forward to Spa 26 Aug 2004
Belgium - selected driver preview quotes
The Belgian Grand Prix makes a welcome return to the Formula One racing calendar this weekend, with most of the drivers delighted to see it back. But what do they actually make of their prospects for the all-important Spa-Francorchamps showdown?
Juan Pablo Montoya, Williams:
It's great to have the Belgian Grand Prix back on the calendar. I regard it as one of my favourite tracks, fast, challenging and very demanding on the drivers, so it will be good to race again there. I have heard the last chicane is not as good as it was before, but we'll wait and see what it's like when we get there. With respect to our performance, our package has always worked pretty well at Spa and generally we have qualified near the front and had a couple of podium finishes.
We haven't had much wet running during Grand Prix weekends this season, but if there's a circuit where this could turn around, it's definitely Spa and rain will be little help to us. Our new aero package proved successful in Hungary, so we are now looking forward to going well in Belgium.
Antonio Pizzonia, Williams:
I have good memories of Spa, where I've raced four times in different formulae, including Formula Renault, F3 and F3000. The best was definitely in 2000, when I became British F3 Champion, having finished the race in second place. I spent the week after the Hungarian Grand Prix at home in Monaco, training hard in preparation for this race. Spa is a very special place, so I can't wait to drive a Formula One car around it.
I don't think Eau Rouge is as challenging as it used to be, though, because Formula One cars have so changed much. We have such a huge amount of downforce now, and the tyres have improved so much, I think everyone pretty much goes flat out around it.
Jenson Button, BAR:
"I am excited about returning to race at Spa. The circuit has a lot of history and I think it is every Formula One driver's favourite track. It has great high speed corners and a complex of good slow speed corners as well. Although Ferrari has won the constructors, the competition is still strong for the remaining places in the championship. I am looking forward to the race and to hopefully gaining some more all important points for the team."
Takuma Sato, BAR:
"I am really looking forward to Spa because it is such a great circuit to drive with a fast car. The track is very dynamic and suits F1 cars perfectly. Also, I have a lot of good memories of Spa from my previous Formula Three races there and it is great to see it back on the F1 calendar. After Hockenheim and Hungary where our pace was back up to where it should be, I am hoping and expecting us to have another strong performance in Spa."
Jarno Trulli, Renault:
(Q: Are you happy to be returning to Spa?) Definitely - like I think every other driver is too. Through the lap, you need to be able to deal with every type of technical corner, and you can make up time in lots of places. As a driver, it really demands total concentration - but you also must find the rhythm of the circuit and plug into it. You need to be right on the limit over the entire lap, but you are talking about 1 minute 40 seconds here rather than one minute fifteen. And at Spa, that limit is just a little bit harder to find than at more normal tracks. I think it is a circuit that really shows a driver's true potential.
(Q: Will the R24 perform well here?) Well, earlier in the year we seemed to struggle at the high speed circuits like Malaysia, but we have made good progress with the car since then. When we last came here in 2002, we were on course for points finishes in the race until retiring, and I think the circuit can suit the R24. Of course, choosing the tyres will be crucial, so Friday will be an important day to get a good understanding of how they will work on the long runs. But if we perform to our maximum, then we should be competitive around Spa.
(Q: And on a personal level, what are you hoping for?) I haven't scored points in the last three races, so my first priority will be to get the car to the finish and add to my championship total. I am still pushing 100% for myself and the team to try and consolidate my position in the championship, and also to help Renault to second place in the constructors' race. I had an excellent first half of the season, and I want to get that run of form back again for the last five races. That would be a good way to round off a very successful season for me.
Fernando Alonso, Renault:
(Q: You have scored three podiums in the last four races - things seem to be going well for you.) Yes, I was happy with the result in Hungary, and indeed all the results since Magny-Cours. I have not had any mechanical failures in the races, I have not made mistakes and things are going as we expected now. We are around the podium at every race, and sometimes we make it, sometimes not, but we are pushing in all areas. Looking to Spa, I don't think we go there as confident as we were before Hungary, but we have seen this year that our feelings about a weekend can change as it progresses. It will be a tough challenge to get on the podium in Spa, but it doesn't hold any fear for us. The team is working well and the car is quick, so we just need to perform to our maximum all weekend.
(Q: When setting the car up for Spa, what do you concentrate on?) The circuit is different to any other, it has a different character, and as drivers we need to step up to its challenge. It is very difficult to have a car that is perfect in all areas around Spa, because the lap is so long, so you need to be pragmatic and try and feel confident with the car. We focus on the high speed balance, and getting the car stable in the quick corners, while making sure it is not too bad in the slower sections. After that, you need to do laps and gain confidence to push more and more from a driver point of view.
(Q: Some people say that now it is taken without lifting, Eau Rouge has lost its challenge. Do you agree?) Well, I hope they don't think it is easy. You come into the corner downhill, have a sudden change at the bottom and then go very steep uphill. From the cockpit, you cannot see the exit and as you come over the crest, you don't know where you will land. It is a crucial corner for the timed lap, and also in the race, because you have a long uphill straight afterwards where you can lose a lot of time if you make a mistake. But it is also an important corner for the driver's feeling. It makes a special impression every lap, because you also have a compression in your body as you go through the bottom of the corner. It is very strange, but good fun as well.
Michael Schumacher, Ferrari:
Spa has always been special for me. I am very happy to see the Belgian GP back on the calendar. This race seems to be linked to my career in some way. I have enjoyed some fantastic moments here and so I can only express my delight that I can race on the track again. Spa preserves the features of the old style circuits, ones that are very different from modern tracks. Even if todays single-seaters have made the circuit a little easier, it is still a challenge. Driving the perfect line here, especially in some stretches, is just thrilling. It is not coincidental that generations of drivers have raved about Eau Rouge!
Rubens Barrichello, Ferrari:
I am looking forward to returning to Spa as it is a fantastic circuit. I hope they have just made a few modifications to some of the high speed sections in the interest of safety. Apart from that, driving there is a phenomenal sensation. I am sure we can have a good weekend as our car seems to go well at every type of track. But we will have to wait and see how the weekend develops.
Knowing what the weather can be like in this part of the world, we might even get the opportunity to see what our car is like in the wet. I am confident we have made progress with the whole package in this area, but we have not had the chance to find out yet this season, how we match up to the opposition. I hope we still have the advantage.
Giancarlo Fisichella, Sauber:
"Spa is, of course, one of my favourite circuits, and I think my style suits it very well. I love the variety; it has lots of different kinds of corner, and the best is Eau Rouge. That is very difficult to take flat. In qualifying it usually is, though not always, and this year that will depend on the weight of fuel you decide to carry.
"I was second there on my debut in 1997, to Michael, and third with the Renault in 2001, and I believe that there is a chance on this circuit for the driver's talent to make a difference. That makes it a very satisfying track on which to drive. I'm really happy that it is back on the calendar, because it is a more complete circuit than any other."
Felipe Massa, Sauber:
"I raced at Spa in 2002, which was the first time I ever went there. It's a fabulous circuit! I'm so happy that it's back. For sure it's been changed just a little since I was last there, but the very quick corners remain the same. You don't run too much downforce so the car feels like it is dancing. You really know you are a racing driver when you are there. I have never raced anywhere that is better.
"In 2002 here I was running seventh and then had an engine problem, but it was one of my best races. I think we can be strong. The Sauber Petronas C23 has very good speed and there are characteristics that Spa shares with Silverstone. If you look at our performance at Silverstone this should work in our favour. Eau Rouge is of course the best corner for me anywhere in the world, and it should be flat although it wasn't for us in 2002."
Ricardo Zonta, Toyota:
"Like many F1 drivers, I find Spa-Francorchamps one of the most challenging and enjoyable circuits on the calendar. At almost seven kilometres in length, it easily produces the longest lap of the year, one filled with many technically demanding sections. Spa really highlights the strengths and weaknesses of all drivers and cars. I think our TF104B package will adapt itself well to the medium-high speed track characteristics and I hope we will have a good chance of scoring some points this weekend. Spa is unique and one of the few circuits that are difficult to replicate at test sessions, especially tyre wear. As a result, Friday's practice sessions will be very important, but after a difficult race debut in Hungary, I am much more relaxed and ready to show what we can do in Belgium."
Olivier Panis, Toyota:
"Ricardo and I had a good day with the team in Cologne last weekend, participating in the Toyota City Grand Prix, where I drove the TF103 and Ricardo took the TF104 through the streets of Cologne. It was an incredible atmosphere and a nice opportunity to give something back to the fans for all their support. We now enter the Belgian Grand Prix, which I hope will mark a turnaround of fortunes for Toyota. It's no secret that I think Spa is the best track on the F1 calendar. I believe that the circuit's long, fast nature should suit our TF104B and play to the strengths of our powerful RVX-04 engine. It also means that there are quite a few different strategies that work around Spa, so it should make for an exciting race weekend."
Ryan Briscoe, third driver, Toyota:
"I was highly satisfied with my first taste of an F1 weekend in Hungary two weeks ago and I can't wait to step up a gear in free practice for the Belgian GP. Unlike most F1 drivers, I had the chance to race at Spa-Francorchamps last year in a one-off event for me in the British Formula 3 championship. I thought it was a fantastic circuit then, but it must be amazing in an F1 car! The Hungarian GP was a good inauguration for me into the race team, but I feel that I am better prepared for Spa. As a team, our job in Friday practice will determine how we fare for the rest of the weekend with even more emphasis placed on selecting the best tyre compound and finding the best car set-up."
Mark Webber, Jaguar:
Its really good to be heading back to Spa for the next race. This circuit has so much history and its a track that I enjoy racing at. I have raced there many times before in lots of different formula, from Ford, F3, F3000 and F1. I was first there in an F1 car with Minardi in 2002. Its an amazing circuit and the speeds are incredible making driving an F1 car fantastic. I think that the speeds we will be reaching this year will be even greater than in the past and this will surely make watching it for the spectators something special. The weather at this track plays a big part in the weekend and can really keep you busy with your tyre and strategy decisions. Being within the mountains means that we can start the day with a wet track and two hours later its hot and dry. Choice of tyres are as always crucial to our overall race weekend so we will be spending a lot of time on Friday getting to grips with these. I understand that they have slightly modified the Bus-stop chicane so it will be interesting to see if this slows us down a bit. I am looking forward to the eau rouge corner in particular, its so fast and thats what makes driving an F1 car through it so much fun.
Christian Klien, Jaguar:
I have raced at Spa before so this is really good for me going into this race weekend. I was actually there with the Formula Renault European Championship two years ago and I loved it. I remember it well and I am really keen to get back out there and try it in a Formula One car. The track is really challenging and the thing that I think will strike me most are the speeds that we will be reaching in the R5. Not only has it got very high-speed corners, but the track itself if very long at just over 6km. In order for me to understand the track as much as possible before I arrive there I am spending time with my engineers in Milton Keynes and try to see as much data as possible. Since the track is also going to be quite physically demanding I have been training in London with the team physio. Being prepared both physically and mentally is crucial to getting the most out of the car over the weekend. We need some points this weekend and I would love to score my first ones here.
Bjorn Wirdheim, third driver, Jaguar:
Spa is an amazing track and one that for me holds a lot of passion and history. I first experienced the circuit when I was racing in my first year with F3000. I also tested there quite a lot so I feel quite comfortable with the layout and what to expect. It really is a drivers circuit, one where the driver can honestly make the difference. Having the mental focus to go through eau rouge at top speed is not for the faint hearted. Although I have never raced there in a Formula One car I am sure that it is going to be an amazing experience if not also a very challenging one. I will be spending most of Friday focusing on the tyres and trying to help the team make a decision ahead of qualifying. I understand from the team that the weather can cause a few problems there so I am keeping my fingers crossed for some dry conditions. Michelin have been strong here in the past so I am keen to see how we do this weekend.
Nick Heidfeld, Jordan:
"Coming back to Spa is great for me and all the drivers because it is one of my favourite circuits. I'm looking forward to it even more than usual because we had a break for one year. I enjoy driving there and I also like it that the weather is usually changeable as it makes the show better and interesting. You never know what's going to happen when you arrive in Spa."
Giorgio Pantano, Jordan:
"I am very excited that F1 is going back to the Belgian Grand Prix. For me, it is the best circuit in the world. To be back there in a Formula One car will be just fantastic."
David Coulthard, McLaren:
"The Belgian Grand Prix is a clear favourite for the drivers, teams and fans alike. It is an event packed with history, atmosphere, a legendary circuit, and it is great to be back. My victory here in 1999 is without a doubt a highlight of my career. Spa is a fantastic challenge to drive with numerous exciting corners separated by long, fast straights. This includes perhaps the most famous corner in motorsport, the flat out climbing right hander of Eau Rouge, which demands total commitment. It is vital to be fast through here to take maximum speed onto the sweeping section of track that leads to Les Combes, as this is a potential overtaking opportunity if you were able to carry the pace at Eau Rouge. Other corners that stand out include the left of Blanchimont, which is again taken flat out, and the double apex of Pouhon. In preparation for the race, some additional modifications have been made to the Bus Stop chicane, with safety in mind. The entry has moved to the right to allow for a larger run off area, with some additional re-profiling to the second section of the chicane. This has traditionally been an overtaking opportunity, so it will be interesting to see if it has affected this in any way."
Kimi Raikkonen, McLaren:
"Of course Hungary was disappointing for me and the team, but you can't look backwards in motorsport and it only makes us more determined at the next event. I have only had the opportunity to race at Spa on two occasions during my career, and both times I enjoyed driving the circuit as its nature demands that you push the limits to the maximum, with certain corners such as Eau Rouge where you are completely flat out. The circuit is the ultimate test of driving and also the car, as it's very demanding and requires the maximum from every part of the car. Spa is the longest circuit we race at by over a kilometre, and it's this length and sweeping fast corners that really let you build up a flowing rhythm. The only downside is the unpredictable weather, it can start raining with no warning or it will be wet conditions on one side of the track and dry on the other, which can make for some interesting events."