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Drivers relishing Spa challenge 07 Sep 2005

Mark Webber (AUS) Williams.
Formula One World Championship, Rd15, Italian Grand Prix, Practice Day, Monza, Italy, 2 September 2005 Takuma Sato (JPN) BAR Honda 007.
Formula One World Championship, Rd15, Italian Grand Prix, Practice Day, Monza, Italy, 2 September 2005 Kimi Raikkonen (FIN) McLaren.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 12, German Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Hockenheim, Germany, 23 July 2005 Ralf Schumacher (GER) Toyota TF105.
Formula One World Championship, Rd15, Italian Grand Prix, Practice Day, Monza, Italy, 2 September 2005

Ask any racing driver to name his top three circuits and chances are Spa will be among them. Here, the men on the grid explain exactly why they love racing through the Ardennes forest.

Mark Webber, Williams
2004 Qualifying - 7th, 2004 Race - DNF

"Clearly Spa is one of the most spectacular circuits we go to all year and I've always enjoyed driving an F1 car there. It has everything. It's very quick, hugely challenging, the location is great and the undulations are absolutely fantastic. At this time of year, the weather can play a big part of the weekend so you never really know what's going to happen. I've driven in races there when it's been raining on one part of the circuit and dry in another. That only creates a problem though when visibility is bad, which it can be coming back from the Bus Stop from Blanchimont, and into Eau Rouge as well. Then Spa is dangerous. I'm not worried about rain though, last year was wet and it was fine. I also always enjoy driving long, fast laps in a race, which Spa demands, so I'm really looking forward to it."

Kimi Raikkonen, McLaren
2004 Qualifying - 10th, 2004 Race - 1st

“The Drivers’ Championship is still a real challenge for me, and as the season has shown so far this year, there is no guessing what will happen and nothing is over yet. There are still four races to be won this season and forty points up for grabs, so I will fight hard with the team for maximum points every weekend. Spa is the best track we race at, it has every challenge, from steep slopes, flowing bends, tight corners and of course Eau Rouge. You are pushing and are on the edge for the whole lap to be quick. It is great fun and you get a massive buzz when you put in a quick lap time. Because of this you need a really good set-up and it is a very fine balancing act. The only downside is the weather, which can be very unpredictable and different from one side of the track to the other. This can mean we have some interesting situations with strategy, but it is the same for everyone. It was a great race for myself and the team last year, and hopefully we can repeat the result in 2005.”

Juan Pablo Montoya, McLaren
2004 Qualifying - 11th, 2004 Race - DNF

“It was great for the Constructors’ battle to get a strong points total at Monza. The gap to Renault is very close, there are a lot of points still to be won and the car feels fast, so we shall see. I love Spa, it is one of my favourite tracks and we always have classic racing, although hopefully my race this year will be less eventful than last year! Set-up at Spa is all about compromise, but in a more specific way than at some of the tracks. We need aero and mechanical set-up that makes sure we are quick on the straights and through the fast corners and also to have good mechanical traction through turns such as La Source and the Bus Stop chicane. In addition to being the most exciting and famous corner we race through, maintaining speed in Eau Rouge is also key to have the pace along Les Combes on the run down to the main overtaking opportunity.”

Alexander Wurz, third driver, McLaren
2004 Qualifying - NA, 2004 Race - NA

“Set-up at Spa has to be very precise, as the circuit is extreme and needs total commitment from the drivers. One area is the elevation changes, these are quite dramatic in places and we have to run with quite high ride heights to avoid bottoming out. My programme for Friday will also include completing the tyre selection process with Michelin that began at the pre-Italy test in Monza.”

Jenson Button, BAR
2004 Qualifying - 12th, 2004 Race - DNF

"I have had mixed fortunes at Spa. For my first race there in a Formula One car back in 2000 I qualified in P3 which was great. Last year we qualified reasonably well, but during the first corner incident at the start of the race I lost my front wing and had to come into the pits. The car was then running well and I was looking good for a podium finish, but then a tyre blew out on the straight and I had quite a big accident. However, I am really looking forward to going back there as I think that we should have a car that works well on this type of circuit. It's also nice to go back to Spa because of its history and it's a great drivers' circuit. It has certain types of corner that no other circuit in the world has, so I am looking forward to it and hope that the weather will be good to us this year."

Takuma Sato, BAR
2004 Qualifying - 15th, 2004 Race - DNF

"Spa is well-known as one of everybody's favourite circuits because it is challenging and there are a lot of high-speed, flowing corners. It gives you a fantastic feeling driving around it in a Formula One car. The downforce requirement is a unique one. It isn't as low as for Monza and not as high as for other circuits - in fact the wing level is very similar to the one we use in Montreal. We recently completed a successful test using this set-up and so we hope that we have a strong package for the next grand prix."

Jacques Villeneuve, Sauber
2004 Qualifying - NA, 2004 Race - NA

"Spa is a great track! I've got memories of some adventures there, though it's never been lucky for me. It's definitely a track where you can feel stronger than the rest if you go through the corners flat. It's one of the last high-speed circuits that we have and it's a very long lap. It's got a good rhythm and it follows the layout of the land. You turn because there's a mountain, so there's a reason for the layout. It's not like most modern tracks, which are like parking lots that you put cones around to create as many corners as you can with no logic or rhythm. This one has both. It's like you're driving to your house in the mountains!

"Eau Rouge is probably the most exciting corner in modern F1. It has a little kink to the left and then you start turning right as the track starts going up. You pull a lot of g force through there and the car scrapes the ground, so you get a little bit sideways. At the same time you don't see the exit of the corner so you're just turning right and then suddenly you're turning left and at that point the car gets very light. All that - flat out! It's a really exciting corner to do. Going flat-out there doesn't actually make your overall lap faster, but it does make you feel proud. Pride is stupid, but it is important!"

Felipe Massa, Sauber
2004 Qualifying - 8th, 2004 Race - 4th

"Spa is a brilliant circuit, and I don't just say that because last year I was able to finish fourth and score my best finish up to that point. It is still definitely the best circuit that we go to and my favourite. It's not just Eau Rouge that makes it special, though that will be interesting this year with the reduction in downforce since 2004. It might still just be flat, but it won't be easy flat. Then there are all the other very quick corners, and the fact that here the driver really can make a difference in the cockpit."

Fernando Alonso, Renault
2004 Qualifying - 3rd, 2004 Race - DNF

“Spa is my favourite place to drive an F1 car. You can't say one corner is better than the others because I enjoy the whole lap - people know Eau Rouge best, but the entire place is fantastic in a Formula One car. It is a long lap, so you see a good difference between a good and bad car; between a good and bad engine; and also between good and bad drivers.

“I think it is a very hard track for the engines, and we use it for some simulations on the dyno because it is so difficult - there is the compression in Eau Rouge, and you need good power for the long uphill straights. At some circuits, it is hard to feel a power gain, but you definitely can at Spa. After using the engine in Monza, we will have to keep it safe in practice so that we are still in a strong position on Sunday.

“It is a circuit with good memories for me - I won my first F3000 race there in 2000, and even last year I was in the lead when I retired. People will talk about winning the championship there, and I will try to do it if I can. But any of the races are good for it: Brazil, Japan or China. It doesn't matter to me. I will be going to Belgium aiming to win - and we will see how the weekend develops from there.”

Giancarlo Fisichella, Renault
2004 Qualifying - 5th, 2004 Race - 5th

“I am really excited about going to Spa, especially with this car. Spa is the best circuit for all the drivers I think, we love it. There are some amazing sensations, especially through Eau Rouge where you have the compression and then the steep uphill section. In the last couple of years it was taken flat, and it is a fantastic sensation - but hard to explain. It is totally different to how we normally feel in the car.

“There are a couple of good overtaking spots - one on the straight after Eau Rouge if you have good speed through the Raidillon, and then also just before the Bus Stop chicane, where you can get past people under braking. It is just a great circuit, and we always seem to have good racing there. Plus there is the first corner at the start - 60 kph in first gear with twenty cars. Everybody gets funnelled down, and you have to be really careful there so you don't ruin your race at the start.

“I think it will be a very good circuit for us - we have a powerful engine, and the car is very quick and has a good balance, which means Fernando and I will really be able to attack the fast corners. But we know that McLaren are faster than us, and that this circuit will suit their package as well. So we need to see what happens, and the weather can always play a big role too. The constructors' championship is still very close, and I need to get as many points as possible for myself in the drivers' championship, and also for the team.”

Michael Schumacher, Ferrari
2004 Qualifying - 2nd, 2004 Race - 2nd

“I always have fond memories of Spa and I am going into this race with great enthusiasm. I have to admit that our current performances have dampened the enthusiasm a little. It is obvious that we have to go into this race on the limit; compromises are not allowed. However well we do, we cannot forget the disappointing showings in Turkey and, unfortunately, last weekend at Monza. Naturally, we will be trying to do our best. Aside from these considerations, Spa is always special for me and this cannot be overlooked.

“I love this track very much as it is very tricky from a technical point of view. It is a real challenge and set in beautiful surroundings. It is also not too far from my home town of Kerpen and we have always enjoyed the support of the fans here. So, I hope it will be a good weekend and that our supporters and our adversaries can count on the fact that we will come out fighting.”

Jarno Trulli, Toyota
2004 Qualifying - 1st, 2004 Race - 9th

"I always look forward to our trips to Spa, and I think every other driver on the grid has the same feeling. It's one of the most difficult tracks in the world and that makes everything more interesting from the inside of the cockpit. It's a technical circuit and that means it also shows how good a driver really is. Over the course of a lap you face pretty much every kind of corner there is, and there are lots of chances for making up time. It's a much longer lap than most, and it's harder to find the limit than anywhere else. You have to concentrate hard throughout the lap, but it's also all about finding the rhythm of the circuit. So far I've always gone pretty well there, so I will be looking forward to the challenge again this weekend. It's always difficult to know what to expect before you get to a race but things went well in Italy so let's hope for another good result."

Ralf Schumacher, Toyota
2004 Qualifying - NA, 2004 Race - NA

"For many drivers, Spa is the best circuit on the calendar, and I'm no exception. The dramatic Eau Rouge is one of the most recognisable corners on the calendar, with a compression as you come into it and then a steep climb out. It has been likened to threading a needle and that's not a bad analogy. The high-speed Stavelot and Blanchimont corners are also satisfying to drive. It's a 'real' circuit. The other major factor at Spa is the weather. The Belgian Ardennes seem to have a climate all their own and you are never quite sure what you are going to get. When the weather changes, it can be dry in one part of the circuit and wet in another, so you have to be careful. This year the race is a couple of weeks later than usual, so I'd be very surprised if we get through the weekend without rain. We haven't had a wet race all year, so it could be interesting for the drivers, the teams and the tyre companies."

Narain Karthikeyan, Jordan
2004 Qualifying - NA, 2004 Race - NA

"I will be driving the new car in Spa so I am very excited about this prospect. I won at Spa in F3 and I enjoy the circuit a lot. Therefore, I am eagerly looking forward to having the opportunity to drive the EJ15B. There is more downforce in Spa than at Monza, so our car should be more competitive there and hopefully we will be able to close the gap with the teams in front."

Tiago Monteiro, Jordan
2004 Qualifying - NA, 2004 Race - NA

"Spa is probably one of my top three favourite tracks. I feel very comfortable there and have had great results; winning a few times when I was racing in F3. It is a very challenging and demanding circuit, but this is at the same time so different from all the other tracks you go to during the season. It is a great pleasure for a driver to be at Spa. We think our new car will be better in Belgium than in Italy. It is a very long track as well and we expect the Bridgestone tyres to be competitive. Therefore I am looking forward very much to racing at Spa."

Nicolas Kiesa, third driver, Jordan
2004 Qualifying - NA, 2004 Race - NA

"I drove in Spa in 2001 and 2002 in F3 and F3000. I know the circuit quite well. It is one of my favourite circuits along with Suzuka. To be honest, our new car, the B-specification, should run much better at Spa than at Monza because of the more medium downforce configuration of the track. Therefore the situation for the race drivers seems much better. I will not be driving the new car on the Friday, but this does not matter for the tyre choice. My job will be the same as usual and I will do my best to provide useful information to the team."

Christian Klien, Red Bull
2004 Qualifying - 13th, 2004 Race - 6th

“It’s great to have another chance to race for the team. I’m learning more about the car all the time and gaining in confidence with every race. I’ll be focusing on bringing everything together in Spa this weekend and doing all I can to help the team stay in sixth position in the Constructors’ Championship, ahead of BAR.”