Belgian Grand Prix - preview quotes 28 Aug 2008
Spa-Francorchamps, with its long straights and epic corners, is one of the calendars toughest prospects and a firm favourite with most of the field. Its also one of Formula One's most historic venues. The drivers, and some senior team personnel, reveal why they find the Belgian track such a special place to visit
Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari
2007 Qualifying - 1st, 2007 Race - 1st
The Belgian Grand Prix is one of the highlights of the season and I usually obtain a good result at Spa. I need it more than ever after the results of the last races. The last race for example was one of those one should forget as fast as possible. I've only good memories of this race. Obviously it would be fantastic to win it for the fourth time in a row: considering that I haven't won a race in several months, a success would help me to get back in the race for the title after the disappointment at Valencia.
At this circuit a good aero package is very important to face the numerous fast corners. The lap is very long and to have a good time you have to keep the right rhythm. I have to try to find a good set up during the Free Practice sessions on Friday and on Saturday morning and then I have to give it all in the Qualifying on Saturday afternoon. Whatever the outcome will be, it's nice to race at Spa. It's a very special feeling when you're driving on this track. And it's fantastic to drive here with a modern Formula One car with a really special atmosphere.
Felipe Massa, Ferrari
2007 Qualifying - 2nd, 2007 Race - 2nd
"Like most of the drivers, I think this is the best circuit on the current calendar and I love the track. It's always nice to be at Spa and I have good memories of last year, when we had a competitive car and the team got a one-two finish. I hope we can repeat that performance and have a car that is good enough to keep ahead of the McLarens, which of course is our main target at the moment.
"Spa is not a circuit where you can do so many laps in practice, because it's such a long track and apart from the time restriction of the length of the practice sessions, you also have to think about the mileage on the engine, at least after Friday. This also means you have to plan your work on the track very efficiently and make any changes to the set-up very quickly, so as not to waste too much time in the pits. The track length also complicates race strategy as a fuel difference of one lap could end up costing you a lot of time, which means that strategy is even more important than usual.
On top of that, because driving the track is in itself so challenging, you really need a good car to be competitive; one that gives you plenty of downforce for the changes of direction and the many quick corners. The car really needs to be very well balanced. If we can put all these elements together from Friday morning through to this coming Sunday afternoon, then I believe we can have a really good weekend in Spa. I'm looking forward to it."
Hirohide Hamashima, Bridgestone Motorsport tyre development director
"Spa is extremely challenging for drivers and for tyre engineers too. The layout is the longest of the year and it has a lot of complexity, with the added challenge of significant gradient changes. It is a high speed circuit, and one with particularly high loads on the tyres because of the high levels of downforce used. Added to this, the weather in Belgium is often variable and we have seen rain a number of times previously, so Spa is likely to give everyone a lot of hard work. We have changed the tyre allocation a step harder for this season as last year we had issues with heat durability, which should be less of a problem with the harder compounds."
Jenson Button, Honda
2007 Qualifying - 12th, 2007 Race - DNF
"All the drivers love going to Spa, and for me, it is one of the most beautiful circuits that we race on with fantastically green and lush surroundings. For a driver, the circuit has one of those layouts which has everything and gives you a real buzz to drive, just like Suzuka and Silverstone. Eau Rouge is a legendary corner and the feeling when you hit the bottom of the hill, the car touches the ground and you shoot straight back up again is amazing. It's a crazy corner in the dry and even more so in the wet. The weather can play a big part in the race weekend which is great for us as the car goes well in the wet. It can be raining at one end of the lap but completely dry at the other so you have to be ready and react quickly to whatever the weather throws at you."
Rubens Barrichello, Honda
2007 Qualifying - 17th, 2007 Race - 13th
"Our test in Monza last week was positive and we expect to have resolved the braking problems which affected my weekend in Valencia. Spa is without doubt one of the best circuits on the calendar, and with the unpredictable weather and the opportunities for overtaking, you always expect an entertaining race. The lap gives you a fantastic feeling in a Formula One car as it is very fast and flowing with some great corners. It's easy on the tyres, brakes and engine as there are an unusually low number of stops from top speed down to a low gear and you have a long time between those corners to cool the brakes. The car is set-up with a medium downforce package, similar to Montreal specification, but you have to keep your options open if the weather turns when you will need to go to higher downforce. Spa is also the longest lap on the calendar so you need to be precise on your timing in practice and qualifying to make the most of your track time."
Ross Brawn, Honda team principal
"Spa is one of the great classic racing circuits and certainly one of my favourites. The lap features some of the most interesting, fast and challenging corners on the racing calendar which make it a great favourite for the drivers, and also with the engineers because when you get the car right, you can really pick up a lot of time. To stand at Eau Rouge and watch a car go through that very fast corner, right on the limit, can still make the hairs stand up on the back of your neck. The weather frequently plays a role at Spa and there is a great opportunity when bad weather strikes to achieve a surprise result. We have seen already this season that our car can perform rather better in the wet than the dry and I for one would certainly not object to an inclement weekend.
"We made a significant step forward with the RA108 over the summer break, however we were not able to convert that potential into a strong qualifying and race performance in Valencia which was disappointing. Our priority for the Belgian Grand Prix weekend will be to optimise those performance steps and improve our qualifying performance to give Jenson and Rubens the best possible chance of a good race result. Following last week's test in Monza, we will have developments to our braking system which should resolve the issues which Rubens faced in Valencia, in addition to a specific aerodynamic package for the medium downforce levels required at Spa."
Jarno Trulli, Toyota
2007 Qualifying - 8th, 2007 Race - 11th
"In my opinion Spa is simply the best circuit in the world and I love driving there. Every part of the circuit is challenging for a driver and that is fantastic because you have to really push in every corner to get the best lap time; it gives you a special feeling. I really enjoy driving at Spa and even after the changes they made to the track for last year's race it still has a unique character; it has everything you want as a driver. Eau Rouge is still one of the best corners in the world but now it is flat-out so it's not as challenging as it used to be. I'm optimistic for this weekend because I believe we can have another strong result. Spa is my favourite track and it is also quite close to the factory so I want to score points there to make it a perfect weekend."
Timo Glock, Toyota
2007 Qualifying - NA, 2007 Race - NA
"Spa is one of my favourite tracks so I can't wait to race there for the first time in Formula One. It's a fantastic experience in a GP2 car so I am expecting it to be amazing in the TF108. I am going to Belgium with a lot of confidence because our performance in the last few races has been very impressive and we have proved we can fight at the front. Personally it is very satisfying to have scored points in the last two races despite feeling unwell both times and I really believe we have made a lot of progress. It's really good for the team to be scoring points regularly and challenging for the podium. We hope we will be strong again in Spa but we will see how it goes with the harder compound Bridgestone tyres. I am confident we can finish in the points again."
Pascal Vasselon, Toyotas senior general manager chassis
"Spa is really my home race now because I live close to the track and I love the place. It's just one of those places where you feel the enthusiasm in the drivers and everyone connected to the team. To see Formula One cars through Eau Rouge is fabulous - it is so quick, although now it is flat-out so you know that the cars are not at the limit. Spa is a fantastic place to race, even when it rains. In terms of layout, Spa is very specific. The high-speed corners would normally require high downforce but the long straights mean it is really a medium-low downforce track. Nowhere else do we have this combination of high-speed corners and still the need for aero efficiency; it is really unique in Formula One. Spa is also severe on the engine, tyres and suspension; the brakes are the only item which has an easy time of it."
Nelson Piquet, Renault
2007 Qualifying - NA, 2007 Race - NA
Spa is one of the circuits that I enjoy above all - it's probably my favourite of the championship, along with Silverstone. In terms of driving, it's a demanding place and I will have to do lots of work with my engineers so that we can adapt the car as much as possible to the requirements of the track. It's an undulating circuit and very long. There are lots of fast corners, as well as one of the slowest of the championship. In terms of the feeling from inside the cockpit, it feels amazing and there is nothing like it anywhere else. I think that's why most of the drivers really enjoy this circuit.
I think that Valencia did not reflect our true performance. As we have shown in the last few races, we are capable of scoring points and this is what we must keep in mind so that we can remain focussed as we approach this race. My objective will be to reach Q3 in qualifying and hope for a good start in the race to try and finish in the points. I have to admit that I would prefer a dry race, but in Belgium you never know!
Fernando Alonso, Renault
2007 Qualifying - 3rd, 2007 Race - 3rd
Spa is one of those exceptional circuits on the Formula One calendar. Like all the older circuits, there is always a very special and warm atmosphere. For the drivers, Spa is an unbelievable challenge and is a very enjoyable place to drive a Formula One car. I have never won at Spa and hope that one day I can add a win here to my list of achievements.
It's a very long circuit, which generally emphasises the gaps between the cars. It requires a very complete car and so we will have to work hard on the set-up to make sure we are competitive in the quick sections as well as in the slower corners. The compression in Eau Rouge is still an impressive part of the circuit.
Pat Symonds, Renault director of engineering
Spas such a contrast with where we've just been. Valencia was a circuit where we were quite restricted with what we could do to gain performance and I don't think the drivers found it particularly challenging, except maybe the final sector. Spa is the complete opposite: it's very much a drivers' circuit and requires a car that has good stability through the quick corners. We'll be running with medium downforce, but overall you need good aerodynamic efficiency because you have to find the right trade off between straight-line speed and downforce through the quick corners. So the more aerodynamically efficient your car is, the more it pays you back.
Fabrice Lom, responsible for Renault's engines at Red Bull Racing
Our preparation for Spa will involve trying to understand what did not work in Valencia. We feel there is certainly some more performance in the car and we need to develop that as much as possible. In theory, our cars should be more competitive on this more flowing type of circuit. We will use two new V8s, which is not ideal for such demanding back-to- back races as Spa and Monza. It will be tough.
What is certain is that this combination of circuits will be a difficult challenge for the drivers who will be using new engines this weekend. In comparison with the last races at Budapest and Valencia, the two tracks to come are much more demanding. We must try and look after the engine whenever possible, without compromising performance in Belgium. I wouldn't be surprised if we see some retirements towards the end of the race, especially if some of our competitors, who are unlikely to score points in Spa, prefer to race in Monza with a fresh V8.
Heikki Kovalainen, McLaren
2007 Qualifying - 9th, 2007 Race - 8th
"When you talk about Spa, everybody thinks about Eau Rouge - but the bigger challenge is Pouhon; its a sweeping, downhill left-hander and is very fast indeed. Its almost flat, but not quite, so its quite tricky to find a balance that allows you to attack without going off. Drivers love corners like this - high-speed turns that are not quite flat: thats where the real excitement lies because its up to the driver to make the difference.
"Spa is a big, fast circuit and still feels a little bit dangerous. For a driver, that always gives you an added element of excitement - its fast and narrow, almost like a street circuit between the trees. And its long, so its very difficult to string a good lap together. The most important thing you need here is bravery: you really need to attack the corners faster than your brain is telling you to. Youve got to keep the throttle flat even if it doesnt look possible, you have to trust your instincts and just put the danger out of your mind. Its a real drivers circuit."
Lewis Hamilton, McLaren
2007 Qualifying - 4th, 2007 Race - 4th
"Spas one of my all-time favourites. Even before I first came here, which was back in 2002 for a Formula Renault race, I played it on my computer - it was always one of the best tracks. It has probably the most exciting corner in Formula One, Eau Rouge, and its one of the few circuits where you really feel like youre actually going somewhere; you blast off into the forest and get to the top of the hill and can feel the whole circuit beneath you. Its one of the best challenges in Formula One."
Martin Whitmarsh, McLaren Formula One CEO
"Theres always an element of risk whenever you come to two fast and demanding circuits (Spa followed by Monza) but we have the additional security of knowing both our drivers can each still suffer an engine failure without receiving a 10-place grid penalty. The reality is that we have tremendous faith in our colleagues at Mercedes-Benz and feel comfortable with both our engines performance and reliability. The recent engine failures suffered by Ferrari in Hungary and Valencia clearly demonstrate that even a homologated engine can break, so we take nothing for granted.
"Weve got a number of smaller aero developments in the pipeline - theres nothing on the car that will be visually very startling, but theres plenty of detail-work. Were also focusing on further mistake-proofing our systems: the championship is going to be a hard-fought slog until the end of the year and we need to leave no stone unturned in our quest for additional performance and improved reliability. From a human and physical perspective, these two races (Belgium and Italy) are also pivotal to our title challenge - its vital that every member of the team pulls together to make sure these races pass without undue incident and set us up nicely for the final flyaway races."
Norbert Haug, Vice President, Mercedes-Benz Motorsport
"The track of Spa-Francorchamps is the longest on the Formula One calendar at over seven kilometres, and, after Monza, where we will race one week later, the one with the second highest average speed of all Grand Prix circuits: in qualifying last year, this was 238 km/h. At both of those circuits, the engines are put under the highest strain of the season. The longest full-throttle part starts at Eau Rouge and leads all the way up to Les Combes; it is 1,900 metres long and takes almost 24 seconds. In addition, there is another, 1,600-metre-long full-throttle section between corners 14 and 18 which lasts 21 seconds.
"Apart from long straights where the cars reach speeds of up to about 320 km/h, Spa has every element to make a circuit interesting and challenging, from long and demanding corners like Pouhon and Stavelot to the tight hairpin La Source which can be taken at a speed of 70km/h. Drivers and engineers have to consider these completely different sections when they work on the set-up. The weather often plays tricks here on the teams and when it rains then not necessarily everywhere around the track. If there were to be a poll among the drivers as to which is the most demanding track, Spa would certainly be the circuit with the most votes."
Nick Heidfeld, BMW Sauber
2007 Qualifying - 6th, 2007 Race - 5th
"Spa is a fantastic race track with unique corners and a very special character. Although these days with the V8 engines it is no problem taking the Eau Rouge combination in the hollow at full throttle, it remains a standout feature. Compression is absolutely no problem physically, but it's nevertheless a very special sensation. For the spectators too, I can well recommend this section. It's very impressive the way the cars come roaring along downhill and then accelerate uphill again. In the current race calendar, Spa is the nearest GP circuit to my home town of Monchengladbach, and that's another reason for me to look forward to the Belgian Grand Prix, where I'll be aiming to achieve a good result."
Robert Kubica, BMW Sauber
2007 Qualifying - 14th, 2007 Race - 9th
"From my point of view the race in Spa is one of the best Grands Prix in the calendar. It is a very unique track with high-speed corners you can approach with different racing lines. The most famous corners in Spa-Francorchamps are definitely Eau Rouge and the Bus Stop chicane, which was modified before last year's race. The circuit is very long and very tricky. You have to find the right balance and the right configuration of the car in order not to lose any lap time. Another crucial factor is the weather in Belgium. It can rain in one sector and it can be dry in another sector. I am really looking forward to the race"
Mario Theissen, BMW Motorsport director
"Spa-Francorchamps is one of the specialities in the Formula One calendar. We look forward to the only course in the calendar that can still be described as a natural circuit since it follows the features of the landscape. In the Ardennes, steep inclines are as much a feature as the unpredictable weather.
"Spa may not be the track with the highest speeds - that accolade belongs to Monza - but in Spa we have the longest stretch taken at full throttle. Since the modification of the famous Eau Rouge corner and the introduction of V8 engines, drivers can go flat-out through the section from the hairpin shortly after the start, through the hollow and then uphill again. In last year's race we calculated that our drivers held the pedal to the floor for more than 1,865 metres, or 24 seconds. Engine power and stability are key requirements here.
"Nick's F1.08 is scheduled to take on a new BMW P86/8 engine with a new transmission, while Robert will be driving with the same engine and gear box as in Valencia. In the first two thirds of the season we didn't have a single retirement caused by any technical fault. We aim to maintain this high level of reliability. On the sporting side, we plan to improve further and see both cars finish solidly in the points at Spa."
Willy Rampf, BMW Sauber technical director
"Spa is one of the last natural circuits remaining in the calendar and therefore ranks among the classics. Most drivers love it, and for good reason. Eau Rouge is one of the most spectacular corners in Formula One, even though the V8 engines now allow it to be taken flat-out in dry conditions. Spa demands medium downforce, comparable to Montreal. High aerodynamic efficiency is very important as you need a lot of downforce in the fast corners of the middle sector while at the same time requiring plenty of top speed for overtaking at the end of the long straights.
"A crucial factor will be how to exploit the tyre potential. In Spa we use the two hardest compounds, which is a challenge particularly if air temperatures are low. The weather in Spa is always a big unknown as it can turn from one moment to the next, sometimes even within individual sections of the track."
Nico Rosberg, Williams
2007 Qualifying - 5th, 2007 Race - 6th
We had a great race at Spa last year. I finished sixth, which was one of my best results of the season. The important thing for the team at the moment is that weve identified where improvements can be made with the FW30 and are making the necessary adjustments to take us into the final few races. The work everyone at the factory is putting in should help us out in Spa. Were not going to make a huge jump, but well definitely be heading in the right direction. Im really looking forward to the Belgian Grand Prix because Spa is an amazing race track. It will be difficult to score points there, but you can never predict what will happen somewhere like Spa, so well have to wait and see.
Kazuki Nakajima, Williams
2007 Qualifying - NA, 2007 Race - NA
Its going to be the first time Ive driven a Formula One car around Spa, so my first priority will be to learn the circuit and to find out how the car behaves on this track. I have, of course, driven Spa while racing in GP2 so know what a great racing track it is. In fact, its probably one of the greatest tracks on the calendar so Im really looking forward to taking my FW30 out and doing that first lap!
Sam Michael, Williams technical director
Spa is one of the greatest tracks we visit. The circuit is steeped in history, with one of its most prolific characteristics being its fantastic corners, created by some significant undulations over the course of the lap. Its a real challenge for the drivers to put in a perfect lap, on what is the longest on the calendar at seven kilometres.
Spa is a fairly fluid track, with the corners flowing smoothly from one to another. As they are either medium or high speed, good car stability is a pre-requisite, and mistakes made in the early part of the lap are difficult to recover from. A car that can withstand some kerb-riding is also important to get through the Bus Stop chicane quickly.
Weather is at its most unpredictable in Spa. The mountains in the area create their own micro-climate and small bursts of rain can appear on one part of the circuit and not on the others, which makes tyre choice an additional challenge! Strategists usually adopt a one or two stop approach for Belgium and Bridgestone will take the medium and hard tyre compounds.
More to follow.