Formula One racing swaps Mediterranean glamour for the rugged countryside of the Ardennes next weekend, as the teams line up for the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-
Francorchamps - just seven days after the European Grand Prix in Valencia. This natural circuit is one of the most challenging on the F1 calendar, and almost universally loved
Jenson Button, Brawn GP
2008 Qualifying - 17th, 2008 Race - 15th
"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."
Rubens Barrichello, Brawn GP
2008 Qualifying - 16th, 2008 Race - DNF
"Valencia was a fantastic weekend and the memories will stay with me for a long time. Winning again feels pretty good! 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 on 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."
Ross Brawn, Brawn GP team principal
"Our return to form in Valencia and the very well-deserved win for Rubens has given everyone at the team a timely boost as we head into the final part of the season. Looking ahead to the race in Spa, this will be another challenge with a very different type of circuit and ambient weather conditions. 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. We will have another busy testing programme on Friday to validate the conclusions reached in Valencia and then build our weekend from there. Spa ranks as one of the great classic racing circuits, loved by drivers, engineers and fans, so we hope to put on a good show."
Giancarlo Fisichella, Force India
2008 Qualifying - 20th, 2008 Race - 17th
Every driver loves Spa and, for me, it's the best circuit of the year. It's 7km long so you get a lot of different corners, from hairpins to fast sections and then obviously the best corner of the year, Eau Rouge. Actually this corner is not as exciting as it was a few years ago when you only took it flat in qualifying. Now we have more downforce and a bit less power with the V8 so you are usually flat out every time you go through. Even though it's not as challenging now, it's still very exciting. There's a lot of compression when you go down and then you have to jink left and right - it's a complete corner. The weather in Spa is always unpredictable as well. You can have rain in sector one and then it could be sunny in sector three so anything could happen. We are going there at the end of August this year, but we could have any type of weather! My first appearance at Spa was in 1997 with Jordan and I had a great result. I finished second, just behind Hakkinen - at the time it was my best career result. Then I went on to have some more good results and was third in 2001 with Renault. At the time the car was not too good but the team brought some new upgrades to Spa. I made a great start from eighth on the grid and going into the first corner I was fourth. For the rest of the race we were very competitive and I finished third, which was a fantastic result for the team. Valencia was a great result for Force India. We could really race in the midfield and seemed to have an advantage over quite a few teams and drivers now. The upgrades made a big difference and the car was nice to drive. Spa is a bit different to Valencia but it's still very quick so I hope we can transfer the performance this week. My aim will be to qualify well so we can start a bit further up the grid, have a strong race and finally score some points.
Adrian Sutil, Force India
2008 Qualifying - 18th, 2008 Race - 13th
Along with Monaco, Spa is one of my favourite tracks. It's a real nature track through the forest where you really get into the rhythm of the corners. It also gives very interesting racing - last year the race was dry until two laps from the end, then it all changed suddenly. This year I think we are looking good. Our new aero package gave a very good step forward and we've been quick at lower downforce tracks so far this year so I'm very confident of getting another good result. I hope top 10 or even better.
Dr Vijay Mallya, Force India chairman and team principal
I was really delighted with the entire weekend performance from the team, right through from practice. Going into the weekend we anticipated a step forward of over half a second with the new aero package, but you never know what the other teams will be bringing with them and how our performance will translate. I think we can all be very proud of the progress we made. From the off we were quick and we really achieved the maximum we could do. Two top 12 finishes might seem frustrating as we're still outside the points, but when you look at the people in front of us and then behind we can't be disappointed at all. I don't think I've looked forward to a race quite as much as I am looking forward to Spa!
Dominic Harlow, Force India's chief engineer
Spa is a classic circuit and motorsport in its purest form. The Spa-Francorchamps track incorporates three of the most challenging high speed corners on the calendar and these combine with nearly 7km of flowing corners and elevation change starting at the first gear La Source hairpin and ending at the new Bus Stop chicane.One thing we can be sure of is that it will almost certainly be wet at some stage, although the race is slightly earlier this year so not in the wetter conditions of autumn. The team has a good history at this event and it should suit the VJM02 technical package well. This race will see the introduction of a lower downforce rear wing that will allow speeds of up to 330km/h. With these long straights the engine is given its toughest work out of the year in terms of inertial loading in Spa and so we will carefully manage the use of our Mercedes Benz engines.
Hirohide Hamashima, Bridgestone director of motorsport tyre development
"Spa is a classic race circuit. It is fast and also has some interesting technical challenges over the course of a lap, and a lap here is longer than anywhere else we visit during the course of a season. There are very long high speed sections, with fast corners. Despite being a fast circuit, the downforce levels used on the cars is quite high, meaning heavy loads are transferred through the tyres. There is significant gradient change over a lap too. Eau Rouge is a very fast corner and the compression at the bottom of the corner means a lot of force through the tyres. Here sufficient tyre pressure is critical. In tyre terms this is a severe circuit. High loads are put through the tyres during a lap. It can be quite cold here, so getting initial heat into the tyres could be a challenge, especially with the higher temperature working range medium compound. We must not, of course, forget the weather. We have seen wet races many times at Spa. Because it is a long course you can have one part dry, one part wet. Tyre choice during the course of the race could well be the deciding factor."
Fernando Alonso, Renault
2008 Qualifying - 6th, 2008 Race - 4th
It's one of the traditional circuits that has a lot of history and a special atmosphere. All the drivers love to race there and it's the greatest driving challenge of the year. The high-speed corners are amazing, especially Eau Rouge and Pouhon, and it's always a pleasure to drive there in an F1 car. Spa is a circuit where you need a complete car because it's a very long lap and you need to find a set-up to cope with a lot of different challenges. There are quick corners, slow corners and long straights where you need good top speed to overtake or defend position, especially on the approach to Les Combes. Our car has been strong in the last few races so I think we can be quick in Spa too where I will continue pushing hard.
Romain Grosjean, Renault
2008 Qualifying - N/A, 2008 Race - N/A
Spa one of my favourites and I know it very well as I won the GP2 feature race there last year. Spa is one of the classic circuits of the world and I can't wait to experience corners like Eau Rouge in my F1 car. After a street circuit, it will be nice to go to a more traditional track with fast, flowing corners as I continue to learn about the R29. So far the team has been very helpful and not put any pressure on me, but I would like to be more competitive in Spa and closer to Fernando. I know that I still have a lot to learn and so I will take things one day at a time and see how I feel after free practice before I start setting myself objectives. You also have to remember that in Spa the weather can be unpredictable and there's usually a chance of rain so we need to be ready to react quickly to any opportunities in the race.
Bob Bell, Renault technical director
Spa is a technical circuit with a wide range of challenges - both high and low-speed. We haven't got the quickest car on the grid, but that's because the R29 is still missing a little bit of performance in all areas rather than a specific weakness that is likely to show up at certain circuits. Based on our performance in recent races, I'd expect to see a similar level of competitiveness in Spa. We're always adding new developments and for the next couple of races we'll be using a low downforce package on the car. As for KERS, we don't plan to use it in Spa, but we're considering it for Monza as we believe it will provide a real advantage there.
Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari
2008 Qualifying - 4th, 2008 Race - 18th
The main goal is to hold the standard of the last races, which means that we have to try to get on the podium again. I always loved racing at Spa where Ive won many times since I started my career in the smaller racing series. I really like driving here: 44 laps might be not enough! Last year everything went up in smoke due to the rain at the end of the race and I ran into a wall. I set all on victory and I didnt have anything to lose. This year the situation is slightly different, and because we dont have a car thats able to compete on the highest performance level. But well give it our all - and even more - for a good result.
Lewis Hamilton, McLaren
2008 Qualifying - 1st, 2008 Race - 3rd
Like Monaco, Silverstone and Monza, its one of the historic circuits that I grew up watching on television when I was younger - which makes it just that bit more special for me, because its so easy to imagine the heroes of the past racing here. Its also a magnificent circuit, a place where you can really push the limits of a Formula One car: driving through Eau Rouge, Pouhon or Blanchimont is an incredible sensation - your whole body is on the limit and you are still pushing to go faster still. I love Spa - I dont think it should ever leave the Formula One calendar.
Heikki Kovalainen, McLaren
2008 Qualifying - 3rd, 2008 Race - 10th
I think everyone in Formula One looks forward to Spa. For the drivers, the circuit is a fantastic challenge: unlike some of the places we visit, Spa has real character, and its a place where the confidence and commitment of the driver can make a difference. The big corners mean you need to be brave and take risks - and also mean youll have a big accident if you get it wrong. I love this place, I think its the best circuit on the calendar.
Martin Whitmarsh, McLaren team principal
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. 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 ten times, and both Lewis and Heikki love this place so Im looking forward to another exciting race.
Norbert Haug, Mercedes-Benz Motorsport Vice-President
Spa has every element to make a circuit interesting, from long and demanding corners like Pouhon and Stavelot to the tight hairpin La Source which can be taken at a speed of only 70km/h. We have won four of the previous eight grands prix at this demanding circuit, the one with the second highest average speed after Monza of all grand prix circuits. The last two Grands Prix at Budapest and Valencia have completely different characteristics and according to experience at Spa there will hardly be tropical temperatures like at the previous two races. In these two races, Vodafone McLaren Mercedes scored 27 of 36 possible points - no other team was more successful. After 46 races, Lewis continues to be the driver in the field who during this period, since the beginning of the 2007 season, scored the most points and wins and he started almost half of his Formula One races from the front row. Only twice he did not finish. Heikki showed a good upward trend with second on the grid and fourth in the race lately. Spa will be a big challenge for everybody in the team and I dont see us in a position to perform there as well as in the previous two races. Nevertheless, we approach the second grand prix which will be held within eight days after the summer break with great impetus and very positively - at least, our hit rate there was not so bad in the previous eight Grands Prix.
Nico Rosberg, Williams
2008 Qualifying - 15th, 2008 Race - 12th
Spa should be good for the team. Its a very high speed track, very different to Valencia, but our car goes really well everywhere. This track, in particular, will suit our car because we have a strong aero package for the quick corners so Im looking forward to it. Belgiums in the middle of nowhere really so it will make a change to the places where weve visited recently. Going to different places is what Formula Ones about though so it will be nice.
Kazuki Nakajima, Williams
2008 Qualifying - 19th, 2008 Race - 14th
Spa is very different to Valencia with its medium and high speed corners. We struggled a bit there in 2008 but this years car is competitive everywhere so it should be fine. The weather made it a difficult race last year so hopefully it will be more stable this year. I dont have much experience of the country as a whole, but Spa and the surrounding countryside is really beautiful. Its quiet, but the people are really passionate about Formula One so always really nice to go there.
Jarno Trulli, Toyota
2008 Qualifying - 11th, 2008 Race - 16th
"Spa is a fantastic track and definitely my favourite in Formula One. It is a real driver's circuit and that suits me perfectly. There is almost every type of corner, so all the way around the lap you are challenged and I love that. Every time you drive around Spa it is amazing but I have to say it was special to get pole position there a few years ago. It was disappointing not to achieve more last weekend in Valencia but it's a different style of lay-out compared to Spa. The competition in F1 is particularly tough at the moment but we are fighting hard and it would be great to get a good result at such a special place. Spa always gives me a positive feeling and we'll be pushing as hard as we can to get the best possible result."
Timo Glock, Toyota
2008 Qualifying - 13th, 2008 Race - 9th
"Along with Monaco, Spa is my favourite circuit. To drive a Formula 1 car around it is a fantastic experience and it's one of the best feelings you can have in this sport. It's one of those circuits you dream about racing on when you are growing up; it's just a very impressive track. Even though I really enjoy the circuit, I have some frustrating memories of the place; being taken out by another driver on the warm-up lap in 2007 and being penalised last year when I did one of the best final laps of my career to get into the points. That was all down to bad luck so I am due a change! Last year the weather was a big factor in the race and rain always seems to be a risk at Spa, but I have been quick there in the wet and dry so I am excited about this weekend."
Pascal Vasselon, Toyota Senior General Manager Chassis
"Spa is a truly spectacular circuit, not just for the drivers, but for anyone who has the privilege of watching a Formula One car there, particularly through Eau Rouge. The forces generated through this corner are extreme, especially for the suspension. It will be interesting to see how the 2009 cars behave; even though there is less downforce, we now have more grip with the slick tyres so I expect it to remain flat-out in the dry. Spa is in the medium-low downforce range and it is quite severe on almost all components, with only the brakes having a relatively easy time because there is plenty of cooling and not so much heavy braking. We will use the soft and medium compound tyres and it will be the first time we have used these together at a race weekend this season. However, we have plenty of experience of both so we have a clear idea of what to expect."
Robert Kubica, BMW Sauber
2008 Qualifying - 8th, 2008 Race - 6th
"We are heading to the final stage of the season which offers a lot of nice tracks, beginning with Spa-Francorchamps. It is a race track with a great history. Most of the drivers like driving here. The circuit is very long with a lot of challenging high-speed corners. Finding the right balance is one crucial factor in Spa, which is quite difficult. The weather is always unpredictable and mostly changeable. It might be dry on some parts of the track and it might rain heavily on others. Driving in Spa is challenging and it is always exciting to come here."
Nick Heidfeld, BMW Sauber
2008 Qualifying - 5th, 2008 Race - 2nd
"Spa is a sensational race track. The 2008 race was one of my best ever. I was running in the points and decided shortly before the end of the race to switch onto wet-weather tyres. It turned out to be a spot-on decision and put me eventually into second. Sudden changes in the weather can have a decisive effect on this grand prix. Even if it's hot all over Europe, there might still be torrential rain at Spa. Plus, Spa is only an hour or so from Monchengladbach by car, so this race always gives me the chance to make a quick visit back to my old home town."
Mario Theissen, BMW Motorsport Director
"Spa - only three letters, but a place with so much motor racing history. Spa is an essential date on the F1 calendar. We love coming to this small, sleepy Belgian town. Spa is a fantastic natural race circuit tucked away in the beautiful, rugged Ardennes. Recent modifications have meant Eau Rouge is now taken flat out in the dry, creating the longest full-throttle section of the season. As this part of the track also rises significantly, engine output and durability are really put to the test. The second defining feature of Spa is the unpredictable weather. It changes very quickly; rain can suddenly set in, but sometimes only over one section of the track. We are aiming to record another good result in the penultimate race of the European season."
Willy Rampf, BMW Sauber head of engineering
"Spa is the longest circuit on the F1 calendar and the race is therefore run over the least number of laps. This significantly restricts the teams' room for manoeuvre in terms of race strategy, because staying out one lap more or less makes a big difference to the amount of fuel a driver has on board.
"As far as the track characteristics are concerned, Spa is the first circuit this season where we will be running medium downforce with the 2009 cars. Up to now, we have sent the cars out with high downforce for every GP. The difference is considerable and means we will use special wings at Spa. The track layout has a real excitement factor, which goes beyond the renowned Eau Rouge. The spectrum of cornering speeds is huge; the corners range from the extremely tight Bus Stop chicane to the high-speed Blanchimont.
"We can usually expect relatively low ambient temperatures at Spa, so getting heat into the tyres is sure to be an issue. Spa is traditionally the only race where you also prepare a rain set-up for every session. That makes this weekend an extremely exacting one for the engineers because, in addition to adapting the car to the particular characteristics of the circuit, you also have to factor in the weather."
More to follow.
Belgian Grand Prix - team and driver preview quotes 24 Aug 2009
Formula One racing swaps Mediterranean glamour for the rugged countryside of the Ardennes next weekend, as the teams line up for the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-