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Belgium preview quotes - Marussia, Force India, Mercedes, Toro Rosso & more

20 Aug 2015

Fresh from its summer break, the Formula One paddock regroups at the legendary Spa-Francorchamps circuit next weekend for the 2015 Formula 1 Shell Belgian Grand Prix. Those involved look ahead to what is always a special race...

Marussia

Will Stevens

“It was nice for me and the rest of the team to have a good long break, but I think we are all ready to get back into the racing now. I had a lot of fun catching up with friends and family, and every now and then you do need a reboot, but at the same time it was important to maintain my physical training regime as this next phase of the season can be quite arduous, particularly the long hauls. I’m feeling really positive about the work that lies ahead, as it will be a combination of maximising our current package for this year and development for 2016. It’s good to get that underway at Spa, one of my favourite racetracks and a really great challenge for car and driver.”

Roberto Merhi

“It’s good to be back after the holidays and to get back to racing here at Spa, which is definitely my favourite circuit. I won my first Formula race here in 2007, in Formula Renault. Not only is it a very demanding circuit, and a real test of skill, but you also have other factors in the mix, like the weather, which can be really tricky as it is very changeable. Prior to the break, I felt that things were really starting to come together for me a little more and I was much more confident with the car. I hope to pick up where I left off and have a really positive second half of the season for me and the team.”

John Booth, Team Principal

“It’s nice to see the team looking so refreshed after a long and well-deserved summer break. Spa is a great track at which to get the second half of the season started and one where everyone can be reminded of our sport’s fantastic heritage. It provides an exciting test of man and machine, and it is great to hear the feedback from the drivers on what is always a very exhilarating lap. Our focus will be extracting as much performance as possible from our current package and at the same time transposing our findings onto the development programme for next year’s car.”

Force India

Nico Hulkenberg

“The summer break was very relaxing for me. My schedule has been extra busy this year so it was nice to stay at home for a few weeks and just switch off and relax. Even though it’s only been a month since the last race, you miss being in the car and the buzz of racing, so I’m definitely ready to begin the second half of the season.

“Spa is a favourite for all the drivers. When I think of driving there it just makes me smile because it’s got so many special high-speed corners - the corners you want to experience in a Formula One car. You’ve also got the history of the place and the unpredictable weather which often helps spice up the racing.

“We go there hoping to bounce back from a tough race in Hungary. The improvements we’ve made to the car will really help us in Spa, especially through the high-speed corners. The engine also plays a big part around the lap. We are competitive and I am confident we can start the second part of the season strongly.”

Sergio Perez

“The break was a good opportunity to recharge my batteries and spend some time at home with my family. The calendar is pretty busy and we don't often get the chance to have some time for ourselves. However, I am really looking forward to getting back behind the wheel and doing what I really love.

"Spa is an amazing track and I enjoy racing there. The first sector and the run through Eau Rouge feel very special in a Formula One car and it’s definitely a highlight of the year. The track can also produce really good racing because there are a few corners where you have a good chance to overtake.

“I think the characteristics of the track and its emphasis on power and top speed should suit our car. You also have to expect wet weather at some point during the weekend so it could be quite unpredictable. We have shown some good pace in the last few races and we should be in a position to get a good result.”

Dr Vijay Mallya, Force India team principal

“The summer break has given us a chance to regroup following a challenging race in Budapest. The whole team has worked extremely hard to repair the cars and solve the problems that we encountered in Hungary, and we’re ready to bounce back this weekend in Spa.

“Although the Hungarian Grand Prix was disappointing, I prefer to focus on the positives, especially the strong pace we showed in the first half of the race. We saw that the VJM08 is capable of running comfortably inside the top ten, which gives us confidence for the second half of the season. There remains an upbeat feeling in the team and I think we can look forward to some competitive races to come.

“Returning to Spa is always special because it’s one of those tracks that truly captures the imagination. The drivers love to race here and it’s a favourite with the fans too. We expect to be in good shape this weekend and we will be aiming for Q3 on Saturday and good points on Sunday.”

Mercedes

Lewis Hamilton

“It's been good to take a break from racing and spend some time relaxing, training and recharging the batteries. But, of course, there's always that flame in the back of your mind that just wants to get back out there and get on it - especially after a race like Hungary. Spa is a great track to kick off the second part of the season too. It's one of the really great, old-school circuits with so much history. It's mostly medium to high speed corners, so you're pretty much pedal to the metal the whole way round which is a lot of fun. It's always special to come out on top at a classic race like this so I remember winning here well. I love this track and I'll be gunning for that top spot again.”

Nico Rosberg

“The summer break is a great chance for the team to recharge after a tough start to the year and they definitely deserve it for all the hard work in making the incredible car we've had so far this season. But for me, personally, it's time I'd rather be spending in the car! Hungary was a big disappointment and I've been itching to get back to racing ever since. When you're in such a close battle for the Championship, any opportunity to gain points is crucial and it's up to me to take those chances - but also to make them for myself. That's definitely the target for the second half of the year. We're only halfway through the season, so it's all still to play for. Spa is a fantastic circuit - a track that I think every driver enjoys and one that always produces spectacular racing. I'm looking forward to it.”

Toto Wolff, Head of Mercedes-Benz Motorsport

“With ten races down and nine to go, we enter the second half of the season with a stronger points total than at this stage last year. And yet, our margin to the competition is actually smaller. There is never a moment you can take your foot off the gas and Hungary proved once again that any slip is an opportunity our rivals will grab with both hands. We have all enjoyed a chance to recharge over the summer - but we have also kept our minds focused on what lies ahead. There are still many chances to win or lose this battle and we must be relentless in our push to come out on top.”

Paddy Lowe, Executive Director (Technical)

“Belgium has recently been rated by fans as the most popular race on the calendar and it's easy to see why. It's a phenomenal circuit, with significant elevation changes, challenging corners and plenty of opportunity for overtaking. This is a race which is usually spiced up by the weather, with rain producing some classic Grands Prix over the years. It's the longest lap of the season, so if conditions change just at the wrong moment there's a long way to tiptoe back for a tyre change - often leading to significant shake-ups in the order. It's a good overall test of a car, with a strong aero package required for the high-speed content and good power necessary for the long straights and numerous climbs. Spa also sits with Monza as one of two circuits where we will see specific low drag configurations - although not to the extent of that seen in Italy. After a well-earned break, we're all looking forward to kicking off the second half of the season and aiming to do so with a strong performance.”

Toro Rosso

Max Verstappen

“The Hungaroring was clearly a good track for us from a performance and point-scoring point of view. Spa will be much harder as it doesn't suit our car that well, but we will make sure we work hard to achieve the best result possible. The P4 in Hungary definitely gives us all extra motivation!

“I raced [at Spa] last year during my F3 season and we won all three races that weekend, it felt great! So hopefully we can score some more points and continue with our good performances in Spa! It's such an amazing track to drive, it's unique! It has some very challenging and fun corners, like Eau Rouge, and the home crowd just make it even more special. I am really looking forward to the weekend ahead.”

Carlos Sainz

“After Hungary, we are one step closer to our target of finishing fifth in the championship. We are all working flat-out together and this is a very good sign! We will need a kind of race like the one we had in Hungary to be able to be competitive in Spa. Well, hey, maybe not exactly 100 percent the same… [Smiles].

“We know we'd be strong in sector two if we could run all the downforce we have, but the problem is that the straights in sectors one and three are so long, that we will have to take all that downforce off to be competitive. So we are hoping for some rain, that's for sure!

“Anyway, we will do our best to extract the maximum out of the car whatever the conditions are and try and do what we did in Canada; it was a solid weekend even if we didn't have a competitive package.

“In the Renault World Series last year in Spa I won back-to-back races in a very solid way and it really consolidated my championship chances as well as my position within the Red Bull Junior Team. It will be emotional to go back there! The good memories will definitely give us a lot of energy and I will try and perform at the same level as I did there last year.

“There's no doubt it's my favourite track together with Silverstone, I really, really like it for so many reasons, it's difficult to pick just one! Also, the fact of doing well there makes you like the circuit even more. I especially enjoy all the downhill section from the big long hairpin to Pouhon, the right-left at the end of sector two… It's just a really exceptional track.”

Williams

Valtteri Bottas

“Spa is one of my favourite circuits. The feeling of Eau Rouge in a Formula One car is hard to explain and certainly unique, it’s just incredible. The layout is normally strongly suited to the characteristics of our car as well, so I head to this weekend looking for a strong result. I was on the podium last year, so we are looking to achieve a similar result. The weather always plays a part throughout the weekend so we have to be alert as it can change so fast.”

Felipe Massa

“Spa is the most enjoyable circuit for many of the drivers and it’s definitely my favourite. It’s always good to have a strong result at the circuits you enjoy driving. The weather can sometimes surprise us so we will need to be on the ball when it comes to strategic decision making. The layout suits the strengths of our car so we’re looking to start the second half of the season in a strong position.”

Rob Smedley

“Returning from the summer break we are all refreshed and absolutely raring to go; the team spirit and motivation at Williams is tangible as we look forward to challenging for podium positions in the second part of the year. Spa should be a circuit that suits the FW37 and we therefore have to capitalise on this. The long straights twinned with the long sweeping corners in sector 2 are definitely characteristics where we’ve seen this year’s car perform really well. The weather is an important factor in Spa and we therefore have to be ready for all circumstances. We have been doing a lot of homework in this area recently and the team has made excellent inroads. Belgium is such a fantastic Grand Prix for the teams and the fans alike. It encapsulates the purity of Formula One very well, which is simply about the best cars in the world racing around the best circuits, and we are lucky to visit here each year.”

McLaren

Fernando Alonso

"It feels great to be back. I enjoyed a relaxing break over the summer shutdown, but I also trained hard and I feel in the best shape to start the second half of the year. After Hungary, we were all really encouraged by the outcome; although we were fortunate to have had some good luck, we still battled hard and finished the race with a positive result.

"Spa will be tricky for us, due to the configuration of a track that requires power, downforce and a big chunk of the lap spent at full throttle. But, from a driver's perspective it's a spectacular circuit and the fans there also make it a truly special place. It's a place at which I won when I was in Formula 3000, but never in Formula One. I've enjoyed some really exciting battles there, and I'm looking forward to this weekend for some more.

"The next few races will be important for us: we need to continue our forward momentum, and, with the addition of some tweaks to the car and power unit, we will be looking for more progress and good correlation between the simulator and our on-track performance. That might not necessarily appear above the surface in either Spa or Monza, but we'll keep pushing development forward at each race."

Jenson Button

"What a place to resume the second half of the season! It's such a great place to come to after the break - Spa is a circuit I've always loved right from the start of my racing career, and every lap around this incredibly special circuit is still hugely exciting and puts a massive grin on my face. It's genuinely a circuit like no other.

"I'm really looking forward to getting back into the car and seeing where we stand among our nearest competitors. We can't pretend that we're expecting a huge jump forward in performance - especially at this circuit, as it doesn't suit our car's characteristics - but, after the break, I'm feeling refreshed, positive, and ready to continue the solid progress we've made so far.

"I love Spa, I won there back in 2012, and, even when I'm not battling for the lead, I really enjoy the racing there as it usually produces fantastic Grands Prix. It's a privilege as a Formula One driver to be able to go to the circuit in the morning, get in the car, and race through some of the most legendary corners in motorsport."

Eric Boullier, Racing director

"After a well-deserved summer break for the whole team, we're all ready and raring to go at the start of the second half of the season. We had an encouraging race in Hungary leading into the summer break, and we now feel refreshed and determined to continue improving our form as the rest of the season progresses.

"We've persevered through some tough moments, but the positivity and steadfast commitment to McLaren-Honda's future success are evident in every single member of this team. Our drivers, too, have been unwavering in their support and are working hard to keep pushing us forward, extracting the maximum from the package at every opportunity. We're also incredibly grateful for the support of our partners, who are incredibly loyal, and who are united behind our development programme. In the second half of the season, our fight towards the front will continue, and we'll work hard to build on our steady, solid progress in pursuit of performance.

"Spa is a truly spectacular circuit - arguably the best on the calendar for many - but, given the unique power and downforce package required, the track won't play to our strengths. Therefore, of course, we must be measured in our optimism, and we will need to wait for Singapore and beyond before we can see the fruits of our labours reflected on track."

Yasuhisa Arai, Honda R&D senior managing officer - chief officer of motorsport 

"After a well-deserved and positive result in Hungary, the summer break was good rest for the trackside team, while Sakura continued on with the power unit development.

"As we planned, Honda has updated our combustion characteristics to further improve our power units for Spa and the second half of the season. This weekend's free practices will be important to test the pairing of the power units to the cars. The Belgian race, however, will surely be a difficult one for the team and drivers, with expected grid penalties and a long and unforgiving power circuit.

"Nevertheless, McLaren-Honda's focus is to improve race by race. We know we can learn a lot from the circuit for immediate future, and hope that we can come out of the weekend with some positives."

Sauber

Marcus Ericsson

“I am really looking forward to driving at Spa-Francorchamps in general and Eau Rouge, Blanchimont and Pouhon in particular. This traditional Grand Prix weekend at this historic track is purely about racing, and the fans are really into our sport and passionate about it. The atmosphere is great there. In comparison to other circuits, the track is quite long with some interesting corners and long straights. Engine power is the crucial factor, which fits well with our engine update. It’s one of those tracks which is like an adventure, it goes up and downhill. Always an important aspect of Spa is the weather. You never know what is going to happen, one part of the track can be wet and the other can be dry. This is also what makes Spa so special.”

Felipe Nasr

“Spa is my favourite circuit on the calendar. The track is unique, having a lot of high-speed corners and a great corner combination. As a driver you get a nice flow going through these corner combinations. It is a track on which you need a stable car in the high-speed corners. I would say the combination of low downforce and traction is essential to be competitive. Going through Eau Rouge flat out will be tricky and, for sure, a challenge. It will be my first time driving this circuit in a Formula One car. We do have our engine update there, but, as we haven’t run it yet, we don’t know what it is going to be like. We are all looking forward to it and hope this will be a benefit for us.”

Giampaolo Dall’Ara, Sauber Head of Track Engineering

“The Belgian Grand Prix can be considered the opener of the second part of the season, in which the Sauber F1 team is looking forward to stronger performances thanks to a number of upgrades that will be progressively introduced. At Spa both C34 will be fitted with more powerful Ferrari power units and track specific wings. The track is an all-round favourite and demands high-speed cornering performance and straight-line speed, hence aerodynamic efficiency and power output. Traction and braking, although, as usual, important, are second to stability and reactiveness, therefore rather specific set-ups are being worked out. As for the tyre compounds, medium and soft are expected to fit the event well.”

Red Bull

Daniel Ricciardo

“When I was a kid I played the racing games quite a bit and Spa was always the track I played - it was my favourite - and when I got to drive there for real, every bit was as good as I thought it would be. My first race was in Formula Renault 2.0 and I can still picture the first lap, thinking ‘wow’ as I went through Eau Rouge.

“To win the Grand Prix last year was really, really cool. It was pretty tough to drive. We ran really low downforce, pretty much Monza-spec. It made it tricky: tail-y but fun. Trying to keep up the rhythm when the car is moving around is not always easy - but I think it was the best package we had for the weekend.

“When Spa’s sunny, it’s great. A proper old-school Grand Prix for the real racing enthusiast. Great atmosphere, great fans, great beer and definitely the place to come if you like the frites. Only drawback is that it’ll be 30 degrees C with blue skies one minute and hosing down the next.”

Daniil Kvyat

“Spa is one of my favourite tracks of the year. I think that’s a bit of cliche but I think it’s a favourite for all the drivers. It’s really long, really challenging, there are some proper fast sections and some properly balls-out corners. At Spa, more than anywhere, you feel that you’re really driving an F1 car.

“With these cars Eau Rouge is back to being a bit of a balls-out corner - especially in the wet. Pouhon is pretty much and Blanchimont still, but really only in the wet. It’s full of great, flowing, interesting sections.

“There’s great history [at Spa-Francorchamps]; the atmosphere is amazing. To be honest it’s quite hard to put into words. I like the weather. It always feels like one of the freshest weekends of the year, if that doesn’t sound strange, but it’s cold at night, and the mist and everything adds to the atmosphere. It’s a great circuit and I think it brings out the true fans and that’s quite special.”

Pirelli

Paul Hembery, Pirelli motorsport director

“We have the same tyre nomination for Spa as we did for the Hungaroring - which turned out to be one of the most thrilling races of the season - but the two circuits present a very marked contrast. Whereas Hungary was tight and twisty, Spa is open and flat-out, making it a favourite among all the drivers. We’ve got plenty of high-energy loads going through the tyres in many directions due to all the different forces at work, but ambient temperatures still tend to be quite low, so the soft and medium tyres represent the best compromise between performance and durability. Spa is a race where anything can happen, with a high incidence of safety cars and changing weather, so tyre strategy is important, as well as each team’s ability to constantly read the race and react quickly to any opportunities that present themselves. The recent Spa 24 Hours - which is our biggest event of the year - featured more changes of lead than you could count, as well as a succession of incidents and safety cars in the first half of the race. That showcases just what a spectacular and unpredictable competition this amazing circuit can regularly provide.”

Lotus

Romain Grosjean

“What a fabulous race circuit! Spa as we all know is one of the best tracks we go to, if not the best of them all. As a driver it is like a dream circuit with elevation change, quick corners, medium-speed technical corners and some good straights for overtaking. It’s a circuit with a soul. I always enjoy racing here, as do most of the drivers. What I find memorable about Spa is not only the track but also the beautiful surroundings in the Ardennes forest. From the cockpit you get a very real sense of being at a living, breathing track at Spa and the fans are really close to the action. You can almost smell the frites!

“It’s a great track as there’s so much to think about over a lap. That’s true if you’re on a qualifying lap trying to maximise your speed at every point, or in a race where you’re either defending or attacking, and maybe both over the course of a lap. It’s the type of place where the differences between cars can be highlighted and sometimes you see a car go really well here - let’s hope that’s our car this season!

“You need good grunt from the engine and a well set-up and forgiving car. We can definitely deliver on both those counts so it’s going to be interesting to see how we fare against our rivals. You also need an element of luck sometimes as the weather in the Ardennes can present a challenge.

“It’s almost a cliche to talk about the possibility of rain on one part of the track when it’s dry on another, but this can happen. If it happens during qualifying, it’s a massive challenge to make the right call with timing for your lap. If it happens during the race, then the call of when to pit and change your tyres for wet weather ones or back to slicks has a massive impact as it’s a long, long, long lap if you’re at Spa on the wrong rubber.

“I won in the GP2 Series in 2008 which was a fabulous feeling and I’ve certainly missed the Spa podium since then. I’ve always had good pace but my best result in F1 so far there is P8. I don’t see why we can’t improve on that this year.

“I think the circuit could well play to some of the strengths we have in the car and I’m certainly ready for more points. Me and the team will be doing everything we can to go well and get the strongest result possible, after all that’s what we’re here to do!”

Pastor Maldonado

“Where do you start with Spa? It is an amazing circuit and for sure one of the best on the planet. The sensations a driver experiences at corners like the Eau Rouge / Radillon combination, Pouhon and Blanchimont are not like you feel anywhere else in the world. It is unique in every way and to think you are competing on parts of the track that were used back in the first Grand Prix season in 1950 makes it very special indeed.

“Every track has its own challenges. For Spa, it’s a long lap and this can present some set-up challenges. You want low drag for the straights but decent downforce for the corners. This is the same at any track, but with the longer lap at Spa the different requirements are highlighted. Sometimes the best set-up for the fastest lap is not necessarily the best in a race. It’s easier to overtake on the straights, so a car fast here, but maybe relatively slower in the corners could be the preferred race set-up. This year we have a car we know to be very quick in a straight line, so this could help us. Then, of course, you never know if you’re going to get rain at Spa, and when it comes, it can come very quickly. There’s always something to keep you on your toes at Spa.

“Spa is the type of track where you get great memories whenever or whatever you are racing. But of course the ones that really stick in the mind are the victories and I am lucky that I have won here a few times. I first raced at Spa in 2004 in Formula Renault. In 2006 I won in World Series by Renault at Spa, taking pole, fastest lap and the victory. Then in 2008 I won in the GP2 Series for the first time. Then I took another win in my championship year in 2010 which was a sweet moment. In Formula One I qualified sixth in 2012. So all in all I have great memories of the track and feel that I have a special relationship with it going back many years.”

Nick Chester, Lotus Technical Director

“There’s a significant variance between the first and third sectors - where it’s not beneficial to run high downforce thanks to the long straights - and the middle sector, which is a mix of high and medium-speed corners where more downforce is needed. It’s a real balancing act between taking wing off to ensure we are quick on the straights and managing the car through the corners where it could easily feel too light due to a lack of downforce. It can make it a little bit difficult to get the best out of the car there but that’s the challenge for Spa and it always makes it interesting from a set-up point of view.

"We tend to do a lot of pre-event studies in simulation to work that out and give ourselves as much of a head-start as possible. We try out varying wing levels and see which are likely to give us the best lap times.

“It’s a circuit that has to be approached differently [from an engineer’s point of view] to other tracks, which is great. Aside from achieving the best compromise between downforce and straight-line speed, there are a few other aspects of the circuit that present a nice challenge. The famous Eau Rouge, for example, requires respect when setting ride heights for the car. You don’t want to get it wrong through there. It all keeps our engineers nicely busy.

“[The track’s greater length is] not a factor when setting up the car. It can have an effect on strategy; although the greater factor there tends to be the type of tyres we have for the Grand Prix. You do have to approach the sessions differently however, as the circuit’s 7.004 km means you tend to run fewer laps so it makes it a bit more difficult to get setup work done. It’s the same for everyone though and we manage our programme carefully as always to ensure we can achieve as much as possible in the time that we have.

“It’s a strong power track and we have a strong power unit. We have fairly low drag on the E23 so I believe we should be in a reasonable position.”

Federico Gastaldi, Lotus Deputy Team Principal

“The atmosphere is unique as well, but ultimately Spa is all about the challenge that it presents to the drivers. Just watching them attack the classic corners like Eau Rouge and Pouhon is a thrill. It must be amazing to drive this rollercoaster in the forest; it’s like the track reflects the ups and downs of everything in F1. Spa also has a good feeling in the paddock too because everyone is refreshed from the summer break and there is a sense of renewed energy for the rest of the year. We’ve seen so many times over the years the epic races that have played out at Spa; Michael Schumacher making his debut there in 1991, then winning the Grand Prix with us as Benetton the following year, Damon Hill winning Jordan’s first race or our former driver Giancarlo Fisichella coming so very close to winning there in 2009. It’s a great place to be and always delivers a superb spectacle.”

More to follow.