Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Round 12 :Preview: Belgium Grand Prix

The Summer break is drawing to a close and Formula One fans all over the world who were anxiously waiting and getting awfully bored during these 4 weeks were met with great news this week as everyone's beloved Spa-Francorchamps circuit host to the Belgium Grand Prix has been promised on the calender for the next 3 years ! With rumors of Spa alternating with the Nurburgring due to its recent financial troubles or Magny Cours in a bid to reinstate the French Grand Prix ,fans were quite worried about the future prospects of this great race circuit.

The Track: 

The Old Spa vs the New Spa

Its no secret that Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps is a favorite of many great champions,drivers , teams and of course us fans. The pre-Pirelli and DRS years , this circuit would be one circuit where  we all could look forward to some overtaking , its unique combination of corners ,straights , kinks , hairpins all just perfectly laid-out in the middle of the Ardennes just seems like racing-paradise.

Even the laconic Fin Kimi Rakkonen states :

"You can’t get the same kind of a feeling anywhere else. It’s great to race with a modern racing car at a proper circuit that has such a great tradition.Spa offers very challenging high-speed corners and you need to get the right set-up for the car. I bet every driver likes Spa. For me it is the greatest racing circuit in the world. It is my favourite place. I’ve liked it since my first ever visit there in 2000 with Formula Renault.”

The initial Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps was a 14.1 km long stretch , meandering through the Ardennes. The modern and heavily revised 7 km circuit still features some of the old great corners such as Eau Rouge and Blanchimont but the daddy of all corners (as Jackie Stewart described it) , the Masta Kink no longer is a part of it.

As you exited the town of Malmedy , you were greeted with the 2.4 km Masta Straight where Formula One cars would easily reach a top speed of over 300 kph , another 2 km straight followed both separated only by the Masta Kink. It was crucial to get a good exit speed out of the high-speed left right chicane for a good lap time. The Kink as old circuits characterists were , was situated between two farm houses. These very barns provided shelter to Jackie Stewart when he crashed heavily here into a telephone post while negotiating the Masta Kink. He waited unconscious for over 2 hours for medical aid with Graham Hill stopping mid-way during the race to cut him from his car loose with some spanners. The Masta Kink was the most feared corner of all time.

No mention of Spa being a great drivers circuit is without the mention of Eau Rouge. Named after a river with a red tinge which flows underneath the corner. The current Eau Rouge has been heavily modified on grounds of safety which made it easy flat for modern Formula One cars but with G-Forces of upto 5G and a great overtaking move up ahead at the Kemmel straight it is one of the greatest corners in the racing calender today. In fact, Eau Rouge is so steep that a couple of years ago , a mini van failed to climb it.

The old Eau Rouge was way more steep and angled , and this was indeed another one of those feared and revered corners require skill and bravery in the cars of yesteryear's.

However, its not just Eau Rouge or the Kemmel Straight which gives drivers a rush whilst putting a lap , its just the way the corners flow .

A Flying Lap

Starting from the short pit straight, braking into the cramped up La Source (which offers great action during the start), ever so gently feeling the traction and deploying KERS at full power and straightening up the car for Eau Rouge, taking a huge chuck of the inside kerb and making sure you get a clean exit from Radillion,

Gathering speed on the Kemmel Straight , reminiscing scences of Hakkinen's great overtaking move  here on Schumacher into the right hander Les Combes , making sure you get you're braking right and not carry extra-speed since you flow into Malmedy.

Braking downhill into the tricky hairpin , Rivage which is tough to negotiate in the wet, hugging the inside kerb as long as you can till the front of the car slides out going right again preparing for a mini straight from turn 9 , getting ready for another of F1's great corners Pouhon.  A double apex slightly downhill left hander  : Entry Speed - 290 kph ! Exit speed 300kph !

Braking again for the slightly off camber right-left 170kph Fagnes chicane or as the as Belgium's call it fittingly Tiff-Taff . Again making sure you don't chew off more than you can bite. Getting a good exit out of turn 14 which will determine your top speed into Blanchimont , the drivers finger just waiting for the car to settle in a straight line to deploy the KERS and DRS on a hot lap.

Negotiating the Curve Paul Frere and heading towards another great corner - Blanchimont. A left hander taken at over 300 kph and then braking hard into the bus stop chicane another great overtaking zone where you can ever so easily loose every bit of your effort of the previous sectors and heading down to the pit straight again.

No stop and squirt , no mickey mouse corners , no stupid slow chicane's , no ludicrously narrow braking zones. Circuit de-Francorchamps rewards passion , speed , bravery.....It is just perfection.

Raikkonen recorded his last Formula One victory here in 2009 , and has a total of 4 victories here; fighting greats such a Schumacher, Alonso and Hamilton on the track , producing some great overtaking moves and just being Kimi during the weekend. Its one of those weekends where you can bet that the Fin is definitely giving his best. No questions about his motivation here for sure. With Lotus on good form, Kimi showing us that he hasn't lost a bit of his talent and skill , it would seem just poetic if he wins.

But who can count out the other Lotus ? The other Dark horse can dampen it ever so much for Kimi . If Grosjean wins at Spa, beating the King of Spa himself in a similar car and achieving Lotus' first victory this season would really not go well for all Raikkonen fans.

With the ever so dynamic weather of the Ardennes , Spa ever so often throws in surprise showers during the ever so gripping moments of the grand prix and with a certain driver nicknamed the Regenmeister celebrating his 300th Grand Prix on his favorite race track , a track where he has already achieved so many milestones in the past including clinching his 7th World Championshipin 2004. A Schumacher victory here seems quite unlikely unless the weather throws us a surprise. Definitely rooting for a Michael Schumacher victory here.

Alonso has never won at Spa and will be hoping for another stunning drive to attain that elusive victory here.

With the summer break and a lot of expected updates including the Double DRS on the Lotus, a McLaren resurgence and Ferrari bringing updates to boost their top speed as well ;  Formula One is back to its usual predictable business of being unpredictable...

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