You are here
Home > Features > PRIXVIEW – Belgian Grand Prix

PRIXVIEW – Belgian Grand Prix

Round thirteen and penultimate round of the European season bring Formula One to the Arden Forrest in South East Belgium and the towns of Spa and Stavelot for the Belgian Grand Prix. Spa is one of the favourite circuits of the drivers and fans because of its unique challenges.

The current circuit is around four and a quarter mile which is a quarter the length of the original fifteen-mile circuit between the towns of Spa, Francorchamps, Malmedy, and Stavelot. Originally a street circuit, the first Grand Prix was held in 1925 and is one of the oldest races on the calendar and one of the four races which remain on the calendar from the first championship in 1950.

It remains a challenge to drivers as it is a high-speed circuit with fast following corners, making good downforce and speed a very important factor. But Spa’s length can also have its added complications collisions in the first sector mean a long drive back to the pits and the circuit has its own unique weather patterns. This means that it can rain in one part of the circuit and be dry in another part.

Spa can throw up great racing across the field, overtaking and drama. It has been raced on for decades, creating some of the best races in F1 as well as the most memorable.

The Arden Forrest has had its fair share of deaths, the old 14km circuit proved to be very dangerous lined with trees, houses, brick walls and telegraph poles accidents where common, along with fatalities. The 1960 race, proved to be the deadliest at Spa, many of the greats of the time crashing out and the death of Chris Bristow, along with neuromas injuries, the disastrous event would remain the darkest weekend for Formula One until Imola in 1994.

Speed and downforce have always been key at Spa, where it be Ferrari with a top-four lockout in 1961 or Mercedes winning most of the races in the hybrid era. However, Spa challenges mean having car advantage isn’t always key, as anything can happen in the Arden Forrest around the longest circuit of the season.

In 1971, the race was abandoned after the FIA decided that the circuit was too dangerous and the race alternated between Zolder and Brussels. Niki Lauda scored back-to-back victories at the track in 1975 and 1976, and in 1977 Gunnar Nilsson scored his only F1 victory at Zolder.

The much shorter Spa returned to the calendar in 1979, although the circuit has been modified since the current 7km circuit can be traced to then. Taking a diversion at Les Combes and re-joining the circuit at Blachimont. The first winner at the current Spa was Alain Prost. His arch-rival Ayrton Senna would take the most wins at Spa, until Michael Schumacher.

Schumacher made his debut with Jordan at Spa in 1991, before taking the first of six wins here the following year. It was also at Spa in 2001 he would pass Prost’s all-time wins and in 2004 he secured his seventh

1998, 2009, and 2013 races stand out for the multi-car pile-ups on the opening laps. David Coulthard lost control of his car in wet conditions causing a thirteen car pile-up into Eua Rouge causing a red flag.

Later in that race Coulthard in the awful spray crashed into the back of Schumacher, leading to them both retiring and a punch up in the pits. This gave Michael brother Ralf a battle with teammate Damon Hill, however Jordan intervened and used team orders to give Hill the win.

After near dominance of the season, Mercedes go into this race as the favourites however need to be warry of Max Verstappen who will be eyeing his first home win. Although Verstappen races under a Dutch licence he was born an hour away in Hasslet. Making Spa and Zandvoort, along with Monte Carlo, his home races.

Facts and figures

Round 13 of 21
Race Formula 1 Johnnie Walker Belgian Grand Prix 2019
Venue Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps, Francorchamps, Stavelot, Belgium
Circuit Length 7.004km (4.352mi)
Laps 44
Race Distance 308.052km (191.410 mi)
Lap Record 01:47.263 Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull, 2009
Most wins drivers Michael Schumacher (6)
Most wins manufacture Ferrari (16)

Fast facts

  • The town of Spa is where the word ‘spa’ comes from. People as far back as ancient Roman times used to come to the town to bathe in the famed cold springs for health and healing purposes
  • Despite racing under a Dutch licence Max Verstappen was actually born ninety miles away in Hasselt. He races under a Dutch licence because “he feels more Dutch.”
  • The Ardennes region, where Spa-Francorchamps is located, experiences the highest annual rainfall of anywhere in Belgium. At one stage, it rained at the Belgian Grand Prix for twenty years in a row.
  • Spa has a very high probability of a safety car, Most accidents at Spa are high-speed and take a lot of clearing up, but the weather can also bring out the Safety Car. A heavy downpour prior to the start of the 1997 race resulted in the sport’s first ever Safety Car start.

Event timetable

Session

Local

BST

Friday

P1 11:00-12:30 10:00-11:30
P2 15:00-16:30 14:00-15:30

Saturday

P3 12:00-13:00 11:00-12:00
Qualifying 15:00-16:00 14:00-15:00

Sunday

Race 15:10 14:10

What happened in 2018?

Like in Budapest, conditions at Spa where changeable and the fight for pole between Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton was close until the closing moments. Hamilton and Vettel started Q3 on dry tyres, but were forced to abort on there out laps and switch to inters.

Again like in Budapest, the Englishman proved his skills in the wet and took pole by seven tenths. Mercedes reacted perfectly allowing Hamilton to pull out one of his fanatic laps going fastest.

The ‘new’ Force India made a brilliant start locking out the second-row with Esteban Ocon third and Sergio Perez fourth. Romain Grosjean was another benefactor from the changing conditions, like the top teams Haas fuelled the cars for two times runs allowing Grosjean to take fifth.

Vettel got the jump on Hamilton on the opening lap over taking the Mercedes into La Source before getting a gap in the first sector. Meanwhile behind drama unfolded, as Hulkenberg ran into the back of Alonso. The chain reaction saw the German fly over Leclerc mirroring the 2012 start. All three retired.

There were others too, Daniel Ricciardo was tagged in the incident breaking the rear wing, Kimi Raikkonen also suffered a puncher from the incident, leading to their retirements.

When the race resumed, Vettel pulled away from Hamilton with the gap at a second and a half. While Hamilton tried to close the gap, Vettel pulled away from the safety car meaning fuel saving was no longer an issue. By the end of the race, Vettel had a five-second lead, Hamilton a thirty second lead over Max Verstappen.

It was a lonely afternoon for the Belgian-Dutchman, the Red Bull was as expected unable to fight at the front, he finished third with him being over a mile behind. Verstappen made a perfect start to his home race, getting the jump on both of the Force India’s before passing Ocon at Les Combes.

The Force India managed to finish in fifth and sixth with Perez ahead of Ocon. But one thing was clear, the four-week break hadn’t changed the championship fight, for now anyway the championship was alive and kicking.

Race Result – 1) S. Vettel, Ferrari, 01:23:34.476, 2) L. Hamilton, Mercedes, +11.061, 3) M. Verstappen, Red Bull – Tag Heuer, +31.372

What to watch for?

Spa, is one of the crown jewels of the sport it is loved by drivers and fans because of its unpredictably. However, we know that it is a high-speed drama where drivers can fight and overtake, but it pushes the mistakes. We have gravel traps here and that can really ruin the race. The short-run into the first corner and the hairpin can always cause problems at the start of the race.

This is the longest circuit of the year, it means that drivers have less time to get a lap in during qualifying. It can be costly, late accidents under the three minute time is effectively the end of the session. But, drama, as we seen in all the races, will come from the ultra-tight midfield group, both in qualifying and the race.

Watchword will upgrades, with the summer break it gives the teams the chance to work on the Spec-3 cars, the general idea is downforce for both Spa and Monza. Both races generally can be good indications for each other. I imagine Mercedes will remain the team to beat, the question is can Red Bull stay ahead of Ferrari.

Ferrari needs a win, its unimaginable that we would be sitting in midseason still waiting for the team to win a race this season. Sebastian Vettel has not won a race in over a year, I believe, I know I have said many times this past year Ferrari need a

The other interesting story will be how Alex Albon gets on at Red Bull, we know he has swapped with Pierre Gasly but going up against Max Verstappen is a tough challenge.

2017 vs 2018 Race Data

P1 Fastest

P2 Fastest

P3 Fastest

Q1 Fastest

Q2 Fastest

Q3 Fastest

Race Time

Fastest Lap

2018

01:44.358 01:43.355 01:42.661 01:42.585 01:41.501 01:58.179 01:23:34.476 01:46.577

Diff

-1.144 -1.418 -1.255 -1.599 -1.426 +15.626 -01:08.456

2017

01:45.502 01:44.753 01:43.916 01:44.184 01:42.927 01:42.553 01:24.42.820 01:46.577

A lap of Spa

Lewis Hamilton goes to the inside on the exit of the Bus Stop, kick of oversteer but lines it up to go down the centre of the straight. He breaks slightly before the 150m board slight lock up as he turns into La Source, runs close to the outside. He then crosses for the inside, before heading back to the inside to enter Eua Rouge/Raidillon. Carrying speed as he climbs the hill, going to the inside carrying all the speed onto the Kemmel Straight.

Breaking 100m before the hairpin, at the end of the sector he is two tenths up on his best. Turns in slowing the car right down, carefully avoiding the kerbs in the damp he weaves his car to the third part running to the outside. He dips down  the hill, breaking 100m before the Brussels hairpin, going through the centre before returning to the outside midway through Corner With No Name gets bit of oversteer. Breaks into Pouhon going to the inside mid-way through  he picks up speed running to thirteen and backs off a bit at Campus. Then sight pickup as he approaches Stavelot, going to outside and then through Courbe Pau Frere. He is down 1.4 at the timing mark.

Gets a good exit before putting the power down on exit, speed carried through Blachimont. This is effectively now about running as fast as you can to the Bus Stop, breaking 150m before the chicane. He slows right down and gets through well. Stays in the centre of the track setting a 01:58.179 three tenths up on Sebastian Vettel.

Tyres

Driver

Team

White Hard (C1)

Yellow Medium (C2)

Red Soft (C3)

L. Hamilton

Mercedes 1 4 8
V. Bottas 1 4

8

S. Vettel

Ferrari 1 2 10
C. Leclerc 1 2

10

M. Verstappen

Red Bull – Honda 1 2 10
A. Albon 1 2

10

D. Riccardo

Renault 1 2 10
N. Hulkenberg 1 2

10

K. Magnussen

Haas – Ferrari 1 2 10
R. Grosjean 1 2

10

C. Sainz Jr

McLaren – Renault 1 3 9

L. Norris

1 4

8

S. Perez

Racing Point –Mercedes

1 3

9

L. Stroll

1

3

9

K. Raikkonen

Alfa Romeo – Ferrari 1 3 9
A. Giovinazzi 1 3

9

D. Kvyat

Toro Rosso –Honda 1 3 9
P. Gasly 1 3

9

G. Russell

Williams –Mercedes 2 2 9
R. Kubica 1 3

9

mm
Jack Fielding
Jack is responsible for the day-to-day running of Formula One Vault. He brings you all the brilliant content. Has an obsession with all things Formula One and anything with an engine.
Top