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Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps: The Inside Line

Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps: The Inside Line

Paddy's Perspective

"Spa is one of the truly great circuits in Formula One, with plenty of heritage and some fantastic racing on show throughout the many years of its presence on the calendar. Eau Rouge is, naturally, the highlight. It has always been a tricky challenge to master and is arguably the most symbolic corner of any racetrack we visit. Overall, Spa is a very fast, low downforce circuit, requiring the cars to run with a quite different configuration to that seen so far this season. It’s also a very long lap which, combined with the variable weather conditions almost inevitably encountered in Belgium, can make for a tricky race. If rain begins to fall at the wrong moment, there is plenty of time for mistakes to be made before a driver can return to the pits for wet tyres. Again, the circuit presents quite a different challenge to those seen thus far this year, so we’re looking forward to seeing how the F1 W05 Hybrid fares. We’re certainly hoping for a strong performance and, if we can get the setup right and manage the weather conditions correctly, we can be optimistic of a good result. Having said that, we are under no illusions that a number of other cars will also come to the fore here. Our priority as a team is to re-establish a trouble-free weekend, which is something we unfortunately haven’t seen for a few races. But we are now just over halfway through the season and, with everyone having had a chance to recharge the batteries during the summer break, we head to Spa refreshed and fully focused on making the most of the remaining eight races."

Spa: On the Pit Wall

Circuit Layout

Spa is a very different type of circuit to any other on the current calendar. It is very much a power-dominated track, with the high-speed nature of the layout very much playing to the strengths of the 2014 Power Unit. There are a number of long straights with a real mix of different corners throughout. Similar to Barcelona in many respects, albeit to a more exaggerated extent, each of the three sectors holds different demands. The first features a lot of full-throttle content, the second a high quantity of technical corners with mid-level entry speeds and the third a mixture of fast curves capped off with a heavy braking zone to end the lap. Year in, year out, debate centres around whether the biggest advantage lies in reducing drag to increase overtaking opportunities down the straights, or in running slightly higher levels of downforce to increase performance through the corners. Qualifying also throws a different factor into the equation, as the use of DRS reduces the effect of a lower drag configuration – although, of course, in this case higher speeds can be reached before the DRS is activated.

Setup

In the same vein as the following race at Monza, Spa will see aerodynamic packages designed exclusively for this event. The circuit is sufficiently unique in terms of optimising the car that teams will go out of their way to produce a special package for this race weekend alone. Whilst not necessarily affecting the larger outfits, this can work in one of two ways for the smaller teams on the grid. Some may choose not to pour resource into a single event, while others may take advantage of the opportunity to capitalise on the distinct nature of the circuit and gain an advantage over their rivals. This can lead to some interesting midfield battles that can potentially prove crucial come the end of the season, depending on whether a team gets it right or wrong.

ERS

Spa presents an intriguing and almost unique scenario in terms of ERS usage. The regulations state that drivers can deploy a maximum of 4MJ of energy to the MGU-K per lap. However, some circuits feature a lap distance of around 4km, others up to 7km. Clearly, between these two different lengths of circuit, there is a significant delta in the power available to the driver per kilometre. Sitting at the top end of that scale, with a lap length around 30% higher than the normalised average, restrictions on ERS deployment will have a greater impact here than at most other circuits, with the Power Unit restricted from being utilised to its ultimate efficiency level.

Tyres

As has been the case at a number of circuits this season, the tyre allocation for Spa takes a step towards the softer end of the scale than that of last year, with the soft and medium compounds now nominated. In normal track temperatures these tyres should be well suited, however they may struggle if the track is cool. With the softer compounds in 2014, and the added punch of the new Power Units, we could see lap times falling nearer to the 2013 benchmark than at any other venue thus far in 2014 – perhaps even more so than in Bahrain, which has provided the closest comparison to date.

Weather

One of the key considerations at Spa invariably lies in the weather fronts, with significant swings in climatic conditions typically occurring year-on-year. Over the course of a race weekend, however, this will more often than not remain stable, with weather fronts tending to arrive for a sustained period – usually enough to cover the three days of on-track action at least. Throughout its many years on the calendar, the Belgian Grand Prix weekend has seen temperatures ranging from the lowest of the season all the way up to the high twenties, so the variations are quite significant. Rain is also a frequent feature – potentially forming around any one of the mountains in the region and producing very interesting races from a strategic perspective.

Safety Cars / Overtaking

Safety car probability has been dramatically reduced over the years through the introduction of extensive run-off areas around key areas of the circuit – in particular at the first corner. Overtaking is also relatively straightforward, with plenty of opportunities to regain position should a car find itself out of position. The run down into Turn Five is where most passing manoeuvres occur, in the form of a routine straight line performance pass.

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