The Sensational Spa

The summer-break of Formula One is finally over as the grand sport returns to one of the most beautiful and fastest circuits in the world. The historic racing venue of Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps has the reputation for hosting motor races since 1920’s and the original triangle layout stretching about 14km was an unnerving tarmac with weather being often so varying on the three villages it ran through.  From every now and then, Spa featured a special nature of it own, the twisty, hilly and speedy unforgiving roads.

In the ’60s, the blindingly-fast track claimed 10 victims and with the boycott in 1969, F1 wouldn’t return until 1983 after Pedro Rodriguez winning there in 1970. Cars would hit their top speed before approaching the notorious Masta kink, a left-right chicane flanked by two high speed straights. Jackie Stewart played his part in bringing down the shear danger of the track in the late ’60s. The fastest recorded lap ever was held by Jacky Ickx in a Ferrari 312 PB. In 1939, Ancienne Douane was cut short, thus the Eau Rouge/Raidillon uphill sweeping corner was born.

The race course has seen many modifications over the years with the start/finish straight moved from downhill straight to the one down to La Source hairpin in 1981. From the La Source until turn 5 at Les Combes, the engines spend 23 second in full throttle which is the most for any track.  The engine power curve has to be smoother for the flowing track and as the layout is a mix of everything, power delivery at all torque and rev limits must be immediate. The middle sector endures 10 out of  19 available corners and easy to get things go wrong there. Often used as a control circuit on the dyno, medium down force setup similar to Canada is being utilised to tackle the ultra -fast and long straights.

A good exit at La Source ensures a quick first sector as maximum speed could be carried into the downhill straight then up the hill for left/right/left fast turns on the famous Eau Rogue and onto one of the long straight. The modern, aerodynamically obsessed F1 cars could  be taken flat out and the compression the driver feels before the kemmel straight was immense.

Heading down into turns five, six and seven which are taken in third gear in which hitting the kerbs at right time saves lap time before braking for Rivage which was taken in first gear. Rivage is slightly off-camber so the cars tend to fall off the track a bit and front rights lock up into that corner sometimes as the cars struggle for grip and there’s a bump on the exit to deal with. The key is to carry as much speed as possible out of Rivage and down the hill through turn nine and into Pouhon which is another of Spa’s most famous corners.

Heading into it on full power, lift off a tiny bit and then straight back on the throttle, it’s quite tight on the entry but then it opens up on the exit so a fair amount of speed carried through it and out onto turns 12, 13 and 14 which are similar to five, six and seven turns. Turn 15 lies pretty much at the bottom of the valley and on the way back up to the start / finish straight. Turn 17 is Blanchimont, the third of the famous Spa corners and another flatout corner and  the speed is carried through to the final chicane at turns 18 / 19, braking into there is crucial all the time.

The hardest of the available Pirellis: medium and hard rubber are chosen to run on this weekend. The medium down force nature of the track would affect the construction of sidewall and so that choice was made. DRS usage will come on the Kemmel Straight just like last year but this will only be done if Sunday’s race is not affected by inclement weather. By placing DRS at Kemmel, drivers will be able to use the device along what is Spa’s longest straight section, preceding Les Combes. The detection point comes on the run downhill towards Eau Rouge.

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