Formula 1 returns to action this weekend at one of the world’s most challenging circuits. Spa-Francorchamps, situated deep in Belgium’s Ardennes forest, is the ultimate high-speed test of man and machine; it’s one of the highlights of the season.
Spa-Francorchamps facts & stats
Spa-Francorchamps has been synonymous with Formula 1 for more than 60 years. The track featured in the inaugural Formula 1 World Championship in 1950, but its current design bears little resemblance to the original 14km layout. The modern track is much shorter (7.004km) and safer, but it’s still breathtakingly quick: the average speed is 230km/h.
The track is the longest on the calendar – more than twice the length of F1’s shortest circuit in Monte-Carlo – and it’s littered with challenging corners and undulations. The pre-requisites to success are threefold: commitment by the driver, an aerodynamically efficient car, and a powerful engine – more than 70 per cent of the lap is spent at full throttle.
Races at Spa are rarely straightforward owing to the fickle climate in the Ardennes. Heavy rain prior to the start of the 1997 race resulted in F1’s first ever Safety Car start and it can often be raining on one part of the track and dry on another.
Should this year’s race be dry, the teams will use Pirelli’s Soft and Medium slick tyre compounds, as they did in Hungary last time out. The Medium (Prime) rubber is likely to be the most effective over a race stint because its composition and construction are made for the high cornering loads experienced at Spa, while the Soft (Option) compound will be better-suited to one-lap performance during qualifying.
McLaren has an enviable record at the Belgian Grand Prix. In 1968, the team won its first world championship grand prix at Spa-Francorchamps, and it now has a total of 14 wins and 11 poles on Belgian soil. Jenson Button is a previous winner at Spa and his rookie team-mate Kevin Magnussen is hoping for a repeat of his previous successes at the track in Formula 3 and Renault World Series 3.5.
Spa-Francorchamps – the stats you need
Race distance 44 laps (308.052km/191.415 miles)
Start time 14:00 (local)/12:00 (GMT)
Circuit length 7.004km/4.352 miles
2013 winner Sebastian Vettel
2013 pole Lewis Hamilton
Lap record Kimi Raikkonen (McLaren MP4-19) 1m45.108s (238.931km/h)
First championship race 1950
What makes it special The fast and flowing nature of the track, plus the numerous overtaking opportunities around the lap
Wins from pole position 15
Track abrasiveness Low/medium
Pirelli tyre choice Soft (Option)/Medium (Prime)
2013 winning strategy Two stops
Fuel consumption High – 72% of the lap is spent at full throttle
Brakewear Low. There are eight braking events around the lap, of which only two are heavy braking areas
Weather Unpredictable. It can be raining on one section of the circuit and sunny on another
DRS zones Two – one on the start-finish straight, the other on the approach to Turn Five, at the end of the Kemmel Straight
Turbo effect Low, due to few hard accelerations from low-speed
Safety Car likelihood Historically high. There’s an 80 per cent chance of a Safety Car
Grid advantage If you start on the racing line, you have an advantage, but it’s a very short run to the first corner
Pitlane time It takes 21s to complete a stop, which is close to average for the season
McLaren at the Belgian Grand Prix
Wins 14 (1968, 1974, 1982, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1999, 2000, 2004, 2005, 2010, 2012)
Poles 11 (1968, 1974, 1982, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1999, 2000, 2004, 2005, 2010, 2012)
Fastest laps 8 (1974, 1982, 1986, 1987, 1989, 1999, 2004, 2010)
2014 drivers’ championship
1 Nico Rosberg 202
2 Lewis Hamilton 191
3 Daniel Ricciardo 131
4 Fernando Alonso 115
5 Valtteri Bottas 95
6 Sebastian Vettel 88
7 Nico Hulkenberg 69
8 Jenson Button 60
9 Felipe Massa 40
10 Kevin Magnussen 37
11 Sergio Perez 29
12 Kimi Raikkonen 27
13 Jean-Eric Vergne 11
14 Romain Grosjean 8
15 Daniil Kvyat 6
16 Jules Bianchi 2
2014 constructors’ championship
1 Mercedes 393
2 Red Bull Racing 219
3 Ferrari 142
4 Williams 135
5 Force India 98
6 McLaren-Mercedes 97
7 Toro Rosso 17
8 Lotus 8
9 Marussia 2
Age 34 (January 19 1980)
“I go into the second half of the season feeling incredibly refreshed and positive.
“There’s no better place to resume the season than at Spa-Francorchamps. It’s one of the best circuits in the world, and it’s a place where driving a Formula 1 car always feels incredible. As ever, I’m really looking forward to driving out of the pits for the first time on Friday morning, and just throwing the car into some of the greatest corners in motorsport.
“I had one of my best weekends of the year at Spa last year, qualifying and finishing sixth after running closely with a bunch of cars through the whole race. It wasn’t my best finish of the year, but it was positive because I got the maximum out of the package we had, and was able to fight closely with a number of other drivers, which felt satisfying.
“Hopefully, there will be positives to take out of this weekend as well.”
Age 21 (October 5 1992)
“It’s felt like an incredibly long four weeks, and I really can’t wait to get back into the cockpit, particularly as we’re headed to Spa, one of the best drivers’ tracks in the world.
“I love Spa: I won there in British Formula 3 in 2011, and in Formula Renault 3.5 in both 2012 and ’13, and I just love the fast, flowing nature of the circuit. Hooking up a quick lap there during qualifying is just fantastic, because the track just flows from one corner to the next, and the car is so fast and assured that it almost feels effortless. It’s fantastic.
“I think the second half of this season will be incredibly important for us. We need to use these next eight races to assert ourselves, pushing our development strategy to the fore in order to first consolidate and then improve our positions in both the drivers’ and constructors’ championships.
“As a team, I know we are up for the challenge.”
Racing director, McLaren Mercedes
“We had a disappointing race in Hungary to send us into the summer break, but we’ve analysed the issues we encountered, and we believe we now understand what went wrong. More important, we all head to Belgium feeling positive and refreshed, and incredibly keen to get back to work.
“The first half of the season has shown signs of both promise and disappointment, but, through it all, Jenson and Kevin have each driven some particularly inspired races, made very few mistakes and always extracted the maximum from the package. Equally, the team has worked hard at both the factory and the racetrack to improve performance – and we’re now starting to see those returns.
“Spa and Monza are tracks where every team runs a unique downforce package, so it won’t be until Singapore – where we resume with a more conventional set-up – that we’ll get a clearer read on our progress, but I think we have reasons to be optimistic. The operational changes we’ve implemented over the course of the season have taken time to bed-in, but I think we’ll certainly see a more pronounced upswing in performance over these final eight races of the year.”