Formula One reconvenes in Belgium this weekend for round 11 of this year’s 19-round championship and the penultimate European round. It comes after the mid-season lay-off, when the factories and workshops are closed for a two week break, to allow teams and their mechanics and engineers to regain their breath after the first half of the season.
The summer break was first suggested by Eddie Jordan while still a team owner, and it has been valued by teams ever since. It is to their chagrin, therefore, that they note that the break has been limited next year and already there are voices of dissent to next year’s calendar…
It is a time when all but marketing staff are forbidden from entering team’s bases for two weeks but I’ve always wondered how effective the ban really is. This is because one year I happened to meet the parents of a particularly senior engineer of one of the top teams in a local pub. After the initial pleasantries, I mentioned how much their son must be enjoying his holiday. ‘No, he’s not on holiday at the moment,’ said a parent in all innocence. So either son wasn’t telling his parents that he was on holiday – or he wasn’t on holiday, he was working when he shouldn’t be.
Of course, you can’t really stop people working from home and it’s almost impossible to measure how much time is spent by design or engineering staff working during the break. One is tempted to suggest that Red Bull Racing’s resurgence following the mid-summer break a couple of years ago was due to engineers working when they shouldn’t be, but things don’t happen that quickly in F1 – it couldn’t possibly have taken a couple of weeks to turn around the team’s fortunes that year. But even so…
The question is, will there have been a reversal of fortunes within the hierarchy? Many teams will be bringing revisions to Belgium. It is the first of two high speed circuits, followed by Monza. As I mentioned, things can change quite dramatically so can the status quo remain as we come to Spa? Will Mercedes still be the team to beat? Can Ferrari take another step forward? While Williams may be competitive in the next two races, straightline speed being their strong point, can they carry improvements forward so that they are competitive on circuits such as Singapore?
We saw a great Grand Prix in Hungary, partially thanks to the difficulty of overtaking and frustrations around 70 laps of the shortest permanent Grand Prix on the calendar. When we tackle 44 laps of the longest circuit in the calendar, the situation won’t be the same at all. But there are two DRS zones – including the long climb up to Les Combes – and plenty of opportunities to overtake. There is the balancing of the fast first and third sectors, with the twistier, more technical middle sector. Ideally, you want a car that will excel in all three sectors but reality will probably suggest that you will be lucky to have one that will be competitive in all three.
Kimi Raikkonen is the most successful driver at Spa of the current drivers, with four victories, only one of which was from pole position and that from 2004 came from tenth on the grid. Sebastian Vettel’s won a couple while Felipe Massa, Lewis Hamilton and Daniel Ricciardo are also past winners. Interestingly, Raikkonen’s wins in 2004 and 2009 for McLaren and Ferrari respectively were those teams’ only victories that season. This had happened four times before at Spa: Damon Hill in 1998 for Jordan; Michael Schumacher in 1992 for Benetton; Pedro Rodriguez in 1970 for BRM and Dan Gurney’s Eagle victory in 1967. So a one-off win is a possibility.
Incidentally, those on the brink of a penalty include last year’s winner Daniel Ricciardo and his teammate Daniil Kvyat who have used five Internal Combustion Engines, Max Verstappen for the same reason; and Fernando Alonso for five MGU-Ks and Control Electronics. Apart from Nico Hulkenberg, none of the Mercedes users have used more than two of any of the elements!
And then there’s the weather. As I write this, it’s mid-twenties outside and I’m told that that weather will continue through to Saturday but then Spa’s ever present rain is likely to make an appearance. Of course, it could do so before but it could well be wet on raceday which will no doubt shake up the hierarchy. In fact all in all, it sounds like a typical Belgian Grand Prix and one that will certainly be worth watching.
By Bob Constanduros