The long mid-season break is over and the teams are back to business for the second half of the season.
And first up is a trip to the iconic Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps for the Belgium Grand Prix.
This track alone makes the four-week summer break worthwhile. There are few other circuits as revered and challenging as the Circuit de Spa-Franchorchamps – or more commonly known as Spa.
Spa hosted its first Grand Prix in 1924 and is now one of only four circuits on this year’s calendar that featured in Formula 1’s inaugural season in 1950. The track has changed a little since then with the distance cut in half and some corners taken out. But about two-thirds of the original layout was retained and to this day Spa exudes a special aura that draws even the best of drivers.
The high-speed challenge also remains together with many of the iconic corners like Eur Rouge, La Source and Blanchimont. It is the longest track on the F1 calendar at 7.004 kilometres – about 1 kilometre longer than Baku – and is breathtakingly fast. With an average speed of 233 km/h (145mph) and more than 70 percent of the lap at full throttle, the drivers are forced to navigate quick undulating corners and long straights.
Force India’s Chief Engineer, Tom McCullough says: “Spa is an iconic circuit and a great test for Formula 1 machinery, even more so this season.”
“It’s the longest lap of the season with a mix of slow and quick corners, long straights and elevation changes: finding the right setup is always a challenge.”
And it will take some testing during practice to nail down the best car setup. If the teams favor higher downforce the car will be vulnerable in the heavy braking corners at La Source, Les Combes and the Bus Stop. But bias towards speed and the car will lose lap time in the crucial middle section of the lap.
McCullough adds: “There are also many long and fast corners putting big loads through the tyres: it will be important to understand how the compounds on offer, the three softest of the range, work in these conditions.”
Title Race Resumes
The opening half of the season has been surprisingly close between Hamilton and Vettel.
Mercedes and Ferrari seem tightly matched but an intriguing trend is developing on where the cars perform best.
The Scuderia seem to leverage their better operating window to excel at tight and twisty tracks. In contrast, Mercedes hits its performance limits and to compensate the drivers push too hard causing the back end to snap.
The upcoming races at the fast and flowing Spa and Monza should favour Mercedes before the teams move to Singapore where the Ferrari should be strong.
But Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff is not complacent ahead of the Belgium Grand Prix.
“On paper, people will assume that Spa should suit our car because it is a circuit where aerodynamic efficiency is extremely important,” said Wolff.
“But assumptions are dangerous – we have seen too many times already this season that the form book can be rewritten from one weekend to the next.”
“So we will be making no assumptions; we have to tick off the items on our work list and make sure we do the best job to maximise our potential points score.”
Raikkonen Re-Signs at Ferrari
The summer break has thrown up plenty of rumours about driver movements all aided by the number of top drivers coming out of contract – including Vettel, Raikkonen, Bottas and Alonso.
Bottas has performed admirably so far, collecting some wins and ably supporting Hamilton so the Finn is likely to get another contract at Mercedes.
The prospects don’t look so bright from Alonso. Still regarded as one of the best drivers in the paddock, the door appears to be closed at the top teams with Mercedes unlikely to pair him with Hamilton and Red Bull having both drivers in contract next year. Now the most realistic option for the Spaniard is to stay at McLaren, switch to the under-performing Renault team or leave to take up the Indy circuit.
Over at the Scuderia the driver line-up now seems to be confirmed with Raikkonen just being given a one-year contract extension. This has apparently been one of Vettel’s requirements for accepting a new contract so it won’t be long before he also puts ink on a new deal at Ferrari.