Spa Francorchamps Photo Courtesy

Spa Francorchamps Photo Courtesy

After the long mid-season break, the drivers return to the track for the Belgium Grand Prix with the championship still up for grabs. The Belgium Grand Prix is drenched in history and there are few tracks as revered and challenging as the unique Circuit de Spa-Franchorchamps.

About the track

Spa-Franchorchamps hosted its first Grand Prix in 1924 and although the current track – opened in 1983 – is about half the original length, the high-speed challenge 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 in length and is breathtakingly fast. With an average speed of 230 km/h (143mph), more than 70 percent of the lap is at full throttle as the drivers navigate the long straights and challenging corners. This combination of speed and heavy braking corners makes choosing the right car setup a difficult proposition.

The faster first and third sectors put an emphasis on the power unit, while the second sector requires more downforce to handle a series of technical turns. If the teams favour 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.

The pit engineers also face the headache of dealing with the often unreliable weather in the Ardennes region of Belgium. The long track length means that if wet weather comes it can affect just one section of the track – sometimes several miles from the pit lane. This creates considerable strategic challenges and making the wrong tyre choice can cause bigger problems than would be the case at shorter circuits.

Spectators can also expect to see driver strategies change over the course of the race. Teams typically favor two-stops at Spa-Franchorchamps but don’t be surprised to see some take a different approach with a three-stop strategy. And with an 80 percent chance of a safety car at some point during the race, there will be plenty of action in Belgium.

Spa-Franchorchamps Track Diagram Courtesy

Spa-Franchorchamps Track Diagram: Courtesy

Summer Break Raises Questions

Following the long summer break, where many drivers will have no doubt paused for reflection, the return to the track in Belgium will be a welcome sight. The two Mercedes drivers of Rosberg and Hamilton have everything to fight for in the second half of the season. Hamilton carries all of the momentum to Belgium after winning six of the last seven races and overturning an early 42-point deficit. But Rosberg has nothing to lose and will benefit from a grid penalty that Hamilton will incur at some point for using his maximum tally of five turbochargers and MGU-Hs. The strategic Hamilton has even raised the idea of pooling two engines in one race and taking a double penalty to have a backup. “That’s a solution I’ve come up with myself,” said Hamilton. “That would definitely be something that could be done.” “I’m definitely going to be taking another engine. It’s a question of when I take it.”

Points Leader Lewis Hamilton

Points Leader Lewis Hamilton

The championship contenders aside, there are other drivers who are now thinking about their futures or, in some cases, trying to save their careers. Jenson Button would have used the break to evaluate his next step with rumors that McLaren will not offer the experienced British driver a new contract. Similarly, with Williams considering other drivers for 2017, Felipe Massa has been weighing his options and talking to other teams.  “The talk is not just in Williams.” “I don’t really want to say names of teams or whatever but I am interested in being able to drive in a team that I feel important, that I feel that we can have a good result, a good job, and if I don’t have that, maybe I will not be here next year.”

Formula 1 Belgium Grand Prix F1

Jenson Button status appears to be up in the air for next year.

And the next few months will probably seal the fate for Daniil Kyvat’s future in Formula 1. He was demoted from Red Bull to Toro Rosso mid-season and delivered a string of poor performances during qualifying and races. After his last outing in Germany, even Kyvat’s own assessment wasn’t bursting with positivity. “It’s looking very bad now, and if it continues like this then I don’t think anything bright is ahead,” he said. And, finally, Manor has replaced Haryanto with Renault’s teenage reserve driver Esteban Ocon. Haryanto began the season with Manor but couldn’t secure further funding from Indonesia’s state-owned oil company Pertamina. He will now drop down to Manor’s reserve driver.

The Belgium Grand Prix will start at 14:00 local time and will run over 44 laps.