Those toiling within the globe-trotting FIA Formula One World Championship earned a three-week reprieve following the final in-season test at the Hungaroring 1-2 August in Budapest. The mandated summer shutdown allowed crew members to reacquaint themselves with their families and recharge prior to the stretch run of this year’s 20-race calendar, which resumes this weekend at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps.
The Belgian Grand Prix
It’s a firm favourite amongst Formula One drivers, teams and fans, and for good reason. The prestigious race holds a rich history of over 60 years of F1 racing, with a long list of legends having won there.
The circuit lies within a triangle formed by the Belgian towns of Francorchamps, Malmedy and Stavelot. Despite being part of the circuit’s name, the town of Spa is actually located slightly to the north west. The track in the Ardennes forest is picturesque, but it has its own mind when it comes to the weather.
With the possibility of rain showers occurring almost out of nowhere, it can be raining in one section of the track but dry in another – a common feature of long circuits.
It sports an old-style design which offers great challenges for the drivers, including “Eau Rouge”, the famous corner that so many drivers relish driving at full speed. The original layout of the Spa track was over 14 kilometres long, but during a redesign in the late seventies the lap was shortened by half the length. The new design now features a 7.004 kilometres long lap, the longest on this year’s 20-race calendar.
The team has won three times at Spa with Nigel Mansell claiming the 1986 race, followed by Damon Hill in 1993 and 1994. For Belgium, Pirelli has made available the soft, supersoft and ultrasoft tyres.
Paddy Lowe: “Spa is one of the greatest tracks on earth, in my opinion. It is one of the longest standing venues on the Formula One calendar and has been the setting of many dramatic races in the past. It has a fast characteristic, with a lot of changes in elevation, rewarding power and downforce.
“The most famous Eau Rouge corner is now generally taken flat, so actually not really a limiting corner. Eau Rouge leads on to a long uphill straight. The combination makes overtaking relatively frequent, with cars able to trade corner exit speed, slipstream effects and, with the current hybrid power units, the remaining energy in the battery.
“The weather in the Ardennes is notoriously tricky and can change from sun to rain and back again in a matter of minutes. The very long lap makes the timing of tyre changes from wet to dry, or back again, either look particularly heroic or disastrous. For Williams, this track should play to the strengths of the FW40 car. Felipe is very experienced at Spa and Lance has also won the race here in F3, so we look forward to getting the very best from this weekend.”
Felipe Massa: “Spa is one of the best tracks in Formula One. I think it will be incredible to drive there with this new car, with more downforce. Eau Rouge will feel like a straight but so many other corners will also be amazing to drive. I am also going to be wearing a special ‘Joy of Racing’ helmet designed by a great Spanish artist called Kenor. It will look great, and a lucky fan will also get the chance to win it thanks to Martini. I’m really looking forward to a great race at Spa.”
Lance Stroll: In Spa, I am heading to my second home race of the year. I am half Belgian, as this is where my mother was born, so I do have an affinity with the country. However, I have to admit that, unlike most Formula One drivers, Spa is not my absolute favourite. Having said that, I did win there last year in Formula 3, so I can’t complain about it too much. It is a very interesting track with some amazing sections and also there is always that air of uncertainty regarding the weather. You can have it raining in sector three and dry in sector one.”
Sahara Force India
Chief Race Engineer, Tom McCullough: “Spa is an iconic circuit and a great test for Formula One 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.
“There are some unique corners, like the Eau Rouge/Raidillon complex with its rapid compression and decompression, which will be asking a lot from the driver, the car and the tyres. 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.
“Usually, races in Spa are very entertaining: there are many overtaking opportunities, mistakes are easily punished and the weather can play a big part. It often rains and the extended nature of the circuit means you could be driving on a completely soaked track in one sector and on bone dry tarmac in another. Choosing the right strategy and being ready to adapt to the changing circumstances is crucial.”
Sergio Perez: “I’m feeling fresh and relaxed after the summer break and really looking forward to getting back to racing. I had a very nice break with my family, but now I can’t wait to be back on track.
“Belgium is one of the best circuits to experience in an F1 car. I love the high-speed layout, the history of the place and you get to meet some very passionate fans there. It’s just a great weekend and there is also the question mark over the weather. It nearly always rains at least one of the days.
“Pouhon is one of my favourite corners of the year. It’s so quick and satisfying when you get it just right. The 2017 cars will feel extra special through this part of the lap, as well as through Eau Rouge.
“As we begin the second part of the season, I want to improve on what we have done so far. We have been competitive, but we also lost a few chances to score more points than we did. Hopefully we will make up for those lost points in the races to come.”
Esteban Ocon: “I had a great summer holiday in the south of Spain. My batteries are fully recharged and I’m looking forward to getting back in the car. It’s now a year for me as a Formula One driver and the time has gone by really quickly. So I’m no longer a rookie!
“Spa is where I made my debut last year. It’s a great track, but it’s not necessarily one of my favourites. There are some special corners, especially through sector two, which has a nice rhythm. It’s a circuit where you have to be totally at one with the car because you need to be really committed through the high-speed corners.
“Spa is usually a good track for racing because it’s easier to overtake there compared to some other tracks. There’s also the famous Spa weather which brings unpredictability. I don’t mind if it rains because it could bring some more opportunities our way.
“I think we can be competitive this weekend regardless of whether it’s dry or wet. The layout of the track should suit our car quite well. Everybody loves driving through Eau Rouge and it’s certainly the most famous part of the lap. In these cars it will be an amazing experience. Maybe the first lap of the race will be a bit of a challenge, but after that I think we should be able to take it easily flat.”