1999 Belgian GP

Isn’t a four-week break a long time?

The Formula 1 circus finally reignites and heads to everyone’s favourite venue, Belgium, for this weekend’s latest round of the 2010 World Championship season, and everyone has the mighty Red Bulls to try and catch.

At the beginning of the month at Hungary, Red Bull positively blitzed the opposition with a dominant display, and it looks set to continue.

Unless the much-talked-about new front wing tests come into play. All teams’ cars wings will be subjected to heavier load-bearing tests in the wake of allegations that certain teams’ wings have been unduly flexing at high speed.

But if this doesn’t bring the Red Bulls back to earth, then its main rivals will have to endure another weekend of watching the Milton Keynes cars disappear into the distance…


The Circuit

Date: 29 August 2010 No. Laps 44
Lap Length: 7.004km Race Distance: 308.052km

Lap Record: 1:45.108 – Kimi Räikkönen (2004, McLaren)

The Spa-Francorchamps will always top any poll that asks drivers and fans to name their favourite circuit, and it’s not hard to understand why.

An onboard lap of Spa-Francorchamps

The 7-kilometre circuit climbs and drops through the picturesque Ardennes region in Belgium and features virtually every type of textbook corner that forms part of a great grand prix circuit: from the tight hairpin that is La Source to the heart-stopping Eau Rouge dip through the valley.

The circuit’s sheer size – the longest on the calendar – and its beautiful surrounds give it a sheer oomph that no other circuit can compete with.

Even the region’s microclimate – that sees rain often falling on one section of the circuit, while it remains bone-dry and sunny at another part – simply adds to, rather than detracts from, the spectacle of the place.


The History Bit

The Spa-Francorchamps circuit first played host to a Grand Prix in 1925, and remains one of the most historic venue on the calendar, alongside Monaco, Monza and Silverstone.

The original circuit was a terrifying 9-mile blast through the Ardennes countryside, with drivers hurtling through the villages of Malmedy and Stavelot along a circuit made up of public roads.

Increasing car speeds and the deaths of drivers such as Alan Stacey and Chris Bristow saw a more safety-conscious era emerge, and the venue was dumped after 1970, where the safer (but blander) Nivelles and Zolder circuits played host to the Belgian Grand Prix.

Thankfully, Spa-Francorchamps made a comeback in 1983 on a significantly truncated circuit, although the new design remained true to the spirit of its predecessor. The historic La Source, Eau Rouge and Blanchimont corners remained, but the new infield loop had its own menacing sequence of turns: the Pouhon double left-hander being the best of the bunch.

A true drivers’ circuit, it’s little surprise to see just a handful of drivers have achieved multiple wins on this circuit: the likes of Alberto Ascari, Juan-Manuel Fangio, Jim Clark, Kimi Raikkonen took hins final F1 win here in 2009Ayrton Senna, Michael Schumacher and Kimi Räikkönen all feature on this list.

Despite its popularity, the circuit has had to be shelved from the calendar on a few occasions. The 1985 event was cancelled when the track surface broke up; the 2003 event was shelved due to the Belgian government refusing to bend to Bernie Ecclestone’s demands that tobacco advertising be allowed, and its most recent omission came in 2006 when the circuit’s Bus Stop chicane was being reprofiled.


What to expect?

At the pointy end of the championship, Mark Webber will be brimming in confidence and hoping to consolidate his points lead in the wake of his win at the last round in Hungary.

For his team-mate Sebastian Vettel, the young German must be wondering what he has to do on race day. After starting the last four races from pole, he has only taken victory once. Another pole position – what would be his eighth of the season – is an odds-on outcome here, but there aren’t any points awarded for pole and Sebastian could really do with a maximum 25-point haul where it counts.

For McLaren, it will be hoping to bounce back after enduring its worst weekend of the 2010 season at Hungary, and both Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button will be hoping they can last more than the half-lap they managed at last year’s race at Spa-Francorchamps – both were taken out in a multi-car collision at Les Combes.

Ferrari’s momentum continues on its upward swing and the Prancing Horse is certainly back in the title hunt – assuming of course that the team and its drivers aren’t stripped of their points when the World Motor Sports Council meets to adjudicate on the team orders controversy stemming from the German Grand Prix.

Despite winning a multitude of races between them, neither Fernando Alonso nor Felipe Massa has ever won at Belgium, and both will be looking to do so this weekend if given the opportunity.

One team playing down its chances this weekend – after a sensational effort here last year – is Force India. In 2009, Giancarlo Fisichella took the team’s first pole position and had the pace to win the race, chasing Kimi Räikkönen hard for the entire race.

Despite its protestations, the Mercedes-powered VJM03 is still a hot prospect in the straightline speed stakes, and it could pose a challenge to its rivals this weekend.

Another team hoping for more good fortune will be the Sauber outfit, which has made a remarkable turnaround over the last few rounds and proving that a silk purse can be sewn out of a sow’s ear.

On the back of its first double-finish in the points at Hungary, the C29 proved quick at the high-speed Barcelona and Silverstone circuits, meaning it should be similarly slippery at Belgium.

Renault will also be hoping it can claw back some ground on its main rivals, Mercedes GP, with the introduction of its own iteration of the blown diffuser concept. The R30 has generally been ill-suited to higher-speed circuits this year, but will be hoping that this latest innovation will help bridge the gap.

Schumacher picked up his first F1 win at Spa in 1992 Mercedes GP will have a difficult weekend from the outset, with the team all but switching off the development focus of the ill-handling W01 chassis in favour of its to-be-built 2011 car. Furthermore, Michael Schumacher’s 10-place grid penalty (earned for his late-race blocking antics against Rubens Barrichello at Hungary) will see him more on the back foot than usual and praying for rain to help him climb up the pecking order.

Ah, rain. The one true joker in the pack at Spa-Francorchamps. This little bit of the Ardennes region has its own incredible microclimate, and it’s extremely rare for rain not to be a factor at a Belgian Grand Prix. Forecasters are predicting a damp race weekend, with showers predicted for the Friday and Sunday, meaning we could be in for a very action-packed race.

As usual, we’ll be bringing you all of the excitement and action from the weekend at Spa-Francorchamps in our usual erudite way. Have a great weekend and enjoy the race!

[Original images via AUTOSPORT, GP Update and The Cahier Archive]

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Richard Bailey

Founder & Chief Editor at MotorsportM8
Hasn't missed a Grand Prix since 1989. Has a soft spot for Minardi. Tattooed with 35+ Grand Prix circuits.