Last year’s Belgian Grand Prix made headlines around the world for that spectacular first-corner pile-up that took out a number of championship challengers and blew the title fight wide open.
Will this year’s even produce similar antics to allow the chasing pack the chance to close down Sebastian Vettel’s healthy 38-point lead? Let’s take a look at our 2013 Belgian Grand Prix Preview and make a few predictions of our own…
2013 FORMULA 1 SHELL BELGIAN GRAND PRIX
|Date:||23-25 August 2013|
|Venue:||Circuit de Spa Francorchamps, Ardennes, Belgium|
|Race Lap Record:||1:47.263, Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing Renault RB5) – 2009|
|Event Schedule:||Free Practice Session 1||Fri 10:00-11:30|
|Free Practice Session 2||Fri 14:00-15:30|
|Free Practice Session 3||Sat 11:00-12:00|
|Race (44 laps, 308.052km)||Sun 14:00-16:00|
|Past Ten Winners:||Jenson Button (McLaren Mercedes MP4-27)||2012|
|Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing Renault RB7)*||2011|
|Lewis Hamilton (McLaren Mercedes MP4-24)||2010|
|Kimi Räikkönen (Ferrari F2009)||2009|
|Felipe Massa (Ferrari F2008)||2008|
|Kimi Räikkönen (Ferrari F2007)*||2007|
|Kimi Räikkönen (McLaren Mercedes MP4-20)||2005|
|Kimi Räikkönen (McLaren Mercedes MP4-20)||2004|
|Michael Schumacher (Ferrari F2002)*||2002|
* Denotes victory from pole position
All event times are quoted in CEST (GMT +2).
Regular surveys of drivers past and present will invariably see the Spa-Francorchamps circuit emerging on top when the list of their favourite circuit comes up for discussion, and it’s not hard to understand why.
The seven-kilometre circuit crests and plunges through the idyllic Ardennes forests in the east of Belgium, and it’s a truly spectacular circuit with some of the most challenging corners. On the grandest of scales, other modern-era circuits can only dream of competing with it.
Partnered alongside Monaco, Monza and Silverstone, Spa-Francorchamps remains as one of the few historic venues left on the calendar, having first played host to Grand Prix racing as early as 1925.
Back then, the circuit was a nine-mile ride of terror on public roads through the forests and small villages along its route, and it was no surprise that the Belgian Grand Prix eventually found itself relocating to the blander locations of Nivelles and Zolder when concerns over driver safety began to become more prevalent.
In 1983, the Grand Prix circus finally made its long-awaited return to Spa-Francorchamps, albeit in a shorter and much safer incarnation. Fortunately, the track designers and officials had remained faithful to the spirit of the earlier version, keeping the famous corners like La Source, Eau Rouge (pictured below) and Blanchimont, while adding in new corners like the Pouhon left-handers and the iconic Bus Stop Chicane – although even that has now been bastardised with a clumsy final chicane leading onto the reprofiled main straight.
The greats have won here on multiple occasions – Ascari, Fangio, Clark, Senna, Schumacher and Räikkönen have all won here multiple times – but it’s also been the scene of great loss, particularly with the deaths of Alan Stacey and Chris Bristow at the 1960 event.
This year’s event will see the addition of a second DRS zone, with the FIA electing to add another activation zone along the track’s short start-finish straight. But with overtaking having never really been a problem at Spa-Francorchamps, one questions why the device is even necessary here…
Take a look at our Spa-Francorchamps Circuit Guide:
The History Bit
Spa-Francorchamps – particularly when wet weather is thrown into the mix – has generally thrown up more memorable races than not, and narrowing down a short-list of our five favourite moments was a tough task…
Here they are:
1967: After several races of unfulfilled promise, Dan Gurney finally stood on the top of the rostrum as a driver and constructor, beating Jackie Stewart’s BRM by over a minute to claim the Eagle team’s only victory. It was a fitting win, coming a year after the team made its debut at the circuit, and it remains the only all-American win in modern-era Formula 1.
1970: Yet another race that the luckless Chris Amon should have won (but didn’t), the final race to be staged on the original Spa-Francorchamps circuit was a cracker. Driving for March, the New Zealander staged a race-long scrap with BRM’s Pedro Rodriguez, which the Mexican won by just 1.1 seconds after snatching the lead from Amon on the fifth lap. For the last half of the race’s 28 scheduled laps, the pair posted lap times quicker than what they’d each managed in qualifying!
1998: Torrential rain has left the track soaked, and the conditions helped trigger an almighty pile-up just seconds into the race as the pack funnelled down to Eau Rouge. Thirteen of the grid’s 22 cars were damaged in the smash, but only two drivers failed to take the restart nearly an hour later. Damon Hill made a great getaway in his little-fancied Jordan to enjoy an early race lead until he was passed by Michael Scumacher. The German looked set to add to his tally of Spa victories until he, unsighted in the spray, clobbered the back of David Coulthard as he came to lap him mid-race. A sideshow was the pair nearly coming to blows in the pit lane, but the end result saw Hill lead team-mate Ralf Schumacher to a shock 1-2, and Jordan’s maiden race win.
2000: When thinking of this race, two thoughts immediately come to mind. Firstly, fans witnessed what will probably remain as the greatest overtaking move of all time. Secondly, it will be remembered as one of Mika Häkkinen’s greatest victories. In a wet-dry race, the Finn lost the race lead with a spin, but then set about closing down on race leader Michael Schumacher as the race wore on. With just a few laps to go, the pair was nose-to-tail, staging an epic battle that, at times, threatened to be resolved in the barriers. But the signature moment came when Häkkinen out-foxed Schumacher on the sprint up to Les Combes, passing both the German and backmarker Ricardo Zonta in one fell swoop to clinch the win. Amazing stuff!
2008: Felipe Massa claimed a surprise victory at the hands of the FIA stewards after Lewis Hamilton has handed a contentious time penalty for his late-race duel with Kimi Räikkönen. Stewards ruled that Hamilton had failed to cede position to the Finn (after shortcutting the chicane in his attempts to get past) by a significant enough margin before he retook the lead. It all started when a late rain shower caused havoc, and Räikkönen found his comfortable lead evaporate as Hamilton closed in. The pair traded the race lead before Hamilton took over, and Räikkönen crashed out. But then came the penalty…
Spa-Francorchamps Stat Attack
Here are some fast facts about this year’s Belgian Grand Prix:
The Belgian Grand Prix has appeared on the Formula 1 calendar every season since 1950, with the exception of six years. Of the 57 times it has been held since the birth of modern-era Formula 1, nine were staged at Zolder, while two were staged at the Nivelles circuit.
Eighteen different constructors have claimed victory since the Belgian Grand Prix’s first appearance on the World Championship calendar in 1950. Ferrari is by far the most successful, with sixteen victories. McLaren (14), Lotus (8), Williams (4), Alfa Romeo and Benetton (2 apiece) are the only other multiple-winning teams. Red Bull Racing is the only other team on the grid to have claimed victory at this circuit.
Of the current drivers on the grid, Kimi Räikkönen is the most successful at the Spa-Francorchamps with four race wins here (2004, 2005, 2007 and 2009). While Räikkönen is the only multiple racewinner on the grid, fellow drivers Jenson Button (2012), Sebastian Vettel (2011), Lewis Hamilton (2010) and Felipe Massa (2008) are the only other drivers in this year’s field to have tasted the victory champagne here.
None come close to the six Belgian Grand Prix wins earned by Michael Schumacher (1992, 1995, 1996. 1997, 2001 and 2002). The German would have seven victories to her name, but for being disqualified form the 1994 race after taking victory due to an overly worn undertray floor.
Schumacher’s 2001 victory broke the all-time record of Grand Prix victories for any driver, which had previously been held by Alain Prost (51); Schumacher had equalled the Frenchman’s tally with victory at the preceding Hungarian Grand Prix.
Fernando Alonso will make his 208th Grand Prix race start on Sunday; he will move to equal-ninth on the all-time starters list with Andrea de Cesaris.
Kimi Räikkönen will make his 187th Grand Prix race start on Sunday; he will move to equal-sixteenth on the all-time starters list with Nigel Mansell.
Felipe Massa will make his 183rd Grand Prix race start on Sunday; he will move to equal-eighteenth on the all time starters list with Nick Heidfeld.
Paul di Resta and Pastor Maldonado will both celebrate their fiftieth Grand Prix race start on Sunday.
Spa-Francorchamps Talking Points
So what are this weekend’s critical talking points? Let’s see what our expert analysts have to say…
“The job interview is over. You think you’ve done enough to secure the position, but at the same time, you cannot put a foot wrong before serving the first customer or filing the first expense report. Interestingly, that is the exact predicament that Daniel Ricciardo is in. We’ve all read the articles suggesting that the Western Australian is a “sure thing” to replace Mark Webber at Red Bull in 2014; however the Belgian Grand Prix might just be his most important race to date. If the first half of the season was the job interview, this will be the “on the job” training. There will be hundreds of cameras in Ricciardo’s face, dozens of reporters stalking his every move, and the eyes of the Formula One world will be firmly fixated on the #19 garage. Can he handle the pressure? Will Helmut Marko have second thoughts? Let’s hope the customary wide smile remains on Ricciardo’s face come Sunday afternoon.” – Tristan Clark, RichardsF1.com Journalist
“The next two weekends will be critical for teams like Mercedes, Lotus and Ferrari. Spa and Monza are tracks typically not suited to the Red Bull, so capitalising on their weaknesses will be instrumental in challenging the Milton Keynes outfit. Once the championship hits the Asian leg, it’s going to be hard to stop Vettel potentially running away with the Championship in 2011 fashion. With Ferrari somewhat lacking in the upgrades department, the battle for the top step is likely to be between Lotus and Mercedes. Providing Grosjean can keep it clean through the first corner, he’ll have another strong race with a possible podium finish. ” – Josh Kruse, RichardsF1.com Journalist
“The same could be said for anybody really. Going back to work after a four-week European summer holiday…what could be worse? Well, for millions of F1 fans worldwide, it’s about time. Here in Australia, we’ve all shivered through four weeks of winter without any F1, so we at least can be thankful for the resumption of on-track hostilities. And what a place for it to happen? Spa-Francorchamps, despite some “upgrades” in recent years, which some may view as little more than sanitation of some of its iconic corners, is still the best circuit on the F1 calendar to watch racing, and I am not alone in that thinking. The Red Bull tends to be pretty compatible with nearly any type of circuit, and they will want to be on their game again after Hungary, which didn’t quite go the way Sebastian Vettel wanted. Ferrari on the other hand should be right at home here. Fernando Alonso may crave the type of corners able to put your heart in your mouth, and Eau Rouge does just that. Mercedes and Lotus should be strong too. Lewis Hamilton and Kimi Räikkönen have both won here before so know how to get around the place. But somebody needs to start taking some serious dents out of Vettel’s 38-point championship lead, and whilst the line of challengers is long and strong, Vettel seems to be pretty capable of repelling them so far.” – Matt Lennon, RichardsF1.com IndyCar Series Journalist
“It’s been a long month, but it’s finally time to stay up late on a Sunday evening and watch the greatest sport in the world again! Spa is always one of the best races of the year, and it’s one that I personally look forward to. Mercedes surely are right in the hunt now, and Hamilton will be bullish after his breakthrough win in Hungary. A win here for Lewis would put him firmly in contention for the championship, and stranger things have happened in the world of Formula 1. For me it’s all about Mr.Räikkönen. He loves this place, has dominated this place and will make it HIS place on the weekend. He needs a win more than any other title contender, and also of course to make my pre-season prediction of him winning come true.” – Ben Waterworth, The Qualifying Lap radio show host
The Form Guide
As we’ve mentioned before, the Belgian Grand Prix is everyone’s favourite race. This is a delightful track, with some terrifyingly quick corners and elevation changes – it’s a circuit that separates the wannabes from the true legends. Add to it the very real chance of some inclement weather, and it’s a completely heightened test for man and machine.
The 2011 Belgian Grand Prix was the scene of major concern about tyre life, with better weather conditions – and the teams being way too aggressive on their car set-ups – presenting a very real concern about tyre wear. While there was a lot of blistering, rapidly-wearing tyres and concerned faces on the pit wall, the race passed without incident.
Last year’s event didn’t carry the same tyre concerns, although perhaps that was assisted by Romain Grosjean’s monumental brain fade that helped wipe out several of his competitors in the first corner. Jenson Button survived the mayhem to claim victory.
But tyre concerns may again come to a head this weekend, which will be the second time that Pirelli’s new-construction tyres will be given an outing in Grand Prix conditions.
The rubber held up remarkably well in Hungary’s baking heat, but the tight and twisty nature of the Hungaroring couldn’t be a starker contrast to Spa-Francorchamps, who succession of high-speed sweeps have the potential to place enormous loads through the tyres’ sidewalls.
To counter this, Pirelli will impose strict limits on the camber and pressures teams can run the available Medium and Hard-compound tyres it will be bringing along this weekend.
This theme aside, it’s here where the second half of the 2013 championship challenge kicks off. Vettel has ridden his luck and showed plenty of speed to give himself a healthy 38-point cushion coming into the weekend, meaning he will remain the Drivers’ Championship leader irrespective of the outcome of Sunday’s 44-lap race.
While the German may have claimed the team’s sole win here back in 2011, he’s still a hot prospect for more success on Sunday, having finished on the podium in three of the last four outings here. But the RB9’s lack of straight-line speed could pose problems on the long run from Eau Rouge to Les Combes, which could leave Vettel and teammate Mark Webber vulnerable to chasing cars.
Resident Spa-Francorchamps expert Kimi Räikkönen will be hunting his fifth win at the circuit, and for the first time since his 2009 win in a Ferrari, he’s now equipped with a car that has the potential to deliver him a top-step position on the rostrum. If the black-and-gold cars can get their new passive Drag Reduction Device sorted, then it could prove enough. Teammate Romain Grosjean simply needs to survive the first lap to improve on his poor record at Belgium, with the Frenchman having caused first-lap contact in both appearances in 2009 and 2012.
Mercedes is the other team posing a serious chance at claiming victory this weekend, and will no doubt be keen to show that its F1W04 has versatility and tyre management across all circuits after Lewis Hamilton’s excellent win at Hungary last time out. The silver cars clearly have the one-lap pace and would seem to have mastered their tyre wear, so the question will be whether they can hold together long enough this weekend following a third mechanically-induced DNF for Nico Rosberg.
While his teammate Felipe Massa has enjoyed victory here in 2008, this is something of a bogey track for Fernando Alonso, who hasn’t tasted the victory champagne since his Formula 3000 days way back in 2000.
After being rather off-the-pace last time out at Hungary – raising concerns about stalling development and the new-construction tyres – Force India will need to show a major improvement in pace this weekend if they want t5o hang on to their hard-grafted fifth place in the Constructors’ Championship standings. The Silverstone-based team has always performed well here, but if they turn out to be running outside the points once again, then this could prove to be the end of the team’s giant-killing run.
Conversely, the Hungarian Grand Prix showed that McLaren is starting to make some strides with its difficult MP4-28 challenger, prompting Jenson Button to suggest that the Woking squad could claim its first podium finish of the season here. That could prove rather optimistic, but the signs are nonetheless looking a little brighter for the team.
Given Toro Rosso’s strong performance at Silverstone, it’s hard to see why they wouldn’t be points contenders this weekend given Spa-Francorchamps shares many of the same characteristics, while it’s rather unlikely to expect Sauber or Williams to threaten for serious top-ten finishes, but this is Belgium and it’s the home of many a strange race…
Don’t forget to enter your F1 Predictions!
This weekend’s round of our 2013 RichardsF1.com F1 Predictions Competition is now open for business, and you can enter and edit your predictions for the 2013 Belgian Formula 1 Grand Prix right up until five minutes before qualifying!
Entry is open to all of our readers, and it’s so easy to submit your predictions! All you’ll need to do is correctly guess:
- which driver will win pole position and the race
- which two teams will earn the best finishes in the race
- which eight drivers will finish in the top-eight positions
- who will post the fastest lap of the race
- who will gain the most positions relative to their starting position
You can also choose to ‘double up’ your points tally for the Belgian Grand Prix – but be careful, you can only do this twice per season!
To view the current points standings, click here.
To enter your 2013 Belgian Grand Prix Predictions, click here.
As always, RichardsF1.com will be bringing you the best of the on- and off-track action this weekend, so make sure we’re your first port of call for your Belgian Grand Prix fix!