The four-week summer break has felt like an eternity for any Formula 1 fanatic, but thankfully we’re back in business this weekend with the field heading to the iconic Spa-Francorchamps circuit for the Belgian Grand Prix.
|2014 FORMULA 1 BELGIAN GRAND PRIX
|Date||22-24 August 2014|
|Free Practice Session 1||Fri 10:00-11:30|
|Free Practice Session 2||Fri 14:00-15:30|
|Free Practice Session 3||Sat 10:00-11:00|
|Race (44 laps)||Sun 14:00-16:00|
|Lap Record||1:47.263 (2009)|
|2013 Winner||Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing)|
* All session times are quoted in Central European Summer Time (UTC +02:00 hrs)
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.
In either of its major incarnations, the circuit as seen the pinnacle of triumph and tragedy.
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 two DRS zones once again, with the FIA electing keep the second activation zone along the track’s short start-finish straight on top of the one places on the run into Les Combes. But with overtaking having never really been a problem at Spa-Francorchamps, one questions why the device is even necessary here…
The Form Guide
The return to racing comes four weeks after one of the most exciting races of the year in Hungary, where Daniel Ricciardo triumphed over Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton to deliver his and Red Bull Racing Renault’s second win of the season.
While the win ensured Ricciardo remained in the hunt for Drivers’ Championship honours, in reality it still remains a two-way fight between the Mercedes pairing of Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton, with the gap now trimmed to 11 points after the latter’s sterling drive to the podium after being forced to start from the pit lane.
The high-speed, aero-demanding nature of the Spa-Francorchamps circuit means that – on paper – this looks like being a track which will play to the advantages of the Silver Arrows once again, although the steady improvements shown by both Williams and Red Bull Racing don’t make this an absolute certainty. That’s especially true if some wet weather is involved, which is not an uncommon experience in this region of Belgium.
The forecasters are predicting another outing for the wet Pirelli tyres, particularly in final practice and qualifying where heavy rain is expected. Sunday’s race is forecast to be impacted by more pre-race rain, with cool termperatures likely to mean the track will be slow to dry over the 44-lap race.
The predicted weather could really throw up a surprise in qualifying and the race, so for those of you wanting to have an each-way bet on a non-Mercedes victory – which has not enjoyed the smoothest run of reliability at recent races – then this might be the Grand Prix to do so.
Image via Sutton Images