Formula One will dust off its stopwatches after a month-long mid-season break, with a return to racing at one of the calendar’s fastest and most challenging circuits for the Belgian Grand Prix this weekend.
Spa Francorchamps is one of the oldest and longest tracks still in use by Formula One, with its current seven-kilometre layout dating back to 1979.
A lap involves high-speed corners with huge undulations that exert more force on the drivers, cars and tyres than any other venue. Naturally, this means that teams best able to manage tyre wear will benefit most on Sunday.
But with a topsy-turvy 10 races behind us, and plenty of rises and falls of form, it’s anybody’s guess as to which combination will perform in Belgium.
THE PACKAGE TO BEAT
Kimi Raikkonen and Lotus seem to have mastered this year’s tricky Pirellis but have managed only one win - and that was at the first race, five months ago. Still, the Finn has returned a slew of podiums and finds himself in second place in the Drivers’ championship.
Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull still remain the package to beat. The reigning champion has won four times this year and leads the log with 172 points to Raikkonen’s 134.
Ferrari’s never-say-die Fernando Alonso trails Raikkonen by one point and, even if his car has lacked speed at recent races the Spaniard has eked out consistent results.
But then there’s the Mercedes wild card. Before the break the German outfit showed that it, too, wants in on the championship act, and in recent rounds has shown it is able to compete for wins. Lewis Hamilton won in Hungary last time out, and was close to winning at Silverstone before one of his rear tyres rudely gave way mid-race.
Pirelli will supply its hard and medium compound tyres at Spa - a combination it has used at four previous races this season. It’s expected that the lap-time difference between the two tyres will be more than a second, which could lead to interesting variations in pit-stop strategies. Last year’s Belgian GP winner Jenson Button and second placed Vettel completed the race with only one stop, while Raikkonen in third stopped twice.
An interesting titbit revealed by Pirelli is that Spa’s famed Eau Rouge corner creates a higher vertical load than any other turn this year. As the cars compress for the flat-out and uphill left-right-left, a full 1000kg is pressed on to the front tyres.
Remember as well that this track requires full throttle for about 80 percent of each lap, sometimes for as much as 20 seconds at a time.
Red Bull is expected to announce this weekend that Daniel Ricciardo, currently employed by sister team Toro Rosso, will replace fellow Australian Mark Webber next year.
This after Raikkonen’s manager confirmed on Monday that the Finn’s speculated move to Red Bull would not take place.
Raikkonen, the 2007 world champion, is without a contract for next year but will probably remain at Lotus if a rumoured move to Ferrari also doesn’t pan out. - Star Motoring
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