Following a four-week summer break and 14-day factory shutdown, F1 will return to the track this weekend at the Spa-Francorchamps circuit for the Belgian Grand Prix.
The 12th round of the season will be the 59th race in Belgium to appear on the F1 calendar and is the penultimate European event of the year.
The run to the chequered flag at the 2014 finale in Abu Dhabi will see eight races take place within the space of 14 weeks, so the mid-season break has been crucial for the F1 circus to recharge their batteries ahead of the final part of the year.
The iconic and world-renowned Spa-Francorchamps circuit in the Ardennes Forest is packed full of character, challenging corners and racing history. It is a favourite amongst the drivers and teams, with two very distinct sections.
The first and third sectors are very fast with long straights, while sector three is packed full of high-speed corners that require high grip and downforce levels. This means finding a set-up balance between top speed and downforce is crucial in practice.
The weather can often throw up a few surprises over a race weekend. The current track layout is a shadow of the previous 8.761 mile circuit that used public roads around the towns of Spa and Francorchamps, featuring famous corners like Burnenville and the Masta Kink. In fact, it shares just three corners with the track that is raced on today – Blanchimont, La Source and the Eau Rouge/Raidillon complex.
The lap of the 3.452 mile circuit starts on the relatively short pit straight, which leads on to the famous La Source hairpin. This is where the first of two DRS zones will be and the tight right-hander provides a strong overtaking opportunity.
A good exit is crucial for the long run downhill to the turns two, three and four. The pit exit feeds cars back out on track to the right-hand side along this straight (where the old start line was), before the drivers then tackle the iconic Eau Rouge and Raidillon corners.
The high-speed left-right-left uphill section used to be taken flat-out, but with the decreased downforce levels in 2014 that won’t be the case this season. The tricky complex is very easy to get wrong. If a mistake is made, big crashes can occur.
The Kemmel Straight is next up and is where the second DRS zone will be, which makes the medium-speed right-left chicane of Les Combes a strong overtaking place. The corner is also the first in the second sector.
Malmedy, turn seven, is a fast right that is particularly tricky to get right in wet conditions. The drivers then head downhill before tacking Rivage – turn eight. It is a long hairpin that is followed by the right-hander of turn nine and a short straight.
Pouhon is next up and is a very difficult, never-ending left-hand corner that is one of the toughest to perfect at Spa-Francorchamps. This turn will be even more difficult with the loss of downforce and increased torque levels in 2014.
Des Fagnes, a third gear right-left chicane, follows before the first of the two right-handers that make up the Stavelot complex and the end of the second sector. Part one requires a dab on the brakes, while drivers may need to lift slightly for the second section.
Carrying a good amount of speed through here is very important for the long, flat-out run through turn 16, turn 17 – Blanchimont – to the heavy braking zone for the final chicane. This section of the circuit was re-profiled in 2007. The tight right-left section is a strong overtaking place and requires strong traction on the exit. The pit entry, which is very narrow, is to the right as drivers enter the second part of the chicane.
Michael Schumacher is the most successful driver in the history of the race, with six Belgian Grand Prix victories. Ayrton Senna is next up with five wins, while Kimi Raikkonen has the best track record from the 2014 grid and has finished first at Spa-Francorchamps four times.
Jenson Button, Lewis Hamilton and Felipe Massa have all won the race once, with Sebastian Vettel on two victories – most recently last year’s Belgian Grand Prix, which he dominated. Ferrari tops the constructors’ table with 16 wins, two more than McLaren.
Pirelli will bring the medium and soft compound tyres to this weekend’s race. Mercedes will certainly be the team to beat once again. Meanwhile the fight to be best of the race should be close once again. Williams, Force India and McLaren will all benefit from the power of the Mercedes V6 Turbo, while Red Bull Racing should be strong through sector two. Don’t discount Ferrari either.
It should be a fantastic weekend of racing as the sport returns to the track for the first time in just under a month – and what a place to kick off the final part of the season.