Ferrari are expected to have the upper hand on the fast Spa-Francorchamps circuit. But then, they were tipped to win at Monza as well, so it could be another close call.
F1 returns to the stunning circuit in the beautiful Ardennes forest for the first time since 2005. There have been several major changes in the time but the circuit has retained its challenge and appeal.
Throw in the unpredictable local weather and we could be in for a classic race. Read the preview and make your podium predictions below.
Three cheers – Spa is back. Again, that is, as the popular Ardennes track returns to the F1 calendar after its second absence in five years.
The track has seen substantial revisions at Bernie Ecclestone’s behest, not all of which have been welcomed. The new pit lane entrance in particular has been criticised for being too narrow.
The bus stop chicane has been revised and tightened, and now has Astroturf bordering the outside to prevent drivers deliberately running wide as the British Formula Three drivers were when they visited the track a few weeks ago.
Finally, the start/finish line has been lengthened and widened, creating a longer run into the La Source hairpin.
But the corners that make Spa special – Eau Rouge, Pouhon, Stavelot, Blanchimont and the rest – have wisely been left well alone.
The other main concern at Spa is the weather, which can turn from beaming rays of sun to downpour without warning. The long circuit occasionally sees rain on some parts and not others, and the teams learned in 2005 that it can take a long time to dry.
Wet weather could provoke an appearance of the safety car, which could play a crucial role in the championship if it happens to disadvantage one of the top four drivers – as happened to Fernando Alonso in Montreal.
Qualifying live – 12.30pm – 2.20pm Saturday 15th September, ITV4
Race live – 12.00pm – 3.05pm Sunday 16th September, ITV1
Race highlights – 10.45pm – 11.45pm Sunday, ITV1
Race highlights – 6.00pm – 7.00pm Monday 17th September, ITV4
Source: ITV and Radio Times
Spa-Francorchamps is one of few venues on the calendar where Fernando Alonso has not previously won.
Lewis Hamilton won the first F3 Euroseries race at the track in 2005, but was disqualified along with seven other drivers after their rear diffusers were found to be outside the permitted dimensions. He made amends in the second race, beating team mate Adrian Sutil.
But the fast, sweeping turns and long straights of Spa-Francorchamps are expected to suit Ferrari better than McLaren, which could put Ron Dennis’s team into damage limitation mode.
Giancarlo Fisichella crashed out of the last F1 race at Spa – he will need better luck this year as he struggles to hold onto his Renault seat.
The team appears to have resigned itself to finishing fourth in the championship this year but both of its drivers are capable of scoring points if they qualify and race well.
Kimi Raikkonen has won the last two Belgian Grands Prix, and given his Ferrari’s strength on high-speed corners this year, he must be favourite to win at Belgium.
The team would probably prefer the race stayed dry, as wet weather would improve McLaren’s chances. Felipe Massa has also looked uncertain in wet races.
After a bitterly disappointing defeat to McLaren on home ground Ferrari must strike back hard at Spa.
The long straights and short corners of Monza disguised the deficiencies of the RA107 and allowed Jenson Button to qualifying in the top ten and score a point.
Expect the long, flowing turns of Spa-Francorchamps to offer no such mercies. The track demands aerodynamic efficiency, the greatest weakness of this year’s Honda.
Button has driven some excellent races in the middle of the field this year (Magny-Cours, Istanbul), and he will surely be hoping for a wet race on Sunday.
BMW have been consistently the third team all year and there’s no reason to expect that to change at Spa.
Robert Kubica hasn’t raced an F1 car here yet, and team mate Nick Heidfeld missed the F1 race in 2005 with injury, but that shouldn’t put the team off their stride.
However when confronted with wet weather at the Nurburgring this year the team didn’t do so well. They must be ready to be flexible with their strategy given the high chance of rain at Spa.
The 2005 race was a tale of what might have been for Toyota, who pitted their drivers too early for dry weather rubber and threw away a likely podium finish.
They can’t afford a repeat of that mistake this year as they fight to avoid an embarrassingly low finish in the constructors’ championship this year. An anonymous performance at Monza didn’t help things.
The Williams-Red Bull-Toyota battle for fifth in the constructors’ championship is one of the most absorbing. Toyota-supplied Williams are poised to embarrass the factory team by beating them in the title race.
Nico Rosberg is having an excellent season and should get his car up in the points again. As ever Alexander Wurz is struggling to keep up with his young team-mate.
David Coulthard is the only active F1 driver aside from Kimi Raikkonen to have won at Spa-Francorchamps, triumphing for McLaren in 1999.
Red Bull haven’t scored since their best-ever result of third and fifth at the Nurburgring and face the prospect of being overhauled by Toyota who are four points behind.
Scuderia Toro Rosso
The team that have constantly been making the headlines for changes to their driver line-up perhaps need to pay more attention to their car. They lagged towards the rear of the field once again in Monza with a car that is essentially the same as Red Bull’s, albeit with a Ferrari engine.
Vitantonio Liuzzi hasn’t been beaten by his new team mate Sebastian Vettel yet. He needs to continue that performance to stand a chance of staying in F1 next year.
Adrian Sutil has shown some skill in the wet, particularly in practice at Monaco earlier this year, and a traditional Spa shower could give them the chance to do some giant-killing.
For Sakon Yamamoto, the good news is that more of Spa-s run-off areas have been paved, so he stands a better chance of making it to the end of the race.
Super Aguri have one of the best-matched driver pairings on the grid.
Anthony Davidson has had the upper hand on Takuma Sato for the last couple of races, and needs to be ready to seize on a race that could see high attrition to grab that vital first point.