Red Bull aiming to strike back at Spa (Belgian Grand Prix preview)

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Mark Webber needs to recover from his poor race at Valencia
Mark Webber needs to recover from his poor race at Valencia

Racing on Valencia’s uninteresting point-and-squirt street circuit one weekend, and the majestic sweeps and crests of Spa-Francorchamps the next, is swapping the ridiculous for the sublime.

Many driver name Spa as their favourite because it allows them to explore the limits of their machines and themselves. With the possibility of rain thrown into the mix, and we have an excellent weekend’s racing ahead of us.

After a miserable, point-less race at Valencia, Red Bull have to produce the goods at Spa to keep themselves in the hunt for the championships.

On paper, the RB5 should be very strong around the 7km lap. The car has proved most efficient at circuits with high-speed corners, which the Belgian venue has in abundance.

Added to that, temperature for the weekend are expected to be cool, and there is a chance of rain – again, both sets of conditions have suited Red Bull nicely this year.

The biggest problem for Red Bull – as discussed here yesterday – is the likelihood that Sebastian Vettel is going to get an engine change penalty sometime soon.

Brawn re-discovered their previous levels of performance at Valencia and it wasn’t confined to Rubens Barrichello’s car. Jenson Button set a quicker fastest lap than his team mate, but the combination of poor qualifying and a bad start ruined his race.

Barrichello’s Valencia win has brought him right back into the drivers’ title battle. It was the culmination of a run of four races where he’s looked more than match for than his team mate, even if it hasn’t always been reflected in the results:

RaceBarrichelloButtonNotes
BritainQ2/R3Q6/R6
GermanyQ2/R6Q3/R5Barrichello ahead until pit stop problem
HungaryQ12/R10Q8/R7Barrichello has car failure in qualifying
EuropeQ3/R1Q5/R7

The softer tyre compounds being used at Spa this year could play into Brawn’s hands. this year the teams will have the medium and soft Bridgestones, instead of the hard and medium tyres brought last year.

If Brawn can get a decent result at Spa, which in theory should not suit them as well as Red Bull, then they should be able to approach the final fly-away races with much more confidence. But will it be Button or Barrichello leading the way?

Some teams have wondered allowed how significant McLaren and Ferrari‘s KERS power boosts will be at Spa. It has by far the longest flat-out section of any F1 circuit – 1.8km – and which should make the KERS cars incredibly difficult to live with on the opening lap as they sprint from La Source, through Eau Rouge, and on to Les Combes.

Finally, no preview of the Belgian Grand Prix would be complete without mentioning the disgraceful conclusion of last year’s race. It was one of those heart-sinking moments when the powers-that-be took what had been a thrilling race at a classic circuit, and ruined it with poor governance and incompetent stewarding. Let’s hope they get it right this year.

Drivers to watch

Luca Badoer – This race will decide whether Luca Badoer gets to stay in the Ferrari until Felipe Massa returns. A huge step forward over his Valencia performance will be expected.

Sebastian Vettel – After two consecutive no-scores, Vettel’s position in the championship battle is looking increasingly vulnerable. But we’ve seen what he’s capable of in wet weather – if it rains at Spa he must be favourite for the win.

Robert Kubica – A minor improvement from BMW saw Kubica return to the points at Valencia. On the market for a 2010 seat, and usually strong in the rain.

Kimi Raikkonen – Last year he came within a couple of laps of winning four consecutive Belgian Grands Prix. Has been on the podium in the last two races. Surely this is his and Ferrari’s best chance of a win this year?

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Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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51 comments on “Red Bull aiming to strike back at Spa (Belgian Grand Prix preview)”

  1. For SPA this year, I will bet for Vettel/Kimi/Lewis/Alonso for win.
    I will have to choose 3 though for the coming prediction! :P

  2. Prisoner Monkeys
    26th August 2009, 11:29

    I don’t think it’s going to be a case of Red Bull being first and second and Brawn finihsing outside the points as a lot of people make out. It’s Red Bull terrirory to be sure, but that’ not to say Brawn is at a disadvantage.

    The thing is that Brawn have never really run a good car in cool conditions. China was certainly cool, but the deluge means that it can’t really compare. They introduced new parts for Silverstone, and while that race and the Nurburgring were both less-than-impressive, everyone attributed it to the condition. But the Hungaroring was supposed to favour the car, and they struggled even more. It became apparent that their upgrades were the problem. And I should think that the upgrades were more likely to blame than cool conditions.

    That’s not to say Brawn will utterly dominate, however. The car might be suited to stop-start circuits, but Spa has its moments that will play into their hands. I’d watch them particularly through the Bus Stop, La Source and Les Combes; the Mercedes engine is faster than the Renault, so they’ll have more speed from Blanchimont and Radillion, before slowing down for the stop-start sections.

    This, I think, is Red Bull’s race to lose again. They have to decide which championship they want to win; if they want the drivers’ title, they’ll have to back Webber absolutely. But if they want both, they have to trust to Webber to do the job and support both drivers equally.

    I also think Button will be more comfortable now that Barrichello is at his back. Once Vettel scored his Silverstone win, he moved into second place overall, and I think Button was conscious of that. Now that Barrichello is in P2, he’s got a bit of a buffer. That, combined with his annoucement that it’s going to be take-no-prisoners from hereon in, and I think he can at least do something. Maybe not a win, but certainly be a thorn in Red Bull’s paw.

    1. Totally agree. I think that Brawn have settled down a bit from the fan fair of hte opening rounds. Hopefully they have sat down and tried to begin to sort our their cold issues.

      I also beleive the choice of tyres will only make the race more interesting.

      i that if HAM or RAI are near the front it is going to be tough to pass them with their KERS as you mentioned Keith.

      Red Bull have to be worried about Vettels engine though, or maybe they just had a dodgey batch in Valencia.

      One thing is for sure Spa is possibly the best race on the calender this year and I cant wait to see Jenson and the guys this weekend and hopefully Jenson will get his mojo back!

  3. many people might disagree with me here, but i’m of the strong opinion that redbull must go for the kill. They shouldn’t be looking at conserving engine by turning down the revs. Vettel especially, as he’s got only 2 engines left must go for it. Knowing adrian newey, i suspect he’ll be thinking the same. you never know. this aggressive strategy might just pay off. going by the trends in the last few races, it seems barrichello has upped his game, webber is just where he need to be & button seems to be suffering severe lack of confidence. Vettel must take advantage of all these factors. I don’t see button challenging for wins anymore, rather he’ll be looking to play safe, settle for good points. red bull should be very aggressive if they want vettel to be part of the fight.

  4. Looks like rain again, at some point during the race.

    Not sure who this’ll favour: the Red Bulls looked awesome in the wet in China and Malaysia, but it’ll be a completely different car by now. Button’s ability to keep his nose clean will help him.

    Hamilton’s skill should be unbeatable in the rain, but it’s as if the team tells him which tyres to have and when. This hurt them again in Valencia. Decisive tyre choices by the driver always help in the wet: look out for Glock or Heidfeld popping up with a good result.

    Hopefully Badoer will keep the stewards distracted so they won’t meddle with the frontrunners…

    1. China and Malaysia

      i think neither red bull featured on the podium at malaysia.

      Hamilton’s skill should be unbeatable in the rain

      you might be right, but he did look ordinary at China and Malaysia earlier this year.

      Hopefully Badoer will keep the stewards distracted so they won’t meddle with the frontrunners…

      that, i think the most important point you make.

      1. re. red bulls in malaysia: that’s cause they ran out of time. webber and vettel were stunning (until vettel lost it into a gravel trap)when the rain came.

      2. i think that the car was mostly to blame for lewis’s average showings in malaysia, because in wet weather you need a good balance between front and rear grip, wich the earlier car did not have and suffered from having poor aerodynamic ballance.

        i would like to see a wet race, should provide some good action and tighten up the championship.

    2. “the Red Bulls looked awesome in the wet in China and Malaysia, but it’ll be a completely different car by now…”. True Red Bull have made massive changes but two fndamental things haven’t changed – it has a lower centre of gravity with the rear end engineering e.g. pull rod suspension and it still punishes its tyres more than the Brawn which means in cold conditions they are still generating heat while Jenson will be swevering down the straights trying to get some heat into them. Go Webber!

  5. Some teams have wondered allowed…do you mean aloud…

    Cheers, Alex

  6. In the Renault Belgium GP preview quotes, Romain says he still works part time at a bank in Geneva on Tuesdays!

    “Q. How did you spend the days after your first grand prix?

    RG: I stayed in Valencia for a day to enjoy the city and get some rest before I went home to Geneva. Then on Tuesday I went back to work at the bank to keep in touch with reality! I think it’s important to continue like this as I enjoy working there and this routine has always worked well for me in the past.”

    I wonder if he gets many autograph requests while serving customers.

  7. On the post-race BBC Red Button Forum, Martin Whitmarsh noted that McLaren’s KERS wasn’t particularly going to be an advantage at Spa due to problems with what he called ‘Harvesting’.

    1. what is Harvesting?

      1. It’s collecting energy from braking in order to charge the batteries…

  8. Surprising how little you mention the Ferraris and Mclarens in this preview, given their return to form and undoubted impact that they will have in the overall championship outcome.
    I think Lewis stands a great chance of victory in this one. He’s one of the best in the wet and has the advantage of KERS to get him away well at the start. With that in mind, he’ll be afforded the luxury of having a good few options on his fuel load in quali, as even if he starts a few rows back he should get a jump on both the Brawns and Red Bulls off of the start.
    Of course Kimi and Heiki also have this advantage, but I just don’t see Heiki doing the business at the moment, and Kimi has come up second to Lewis too often to suggest he’ll get the better of him. Still, i think Kimi will be good for a podium.
    Who gets the third podium spot is hard to say… Spa has a habbit of chucking up a few surprises, so I’ll say Mr Consistent, Niko Rosberg could be there or there abouts, with the Red Bulls being the victim to one of those aforementioned surprises.
    So yeah, my prediction: 1st Hamilton, 2nd Raikkonen, 3rd Rosberg. Brawns and Red Bulls battle it out for the last remaining points.

    1. He’ll do well until water gets into the KERS system and it fails and he abandons the race in a giant plume of smoke…

  9. I’m not too bothered who wins this race. What is most important to me is that we get a great race. 9 consecutive poor/ terrible races would really be testing my faith in F1.

    Raikkonen is looking good for the win- he always goes well at Spa, the F60 has been much quicker recently, and has always been strong on high speed circuits. And, importantly, he has KERS, which should gain him a few places on the first lap.

    If Raikkonen wins, perhaps this could be the first time a driver has finished first with his team mate last…

    1. the F60 has been much quicker recently, and has always been strong on high speed circuits.

      Hmmm…

      Quoting Raikkonen:

      This year the car runs very well on the city circuits and on the ones with slower corners.

  10. Vettel and RBR are going to be pretty concerned that Spa has the longest period of continuous full throttle of any track on the calendar, and that 63% of the track is taken at full throttle.

    Let’s hope there isn’t another failure for Vettel during FP and qualifying itself. They may turn the wick down for him for FP, but it would be interesting to see if they do the same for Mark.

    1. don’t forget monza is the next race too! oh dear…

    2. can red bull sue renault for providing them sub-standard engines? i’m no other customer cars have had engine failures this year, that mercedes seems bullet-proof, ferrari & toyota are doing a fine job. Its only the renault that seems to be having problems. But i cannot blame renault fully, cuz Adrian newey car designs always seem to suffer from engine related issues, you can go back to the days of williams-renault in 91-92, in 91 engine related problems cost mansell the championship imo, again 98-05, especially 00,04,05 that merc engine kept coughing up every few feet & fingers were pointed at Adrian Newey & his aggressive design. its common belief that aero & engine never compliment each other & add to it adrian newey, its a recipe for fireworks.

      1. I seem to recall when Newey first went to Red Bull they had a contract for Ferrari engines but he wanted them to change to Renault engines as they require less cooling than the Ferraris. So Toro Rosso ended up getting the Ferrari engines.

      2. Adrian newey car designs always seem to suffer from engine related issues

        Interesting hypothesis.

      3. Well, Renault was the only manufacturer that made some adjusts on their engine power this season. Something could have been wrong regard rehability on this process, I suspect.

        But, I was looking to Mark Webber´s engine usage and he used the engine number 5 four times. How this could be possible when Sebastian have all this failures sounds strange to me…

        1. The stats on f1wolf don’t say that he used engine 5 four times. Only that he used the 5 already used engines 4 times. He could have used engine 5 then 4, 3 and 2. It would still say “used 5 engines this season” after every race.

      4. Very astute observation mp4-19b.

        The Renault cars don’t have the engine failures that Red Bull do.It must be the air flow,less cooling maybe?Or maybe the gear box?

  11. Keith wrote:
    Race Barrichello
    Britain Q2/R3
    GermanyQ2/R6
    Hungary Q12/R10
    Europe Q3/R1

    In Hungary, Barrichello qualified 13th.
    Easy to make that mistake I suppose as Massa didnt start and eceryone behind him on the grid moved up one place for the race …

    Fuel Adjusted his stats are:
    Britain Q3/R3
    GermanyQ4/R6
    Hungary Q13/R10
    Europe Q1/R1

    (Info from http://www.pitlanefanatic.com/viewtopic.php?f=21&t=795 )

    1. In Valencia, Barrichello was Q2 fuel adjusted. Hamilton was Q1.

      It’s a common mistake that people forget that Hamilton drove another stint after he set his fast lap.

      Of course the fuel correction should be based on the fuel level at the time of setting the lap. Normally the last lap is the fastest, but in this case it was about 3 laps earlier.

  12. I certainly hope Red Bull aim to do better this week end. They don’t have much choice really.

    Interesting thought the Newey/fragile engine hypothesis. It could explain why Alonso hasn’t had the same problem as Vettel.

  13. While I’d love Raikkonen to win, I doubt the Ferrari is up to it. Ferrari (and McLaren although to a lesser extent recently I guess)’s weakness has been the high-speed corners and I think there are too many of them for either team to really feature the way they have in the past two races. Also, while the “straights” are long, so is the lap itself and they won’t have enough kers charge to last them the lap. So they will have to be choosy about where to apply it and where not to. In the end, both Ferrari and McLaren will have to make more extreme compromises in their setup than Red Bull or Brawn, or possibly even Williams, Toyota and Renault. Start aside, I think it will quite heavily impact their qualifying and therefore race result.

  14. i hope Kubica get few more points at sunday.

  15. c’mon Kimi Raikkonen….This is the best possible chance for a Victory and to prove yourself to the NON BELIEVERS

  16. Altough Ferrari will be running to one driver only (Badoer is like no one), I believe in a good performance of Kimi.
    Will be interesting to watch Barrichello’s too. Another victory may put him in fight by the championship.

  17. after watchin the highlights of last year on bbc i found it even more ridiculous that lewis was docked 25secs. anyway back to 2009, i dont think the mclaren is all that well suited to high speed tracks. their recent good form has come at slower tracks with lots of slow corners. guess we’ll see, but my fantasy pics would on RB (if i had any picks left…which i dont)

  18. StrFerrari4Ever
    26th August 2009, 20:36

    This race is make or break for Red Bull if they can’t get the maximum out of their car and Mclaren or a Brawn car finishes ahead of them their championship bids could be halted.

    In theory this is a circuit which will favour the Red Bull’s but as is the case in Formula One you never know maybe Mclaren’s new improvements work on high speed tracks , Brawn’s new upgrade could now provide the temperature in the tyres and have performance to match Red Bull, all these things are waiting to be answered.

    Kimi Raikkonen should go well here as he loves Spa too bad for him Ferrari have stopped F60’s 09 development would’ve been nice to see him right on the pace , but you never know with Kimi he could drive his best and get it amongst the top cars.
    As for his teammate well Badoer’s chance to prove himself if he can’t i suspect at Monza he could be replaced by someone else. Mr 6 Tenths will go well here aswell and Grosjean will be close to him.

    BMW’s new update has improved them but will it be enough for them to challenge for meaningful points I’m not so sure.
    Williams Rosberg expect another points finish from him.

    Toyota have lost their way.
    Force India have a good top speed so they could surprise a few & Scuderia Toro Rosso well they have no excuse to fail they should be up with Red Bull at this race since they have the same specification car. I expect them to be right up there and them extracting the maximum performance from the STR4.

  19. I wonder if McLaren is not going to surprise us. They themselves don’t even know for sure how well they will be doing, but Hamilton was doing very well at the Nurburgring (until Hamilton’s car was damaged after the start)

    Hamilton loves Spa too. 2007 he was muscled off the track by Alonso and 2008 he won it.

  20. I’m in Belgium :) Hope Hamilton or Vettel can win on Sunday to make the trip even better! :D Need Red Bull to close the gap this weekend. It’s there big chance

  21. kimi is the king of spa, shame it hasn’t the car to take his forth spa win!

    Always a good race mind, a real drivers circuit

  22. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for Kubica – he’s had a rotten season in a car that promised much at the start of the year, and needs to put in some good performances in the remaining races to help secure a decent berth next year. A podium is probably too much to hope for though!

  23. If RB expect to be strong at Spa and Monza, perhaps their strategy should be a new engine at Spa, hopefully qualify well, and fight to the front from 10th place? Then they have the same engine for Spa as well with no penalty. Why wait for an engine failure later at tracks that may not suit them?

    Seems like they need to keep the pressure on Brawn if they are to have a chance.

  24. Martin Whitmarsh was earlier quoted saying that kers might not be beneficial in spa. so just thought i would analyze it my self. my analyis, surprisingly is in close agreement to Whitmarsh. I’ve used Motec i2 pro to analyze the braking. Spa has very few hard braking points, three significant heavy braking points are la source, les combes & the new bus-stop. now we all know that the circuit is 6 odd kms & kers can deliver that extra boost for 6.6 sec. Now as spa comprises of mainly high speed sweeping curves, there is hardly any usage of brake to aid kers in recovering the loss dissipated. The straight from la source to les combes is flat out, nowadays nobody lifts at eau rouge. then you have a series of right-left handers heading into rivage, but not too hard on the braking as you can see from my analysis,pouhon these days is taken flat ouy ,as there is a new tarmac(no gravel) so gives drivers extra confidence even if they run off the track.Fagnes & Stavelot are very gentle on the brakes, the final sector comprises of Blanchimont which is flat out, then you have the new bus-stop. so the net energy dissipated during braking is very less, as to what is required to make kers work efficiently around spa.

    i’ll briefly explain the parameters used in my analysis

    in the video you will see 11 parameters

    1) a map of the circuit with a small dot indicating the position of the car. (note the darker colour in the braking zones)

    2) brake pedal position (notice how few a times it is used)

    3) Throttle position, unsurprisingly you’ll notice its ON almost 60% of the time.

    4)Then there is a numeric bar gauge displaying longitudinal & lateral g-forces(notice it going through eau rouge ;) )

    5) then there is a red colour graph of brake-pedal position(in %) vs time(in sec) notice that it hardly reaches its peak.

    6) then there is a green colour graph of throttle pedal position (in%) vs time(in sec) obviously you’ll notice the peaks, cuz of obvious reasons.

    7) one more graph depicts brake temperature vs time (not of much importance in this discussion0 but still you’ll notice that its comparatively low(less that 1000 Celsius peak) in places like montreal & monaco the brake temp easily exceeds 1000 Celsius,but not at spa.

    8)there are 3 gauges displaying the Gear,engine rpm & cornering speed.

    What i could infer from this analysis is that spa is not suited for kers,as previously thought. There are not enough braking points for the kers to get recharged. Its like having a kers car on an oval, of what use is it? simply put into simpler terms aerodynamic downforce wins over kers at spa. So i don’t expect mclaren & ferrari to perform as well as they did at hungary & valencia.

    This is purely my thought & i might be wrong.

    Spa braking analysis using motec by me

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2VSXyh95xyw

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tp9jN7vAvfE

    1. Paige Michael-Shetley
      27th August 2009, 10:05

      McLaren and Ferrari don’t need to have the KERS benefit over the whole lap. They will really just need it for the flat-out stretch from La Source through Eau Rouge and onto the straight. And thankfully for them, they’ve got two hard-braking corners right in the a row with the Bus Stop and La Source.

      McLaren have also introduced a short wheelbase version of the car. This will offset the effect on KERS of the weight distribution, as it will load the front tires more.

      1. I don’t have an argument regarding their aero efficiency. All that i was trying to explain is that Kers might not prove to be of much use on this track, just because of sheer lack of high braking points. If mclaren have to patch up their pace deficit to Brawn & red bull, its gotta be through aero development. If they get their car to be as effeicient as brawn or red bull with out kers, they will be a deadly force.

    2. Where in your simulation does it calculate how much energy can be recovered? Why wouldn’t 3 hard braking area’s be enough?

      I’d say a bigger issue is the lentgh of the track. It’s 7km long and they do only 44 laps. So they can use KERS only 44 times instead of 60+ times.

      1. unfortunately,as you mention the simulation doesn’t show the energy reclaimed during braking, maybe i’ll try a little re-programming by adding a special math function which simulates the energy dissipation from the brakes. But since, i’m far from that bit, i base my argument on the fact that how little drivers brake. for instance i’ve applied brakes going into poulon, but if i’m correct drivers take it flat in 6th gear. Again in many potential braking area’s, drivers seem to use “engine braking” rather than the actual mechanical brake itself. i don’t think the kers device is capable of recovering energy dissipated from the engine. again correct me if i’m wrong. but the general sense we get is that kers might not play a big part as previously thought.

  25. But they (the KERS cars) will perform off the start line with a full charge. Thank god there is only one fast Ferrari. Mclaren is going to suffer on the high speed corners more than Ferrari for mine. I wonder whether the short chassis will be in too? Imagine if Bourdais had got the chance to hop into a Ferrari to have a pop at RedBull with revenge in his eyes. Go Mr Webber!

  26. It will be interesting to see how the McLaren goes, it sounds like they have been talking it down bet the mp4-24b has not been run on a high speed circuit yet.

    Who knows the recent upgrades might have improved the cars high speed performance drastically, maybe the problems of the ealier mp4-24a have been resolved?

  27. Paige Michael-Shetley
    27th August 2009, 10:29

    I think we’re all underestimating McLaren’s chances. It’s as if we’ve forgotten, for one, that they’ve introduced a ton of new aerodynamic upgrades that have dramatically improved the downforce levels on the car. Sure, Valencia and Hungary were circuits with harder-braking corners, but they also had quick corners, and McLaren were good through them at both tracks. Furthermore, McLaren were definitely quick in the Nurburgring, where sector two features a number of 4th, 5th, and 6th gear corners.

    KERS won’t be as much of an advantage there as it was in Valencia or Hungary, but it will still give them a major edge at probably the most critical portion of the circuit, the long flat-out portion for which they’ll have two preceding hard-braking corners to charge the battery. They’ve also introduced the short wheelbase version of the car, which will help offset the negative effect of KERS on weight distribution and improve the car’s mechanical grip in high-speed corners.

    Furthermore, we need to remember that downforce is really more important in mid-speed corners and under braking for low-speed corners. High-speed corners also really require AERO EFFICIENCY and mechanical grip. Sure, downforce will give the car more grip in Eau Rouge, but most likely the extra drag created if there’s too much downforce will keep the car from hitting its maximum speed because the air isn’t flowing over the car most efficiently.

    There is a way to get the necessary level of downforce for high-speed corners while also improving aero efficiency. McLaren have made just this improvement to the car with their updated double-decker diffuser, their updated floor, and the updated exhaust system. These changes have both improved downforce and aero efficiency. The diffuser speeds up aeroflow from underneath the car to the exit, which both improves aero efficiency (since the car moves more quickly through the air) AND downforce with the Venturi effect created.

  28. i hope vettel can win and only uses one engine this weekend

  29. Interesting….This is what Hamilton said:

    “I think Brawn, Red Bull and even Ferrari will be fast there – it’s a high-speed circuit and Ferrari has always been very quick there, so I’m expecting Kimi to be quick….

    was taken from copied from:

    http://www.autosport.com/news/report.php/id/77961

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