Will new rules shake up the start at Spa?

2015 Belgian Grand Prix preview

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During the first half of the 2015 Formula One championship failed to develop much in the way of a narrative besides another edition of ‘what’s wrong with F1 this year’.

Partly because of that, the second half of the season begins with another attempt to liven things up which could make for an especially exciting start to Sunday’s race.

New restrictions will prevent teams from instructing their drivers via the radio on which settings to select to optimise their starts. It may seem trivial, but the effect could be profound. And as a model for how F1 could make its races more unpredictable without resorting to feeble gimmicks, the principal of giving the drivers greater independence and making their task more challenging is one which could be usefully applied to other aspects of the sport.

The teams have had weeks to prepare, and most if not all will now make the information which was being given to their drivers via the radios available on the steering wheel. However it will be down to the drivers to make use of it while also juggling their brake, tyre and power unit temperatures and other pre-race preparations. No doubt a few ‘filming days’ were arranged over the summer break to help with this.

Track data: Spa-Francorchamps

Lap length 7.004km (4.352 miles)
Grand prix distance 308.052km (191.415 miles)
Lap record (in a race) 1’47.263 (Sebastian Vettel, 2009)
Fastest lap (any session) 1’44.503 (Jarno Trulli, 2009, qualifying two)
Tyre compounds Medium and Soft
2014 Rate the Race 7.76/10
2014 Driver of the Weekend Daniel Ricciardo

*Fastest lap set during a Grand Prix

Spa-Francorchamps track data in full

And it’s not as if all the teams were making perfect starts before. Lewis Hamilton has started the last three races from pole position but wasn’t leading any of them at the end of lap one. Williams mugged Mercedes at Silverstone and Ferrari did it at the Hungaroring.

Spa’s long run from La Source to Les Combes on lap one makes this an especially costly track to have a poor start at. Anyone who has a particularly poor getaway could even find themselves stuttering along in anti-stall mode while the rest of the field leaves them behind.

But however Sunday’s race unfolds, Spa is one of those rare venues where the sheer spectacle of the cars in action alone can more than make up for a processional race. TIt’s a track where “you feel that you’re really driving an F1 car”, enthused Daniil Kvyat. “It’s really long, really challenging, there are some proper fast sections and some properly balls out corners.”

Pirelli has selected its medium and soft tyre compounds for this race, which is the same as last year and also what was used for the previous race in Hungary. Although Spa’s many fast corners means the tyres experience considerably higher loadings around the lap than at the Hungaroring, temperatures at Spa tend to be cooler. And the weather in the Ardennes is notoriously unpredictable – another factor which could produce an exciting race.

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Belgian Grand Prix team-by-team preview


Mercedes were stung by their shock defeat in Hungary, not merely as they failed to win but because they failed to get either of their cars on the podium despite fair weather and no significant technical problems.

As Toto Wolff pointed out yesterday, they can’t afford to squander victory the way they did at this track 12 months ago as well, when Nico Rosberg needlessly clipped Hamilton at the start.

Red Bull

Despite Spa’s many long straights and the continued weakness of the Renault power unit – something which won’t be addressed until October at the earliest – Red Bull have some cause for optimism this weekend.

Hungary was by far the team’s best showing so far this year. The team is clearly making progress, and at Spa the cars spend enough time cornering for their downforce advantage to pay off. A splash of rain would only help their cause.


Williams can expect to be near the peak of its 2015 form at Spa, providing it doesn’t rain – the FW37, like its predecessor, seems to have a touch of hydrophobia. But the car is fleet on the straights and Valtteri Bottas made it onto the podium 12 months ago.


Mired in another difficult season and facing possible ejection from Ferrari, Kimi Raikkonen’s last best hope may be to pull a result out of the bag at a circuit where he traditionally excels and is a four-time race winner.


Off the back of their best result of the season so far in Hungary, where Fernando Alonso took fifth place, McLaren heads to Spa with an upgraded Honda power unit in its MP4-30s. They believe they’ve got on top of their reliability problems and they can now access more of the engine’s power. It’s a timely upgrade, with the ultra-fast Monza next on the schedule, but racing director Eric Boullier warned tracks like Spa “won’t play to our strengths” and the team will have to “wait for Singapore and beyond before we can see the fruits of our labours reflected on track”.

Force India

Force India had their day of days at Spa six years ago when Giancarlo Fisichella started on pole position and finished second. While the revised VJM08 seems a step forward Hungary brought a bitter blow of two component failures, one of which cost Nico Hulkenberg another points finish. The Hungaroring’s severe kerbs were blamed – any repeat of those problems this weekend would be intolerable.

Toro Rosso

On his first visit to Spa-Francorchamps last year Max Verstappen swept the board, winning all three of the European Formula Three races. Performances like that were what made him a must-have for Red Bull.

Not that Carlos Sainz Jnr isn’t handy here: he won both Formula Renault 3.5 races at Spa in 2014. So unfamiliarity with the circuit is not an excuse for either of this team’s rookies.


Lotus enjoyed one of their most competitive showings of the season so far at the low-downforce Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, so a solid points finish should be the target for the E23 duo this weekend.


This weekend Sauber’s Ferrari power unit will be upgraded to the specification the factory team has been using since Canada. But that may not be enough to leap them back into contention if they don’t make some progress on the aerodynamic front. Crucially, they have a track-specific wing kit ready for this weekend.


Manor are doing little more than marking time at the moment, though Spa is the kind of circuit which can produce an unpredictable result so both drivers will need to be ready to take advantage of any opportunity which may present itself.

2015 driver form

Driver G avg R avg R best R worst Classified Form guide
Lewis Hamilton 1.10 2.00 1 6 10/10 Form guide
Nico Rosberg 2.10 2.50 1 8 10/10 Form guide
Daniel Ricciardo 7.90 7.67 3 13 9/10 Form guide
Daniil Kvyat 9.60 7.63 2 12 8/9 Form guide
Felipe Massa 7.10 7.10 3 15 10/10 Form guide
Valtteri Bottas 6.40 6.56 3 14 9/10 Form guide
Sebastian Vettel 4.70 3.00 1 5 10/10 Form guide
Kimi Raikkonen 6.60 4.71 2 8 7/10 Form guide
Fernando Alonso 15.56 9.50 5 12 4/9 Form guide
Jenson Button 16.80 11.60 8 16 5/9 Form guide
Nico Hulkenberg 11.00 10.13 6 15 8/10 Form guide
Sergio Perez 12.60 10.11 7 13 9/10 Form guide
Max Verstappen 10.80 10.33 4 17 6/10 Form guide
Carlos Sainz Jnr 11.30 10.17 8 13 6/10 Form guide
Romain Grosjean 9.80 8.86 7 12 7/10 Form guide
Pastor Maldonado 11.20 10.75 7 15 4/10 Form guide
Marcus Ericsson 13.50 11.89 8 14 9/10 Form guide
Felipe Nasr 13.20 10.67 5 16 9/9 Form guide
Will Stevens 18.56 15.86 13 17 7/8 Form guide
Roberto Merhi 18.67 15.38 12 18 8/9 Form guide
Kevin Magnussen 17.00 0/0 Form guide

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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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25 comments on “Will new rules shake up the start at Spa?”

  1. As you say @keithcollantine drivers can get the clutch data from their screen so in principle nothing should change.

    Though I don’t understand why they need to be told tyre and brake temperatures by radio either.

    1. @lockup, as I understood it, they can also no longer calibrate the clutch from the pit wall, which could be significant if a car leaves the pits with what turns out to be a poorly set-up clutch.

      1. @adrianmorse they had to do that through the driver, because they’re not allowed remote control, but motorsport.com is quoting Pat Symonds saying it’s not a big deal, I see now.

        It’s a shame all this clever stuff goes on without our knowing anything about it.

    2. There are no changes allowed to the clutch after the car leaves the garage on race day. So what would be the point of showing clutch settings on the steering wheel?

  2. Is it me or is the FIA’s crusade to ban “techno-gimmicks” becoming pretty gimmicky?

    1. I agree. These cars are amazingly complex machines, and were designed to be run by a team. Forcing drivers to change protocols midway through a season is shortsighted. And for something as trivial and silly as reading their steering wheel readout versus hearing it on the radio is gimmicky.

  3. While in principle I don’t really have much of an issue with some of the restrictions been put on the information teams can tell there drivers I don’t really like the fact there doing a lot of it purely for the show.

    Also having read up on the new start regulations the actual procedure for the drivers when it comes to the launch will be as it was before so despite what some are saying the starts will be no more manual than they were to date. Also the drivers will still get the information they were getting before but on a display rather than via the radio so again nothing really changes.
    The only meaningful difference from what I can see is that the settings for the clutch bite point & stuff won’t be able to be changed once they leave the garage on route to the grid which just shift’s the pre-race clutch bite point find to qualifying (We saw Hamilton doing that before he got out the car in parc-ferme in Hungary).

    I’ve seen it said over the past few weeks in comments here that this final part could see drivers leaving the garage knowing they have settings wrong & are going to get a really bad start without been able to do much to change it & while that is maybe a valid concern I have another one & thats what happens if the weather changes? If everything is set based on a dry Saturday & it then rains are we going to have every car getting a pathetically bad start with just tons of wheelspin because the start modes are setup for lots of grip off the line in the dry or will the change of climactic conditions allow start modes to be changed?

    To be perfectly honest however I’m not really expecting a great deal to change in terms of what us fans see. Was the same when launch control & traction control were banned for 2004/2008, The belief was we would get more diverse starts with drivers making errors & pick up too much wheelspin which in the end didn’t really happen & there was no significantly noticeable difference from the LC/TC starts we had been used to before.

  4. F1 has lost its way. They (FOM, FIA, rich teams) know very much that they have screw up, in terms of sporting, technical and financial regulations. However neither Bernie, Todt nor the likes of Toto Wolff will admit that. Instead they are trying to fix this product by artificial ways (without drastically changing the three regulations which I mentioned above, that would have been admitting to blame). So we see double points, standing restarts, success ballast, one practice on Friday, artificial sparks, multiple races per weekend. Maybe some of them have good intentions but the effects are terrible as those artifical elements are cheapening the sport even more.

    I stopped giving modern F1 the benefit of doubt after Friday at Catalunya. What I saw was increasing Mercedes the gap (Ferrari threat not materalising), times slower than last year’s (a long way off 2-3s predicted improvements) and the field spread out even more than before. Sunday’s race basically confirmed F1’s bad state with all the issues (tyres, DRS, fuel saving, noise, lazy cars, uncompetitive etc etc) popping up.

  5. I was under the impression that the information that was banned via radio was equally banned via wheel-screen. It would make very little sense to ban something on the radio just to have it broadcasted to the screen.

    Can somebody confirm/deny this?

    1. I’m not sure either. The FIA/FOM do such a poor job communicating to their audience that even us hardcore fans don’t understand what they’re doing.

  6. Probably nitpicking, maybe I missed something – but I see that Bottas is 9/10 races, while Magnussen is 0/0. Since neither of them started the first race, should it be 9/9 or maybe 1/1, depending on how we count it? Or is the injury preventing a race start counted differently than the car braking down?

    1. I meant 0/1 for Magnussen as an option since he clearly didn’t finish.

  7. Hamilton will be in big trouble come Sunday afternoon. The drivers that have a superior understanding of the technical bits about the clutch will have an advantage such as Vettel and Rosberg, so from now on Hamilton can kiss goodbye to any title hopes that he have.

    1. How does knowing technical stuff about a clutch make you a better driver? In the real world millions of people drive cars without knowing anything about clutches or engines. Hamilton is a driver, is fast and can fix any mistakes he makes on track. His chances are a good as they were at the beginning of the season.

      1. Completely agree. Initial comment is misinformed and rather dumb. I also think There is no proof Hamilton doesn’t have any technical knowledge (not that he needs much or thqt it will change qnything). In fact after his brilliant start in Suzuka 2013, Grosjean was first to say how amazed he was at his engineer’s choice and how it just clicked and he didn’t have anything peculiar to do. Now it will be maybe more random, and the most a driver will be able to do is damage control when the engineer gets it wrong… Some will get it wrong and it will be put on the driver’s shoulder… But give it two or three races and they will all have it under control.

    2. We need to stop with the random labeling of drivers. Who says Hamilton understand less about the technical aspects of the car than Rosberg? It may be true, it may be not. No one outside the team knows them well enough for that.

      It reminds me of last year. So many people were so convinced that Rosberg was the “intelligent” one while Hamilton the “passionate” one, and how the fuel-saving regulations would give Rosberg’s “smart driving style” an advantage.

    3. Oh dear. The tired old theme of Hamilton not having a big enough brain to be a ‘thinking’ racing driver just won’t die will it?
      If you’re remotely interested in the truth (I suspect you’re not really), check what Paddy Lowe had to say about Hamilton’s technical ability to handle a faltering start procedure compared with Rosberg at the last test following the Merc’s getaway problems in Austria.

    4. And even if any of the Merc’s get a bad start, Spa is not Hungary they will be right back to the leaders in no time.

    5. Neon, if anything, I think that it will be Rosberg instead of Lewis that will have issues on Sunday afternoon. Since the new rules on team radio were introduced mid last year, Rosberg hasn’t been that good.

    6. Really? I’m no fan of Lewis (though I appreciate his talent), but he has thrived with these highly complex technical hybrid cars. He doesn’t chew his tyres to bits and is usually quite calm behind the wheel. Unlike his team mate, for example, who needs a lot of coaching.

      Anyone who bets against Lewis winning championship #3 at the end of the season is wasting their money.

  8. Ok let’s be honest. After about 2 or 3 races everything will go back to normal. Sometimes drivers will get good or bad starts that’s how it is. If something is going to permanently shake things up every time it needs to be bigger than this. What and when that will be is another matter.

  9. ColdFly F1 (@)
    19th August 2015, 17:19

    Quite impressive Spa record for the Toro Rosso drivers in 2014: 5 wins between them!
    Of course Vettel/Raikkonen have a total of 6 wins together, but it took them 10 years.

    1. GP wins vs feeder series win…

  10. @keithcollantine might want to change the Ferrari part now.

  11. What’s the betting that after all this build up, the race begins behind the safety car because of wet weather?

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