Last time around La Source? Five Belgian GP talking points

2022 Belgian Grand Prix

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After almost a month without racing, Formula 1 reconvenes at Spa-Francorchamps for one of the highlights of the grand prix calendar – the Belgian Grand Prix.

This season’s race at the iconic seven-kilometre circuit will look very different as the track has received a major facelift to improve safety. But will it also prove to be the last race held at one of series’ most popular venues? There are serious doubts the track will reappear on the 2023 F1 calendar.

Have Ferrari solved their strategy woes?

If Ferrari are to have any faint hope of somehow trimming Max Verstappen’s championship lead in the final nine rounds of the season, every race weekend has effectively become a must-win.

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, Hungaroring, 2022
It will have been a long summer for Ferrari
The pace of their car has been strong throughout the first part of the year, but both Ferrari and Charles Leclerc have thrown away too many points. In Paul Ricard, Leclerc hung his head in shame after a costly crash. But at the Hungaroring, Ferrari’s strategists dropped the ball in the latest in a series of head-scratching decisions.

Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto has regularly defended his team’s calls – perhaps unsurprisingly – but the team now has to show it has spent its summer break learning from its mistakes and will be able to put Leclerc in positions to consistently win races, not take him out of them.

Of course, this is reliant on them managing to outpace Verstappen and keep the Red Bulls behind them on track – no easy task. But this is the hole Ferrari have dug themselves into over the first 13 races. Even if this season is indeed lost, then galvanising as a team over the final leg ready for a fresh assault in 2023 becomes paramount.

A new look to an old classic

Spa-Francorchamps has undergone major changes since Formula 1 departed last August following the non-event of a ‘race’ that took place last year. Happily, the actual track layout remains virtually untouched, with work focused on making the circuit safer and allow it to host motorcycle racing once again.

Track changes at Eau Rouge and Raidillon, Spa-Francorchamps, 2022
Spa has undergone extensive work for this season
For this weekend’s grand prix, the biggest change drivers will find is the vastly increased run off at Raidillon, with the old banked verge on the outside of the sweeping corner removed, allowing for the tyre barriers to be pushed back and an impressive new grandstand added. Thankfully, the corner itself remains unchanged and the Eau Rouge sequence should be just as awe-inspiring as ever.

As the debate over asphalt run-offs and gravel traps lingers on, Spa has taken the bold but not unwelcome step of adding gravel traps back to the outside of a number of corners, including turn one at La Source and the right hand hairpin of Bruxelles. Later on in the lap, Blanchimont has had its run-off extended and its outside tyre barrier moved further back, which should help to reduce impact speeds of cars that head off at the fastest corner on the circuit.

With Spa having come under criticism from drivers and paddock figures alike following a spate of very serious and even deadly accidents, these important renovations should keep the racing quality high while reducing the risks for drivers.

Tyre supplier Pirelli took advantage of last month’s 24-hour race at the track to collect some useful data, explained its motorsport director Mario Isola. “Drivers will need to pay more attention to track limits, and there’s also an increased chance of sharp gravel being dragged onto the surface,” he said. “The epic nature of Spa remains unchanged though, with all the traditional challenges that make the circuit so exciting still in place.”

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New power units for power circuits

The Belgian Grand Prix is not just the first race back for the second leg of the season, but the first of a triple header of races spanning the Belgian, Dutch and Italian rounds of the championship.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Hungaroring, 2022
Both Mercedes are yet to use their third ICE
Two of those rounds – Spa and Monza – are likely the most power-dependent tracks on the calendar. For those with the advantage of not currently using their total allocation of internal combustion engines – including both Red Bull drivers and nearly all Mercedes-powered cars, bar Lando Norris’ McLaren – it would not be surprising to see many of them opt to take their third and final power units of the season ready for two of the most demanding power circuits of the season.

Norris is not the only one who does not have the luxury of taking a fresh engine without incurring a penalty. Esteban Ocon, Pierre Gasly, Zhou Guanyu and Mick Schumacher are all on their third ICEs of the championship and will receive a grid penalty the moment they opt to take a fourth. Everyone else on the grid – including both Ferraris, Fernando Alonso, Yuki Tsunoda, Valtteri Bottas and Kevin Magnussen – have already breached their allocation and been punished for it.

Will Red Bull’s top speed advantage give them the edge?

Throughout the 2022 season, Red Bull have enjoyed a slim but significant edge over Ferrari when it comes to their maximum velocity at the end of straights. Ferrari have done well to chip away over the course of the season so far, but the slippery RB18 remains the quickest car in a straight line, clocked at four km/h faster than any other car in the speed trap at Paul Ricard.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Paul Ricard, 2022
Red Bull were 4km/h quicker than the field in France
Despite its many winding corners, Spa remains among the very fastest circuits on the calendar. The stretch between exiting La Source through to Les Combes remains one of the longest unbroken full throttle sections on the calendar. It is also one of the two main overtaking opportunities around the lap, the second being into the Bus Stop chicane.

With the added benefit of DRS if within a second of the car ahead and this year’s cars allowing for drivers to run closer than ever before, not even beating Verstappen to pole position may be enough for Leclerc on Sunday if Verstappen can simply slipstream his way passed the Ferrari in the opening laps.

The last Belgian Grand Prix?

The thrill of arriving in Belgium for one of the drivers’ favourite races of the season is tainted with sadness this year as, once again, the future of Formula 1 at Spa-Francorchamps is in serious question.

Antonio Giovinazzi, Alfa Romeo, Spa-Francorchamps, 2021
This could be the last grand prix in Belgium
With the demand to host rounds of the world championship higher than it has ever been, Spa’s place on the calendar is in a perilous position with a wealth of new venues joining the championship, leaving Formula 1 seriously considering whether the popular circuit is as lucrative as races in Saudi Arabia, Las Vegas, Qatar or even South Africa at Kyalami.

FOM want every grand prix to have a marquee feel, with races having a similar buzz around them as the inaugural Miami Grand Prix held early this season. Spa does not match the commercial appeal of some of the sports’ newest events and it remains among the most likely candidates to be scrapped in order to make room for new races in the seasons ahead.

Fans at Spa may have feel rightly aggrieved to have missed out on a race here last year, but those that attend this weekend must make the most of the experience while they can. It might be the last time Spa hosts Formula 1 for quite some time.

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Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...

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19 comments on “Last time around La Source? Five Belgian GP talking points”

  1. If it’s the last one (And it will be for a long time before we return to here) lets finish it with rain! Spa and Rain is always great as long it’s porring just a drizzel.

    1. euh NOT porring just a drizzel

    2. Yes, would be nice, but as I recall there’s been plenty of dry races lately with only a would-be wet race last year (honestly my preferred conditions, heavy rain), so I’m not optimist on it happening.

  2. Spa is literally the final frontier to me just cutting my balls off and joining Greta Thunberg’s band of merry tramps.

  3. Have Ferrari solved their strategy woes? – Hopefully.
    A new look to an old classic – Which, I don’t mind, but adding gravel at the last chicane exit would’ve also been good.
    New power units for power circuits – Very possible, especially for the ones who can still move to unused components penalty-freely, although others could equally do the same.
    Will Red Bull’s top speed advantage give them the edge? – Possible & referencing the last paragraph ending, in a scenario of Max starting from P2, he might do a Seb a la 2013 race opening lap within the La Source-Les Combes portion.
    The last Belgian Grand Prix? – Very likely as literally the only ways for Spa-Francorchamps to fit in next season’s schedule are either only one from the Kyalami-Shanghai duo appearing or neither.

  4. Jelle van der Meer (@)
    23rd August 2022, 9:04

    “Everyone else on the grid – including both Ferraris, Fernando Alonso, Yuki Tsunoda, Valtteri Bottas and Kevin Magnussen – have already breached their allocation and been punished for it.”

    Is that the case for Leclerc? Didn’t Ferrari add multiple engines and parts to Leclerc’s poule in Canada by changing them between multiple sessions. So yes he exceeded the maximum but already has taken the penalties for that in Canada, he should have a barely used engine available from his poule without getting a penalty.

    1. Jelle van der Meer (@)
      23rd August 2022, 9:06

      Ignore misread what was written. Question then remains how fresh Sainz engine is as I believe he only had 1 engine added while Leclerc had 2 added to his poule.

  5. In this day and age were still using gravel traps, beaches and flips cars that then need to be tractored out, rips bikes apart and can injure riders along with “increased chance of sharp gravel being dragged onto the surface”.
    Knowing that this could be the last race there, that could be replaced by a street circuit (car park) with celebs doing selfies next to just says to me that F1 is playing to the latest fad crowd, and like any fad the Netflix and `in crowd` will move on to the next one and F1 will be there wondering what went wrong.

    1. I think at low speed corners gravel traps are a far better solution than asphalt which just encourages drivers to risk more as there is no penalty when running wide. The risk of flipping at low speed is very minimal and even if they flip at low speed it is unlikely to cause an issue. I don’t care if a driver gets beached and is out, it’s a fair penalty for them making a mistake.

      I personally don’t care about what happens to motorcycles using the track as I’m a fan of F1, maybe they need to come up with a solution for when hosting motorcycle races rather than neutering tracks for them specifically. Too many circuits have been spoiled in order to cater for motorcycles which frankly shouldn’t be racing on the same tracks as cars if you’re very serious about safety anyway as both have very different safety requirements given the nature of the vehicles.

      1. But a beached car just leads to a safety car (maybe that’s why there on the increase so TV can go to ad breaks?) and less cars in the race, I like to see cars pushing the envelope and squeezing every last ounce out of the driver, but some will say thats what makes a great driver, but I dont believe for a second that a driver approaches both types of the corner the same, gravel just leads to a conservative approach to corners. And if the car does get back on the track its littered with gravel that can affect a car that had nothing to do with the car going off.
        A car going wide maybe gains a second, why not that every time a car goes over track limits just add 1 second to there finishing time, get a total of say 10 seconds and it a drive through with the 10 seconds wiped, do the same again and its a stop and go, just spitballing there but you get the point

        1. Doh, gains a second lol, should cause be a few tenths.

        2. I get the point but I don’t think losing a second is an adequate penalty for leaving the track at the pinnacle of motorsport. The answer there is corners should have fixed cranes to remove a beached car without needing to send a tractor on track except in the odd case. Too many cars get away with spinning out these days where as in the past their race would have ended.

  6. I would love IndyCar to race on the legendary European tracks that F1 will or has already abandoned.

    IndyCar at Spa?? Epic WIN! Obviously the likelihood of that happening is slim to none as of now. Oh well. They did race at Brands Hatch, so nothing is impossible.

    1. petebaldwin (@)
      23rd August 2022, 11:17

      It would be an absolutely incredible move by Indycar to do a deal with Spa. They’d get huge viewing figures and it would expose Indycar to a much bigger market. I don’t know how the logistics would work but I’d certainly be looking into it if I was responsible for creating their calendar.

      1. Then we will see if they have the same downforce levels as F1 as the Indycars will go full throttle up from Eau Rouge to Raidillon.

  7. Well if Spa can only remain on the calendar if China and South Africa don’t make it. It’s very easy to wish ill will upon China and South Africa.

    Miami breaks with what is considered traditional European motorsport fandom. Camping, BBQs, parties, building your own stages at N24.
    It’s a tradition that can’t be monetized and therefore it has to be ended.
    Western Europa loses another GP, coincidentally the region with the highest concentration of F1 fans.

  8. Replacing asphalt run-offs with gravel traps is a terrible idea for open-wheel racing.

  9. I think gravel traps are a topic like refuelling – most people are very much one way or the other!

    I don’t think every track should or shouldn’t use them entirely, but I think they definitely have a place at most tracks. Having every corner that can be exceeded easily gives a track limits problem if there is just more runoff, and that’s really not great for spectators when people are getting time penalties for everything. Going beyond the limits of the track should be punished by it not being faster ideally.

    Put it this way, from a safety point of view. The runoff areas are designed for the track surface and the limits of that. If you allow people to run as wide off the track as they like (like they do in NASCAR at Watkins Glen for example), then the adequacy of that runoff to do its job is totally negated because cars will be going much faster, and with less available space to deal with any accident that may occur.

    The whole track limits thing is a mess and I don’t think anyone is a fan of that style of ‘oh, 4 warnings, now you have a 5 sec time penalty’ etc.. Maybe if they had a penalty loop in the track that would work so it could be served immediately, but how practical is that for most circuits?

  10. If Spa is taken off the calendar in favour of adding Las Vegas, Miami and Saudi, then Domenicali should hang his head in shame. A disgrace in a 23/24 race calendar. They should remove Paul Ricard before Spa but preferably neither.

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