Belgian Grand Prix Preview

Round 11: The Belgian Grand Prix. Read on for my preview to the race.

Rising from it’s summer slumber, F1 is back and this time travelling to Spa-Franchorchamps. The longest track on the calendar, and the venue for one of last year’s most controversial moments, but what will this year’s race have in store? 

For a start, the race marks the end of the summer holiday for the Formula One paddock as the summer shut down finishes, the garage doors roll up and the cars roll back out on to the sacred tarmac. The summer shut down may be vital for the teams as it provides the mechanics, technicians and management a chance to recharge and spend time with their families but it leaves the fans hanging in anticipation for the next race. And Belgium comes to the call of the fans, as one of the most popular venues on the calendar prepares to host it’s annual round.

Spa-Franchorchamps is one of the sports historic venues having been a regular fixture on the F1 calendar since the inaugural season. But that has not stopped other venues such as Zolder from hosting the countries Formula One race before. However Spa has held it’s own place in the hearts of many thanks to it’s challenging and demanding nature set in the Ardennes mountains.

Spa-Franchorchamps circuit - copyright: FormulaOne.com

The circuit has many famous features none less significant than turn three, Eau Rouge. The corner that translates to red river, named after the water flow that crossed the circuit here, is one of the most challenging corners on the F1 calendar as drivers change elevation and direction in a short flick of the steering wheel. The braver the driver, the more likely they are to take the famous corner flat out or if they dare, attempt to overtake into the corner and hope to still be on track once they hit turn four at the top of the hill.

The opening and final sectors long straights will allow the faster packages to shine through while the middle sector allows aerodynamics to take centre stage. Meaning both Mercedes powered teams and even the Red Bulls alike will have their benefits at the race.

But unless the new start procedures coming in from this race cause Mercedes to struggle off the line again and allow a potential Ferrari in front from the lights, the win should go to either of the Silver Arrows.

That new start procedure may not have too much effect on some teams like Ferrari who are more comfortable with their pre-set clutch bite points, which has in the past allowed them to shoot off the line. Whereas Mercedes seem to have a slightly wider bite-point range which is causing them issues when getting away at the lights.

Now the new start procedure will mean as soon as the driver leaves the garage for the race, they can not make any more changes to the car’s clutch bite point other than change the mode on the steering wheel. Previously, a driver could go out and do a bite point find, talk to his engineer and make the necessary changes before testing it at the start of the formation lap. Instead, the driver can feed back the information when he arrives on the grid after leaving the garage, but he will only be able to get advice such as “If this happens, go to this mode, if it stays the same as the last launch, keep it in that mode.”

Spa-Francorchamps, Pouhon corner - Copyright Nic Redhead

With this race coming after the summer break, some drivers will be returning with a score to settle or further cement their position in the team and in the championships.

Hamilton will be returning to his cockpit in the lead of the drivers championship from Rosberg and Vettel, with the German in the Italian outfit an outsider in the championship scrap. But Vettel is the leading contender should the Mercedes duo have any squabbles like we saw this time last year.

Lewis and Nico are also in a league of their own when it comes to Saturday’s with both of them, the only drivers yet to fail and make it all the way to Q3 and fight for pole. But the pole position trophy so far looks like it will be swapping hands from Rosberg to Hamilton with the Brit leading his team-mate 9-1. But for race wins, the fight is a bit closer with Hamilton leading Nico 5-3. Rosberg actually only has one more win than Vettel who deservedly won in Malaysia & Hungary and met the pre-season expectations of Ferrari boss, Maurizio Arrivabene.

Spa Francorchamps in the mist - Copyright: Paul D'Ambra

Looking forward at what’s to come based on what has already happened, McLaren and Honda are planning on bringing a stronger and more competitive power unit to the Belgian Grand Prix. Honda’s motorsport chief Yasuhisa Arai, has been speaking to Autosport ahead of the next round and has said that their new engine is much better than Renault’s and should bring their power output closer to that of Ferrari’s.

Arai told Autosport: “Mk 3 [will be introduced] in Spa [and] we have already started development on next season’s power unit. Mk 4 will be on the same level as Mercedes, that is the target; Mk 3 will be on a level similar to Ferrari, which is what we’re aiming for. It’s a big step.”

If you wish to watch Honda’s upgraded engine in use at the 2015 Belgian Grand Prix, round 11 of the championship will be broadcasted live in England on Sky Sports and the BBC. TV and radio coverage for the weekend kicks off this Thursday.

Thursday August 20
14:00 – Drivers’ Press Conference – Live (SkySportsF1)
20:45 – Paddock Uncut (SkySportsF1)
21:00 – Classic Races – Belgium 1985 (SkySportsF1)
21:00 – Preview (BBC Radio 5 Live)

Friday August 21
08:45 – Belgian GP Practice One – Live (SkySportsF1)
08:45 – Belgian GP Practice One (BBC Two)
11:00 – GP2 Practice – Live (SkySportsF1)
12:45 – Belgian GP Practice Two – Live (SkySportsF1)
12:45 – Belgian GP Practice Two (BBC Two)
14:50 – GP2 Qualifying – Live (SkySportsF1)
16:00 – Team Principals’ Press Conference (SkySportsF1)
17:00 – The F1 Show – Live (SkySportsF1)

Saturday August 22
08:45 – GP3 Qualifying – Live (SkySportsF1)
09:45 – Belgian GP Practice Three – Live (SkySportsF1)
09:55 – Belgian GP Practice Three (BBC Two)
12:00 – Belgian GP Qualifying – Live (SkySportsF1)
12:10 – Belgian GP Qualifying (BBC Two)
15:35 – GP2 Feature Race – Live (SkySportsF1)
16:15 – GP3 Race One – Live (SkySportsF1)
18:25 – Ted’s Qualifying Notebook (SkySportsF1)

Sunday August 23
08:20 – GP3 Race Two – Live (SkySportsF1)
09:30 – GP2 Sprint Race – Live (SkySportsF1)
11:30 – The 2015 Belgian GP – Track Parade – Live (SkySportsF1)
12:00 – The 2015 Belgian GP – Pit Lane – Live (SkySportsF1)
12:10 – The 2015 Belgian GP – Race (BBC One)
12:30 – The 2015 Belgian GP – Race – Live (SkySportsF1)
13:00 – The 2015 Belgian GP – Race (BBC Radio 5 Live)
15:30 – The 2015 Belgian GP – Paddock Live (SkySportsF1)
15:30 – The 2015 Belgian GP – Forum (BBC Red Button)
18:30 – Belgian GP highlights (SkySportsF1)
19:30 – Ted’s Race Notebook (SkySportsF1)
19:45 – Classic Races – Japan 1989 (SkySportsF1)