Round thirteen of the 2008 FIA Formula One World Championship takes theHonda Racing F1 Team to Spa-Francorchamps for the Belgian Grand Prix.The 44-lap race is one of the oldest on the calendar, having been staged forthe first time in the World Championship's inaugural season in 1950, and thetrack remains one of the fastest and most challenging in the world.
Over the years Spa-Francorchamps has been shortened from its original 14.9km(9.3-mile) length several times and the current configuration is 7.004km(4.352-mile) in length. This makes the track the longest on theF1 calendar and it retains much of its original character by following thenatural undulations of the Ardennes region of Belgium. The resultant fastand sweeping corners are among the F1 drivers' favourites.
Both of the Honda Racing F1 Team drivers have finished on the podium atSpa-Francorchamps before, most recently in 2005 when Jenson Button finishedthird in a rain-interrupted race. It was at this track in 1994 that RubensBarrichello scored his first pole position in Formula One.
SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS - THE TECHNICAL CHALLENGE
The layout of Spa-Francorchamps has remained largely unchanged for manyyears, so the teams have a great deal of technical data for the track,however this does not make it any less of a challenge.
The lap contains every type of corner, and combined with the long straights,requires a compromised aerodynamic set-up. Cars that are quick in sectortwo, the twisty middle section of the lap from Turn 5 to Turn 14, usuallyhave an advantage because they can then tune their downforce levels for thelong straights that dominate sectors one and three. If a car is strugglingthrough sector two, there is no choice but to put on more wing and that willaffect straightline speed.
Bridgestone are bringing their medium and hard rubber compounds for the raceand graining should not be an issue for any of the teams. Such is thehigh-speed nature of the track that it is one of the easiest circuits of theyear on brakes as well.
Eau Rouge is one of the most famous corners in the world, but has beencomfortably flat in top gear for F1 cars since the introduction of the2.4-litre V8 engines in 2006. However, the drivers have to be careful not toscrub off too much speed through the corner otherwise they will be slow upthe hill towards Les Combes.
Full throttle: 68% Brake wear: LowDownforce level: Medium - 5/10 Tyre compounds: Medium / Hard Tyre usage: MediumAverage speed: 230kph (143mph)
HONDA TEAM TALK
Ross Brawn, Team Principal
Q. How do you expect the RA108's recent upgrades to perform at the BelgianGrand Prix?"We made a significant step forward with the RA108 over the summer break,however we were not able to convert that potential into a strong qualifyingand race performance in Valencia which was disappointing. Our priority forthe Belgian Grand Prix weekend will be to optimise those performance stepsand improve our qualifying performance to give Jenson and Rubens the bestpossible chance of a good race result. Following last week's test in Monza,we will have developments to our braking system which should resolve theissues which Rubens faced in Valencia, in addition to a specific aerodynamicpackage for the medium downforce levels required at Spa."
Q. What challenges does the Spa-Francorchamps circuit present?"Spa is one of the great classic racing circuits and certainly one of myfavourites. The lap features some of the most interesting, fast andchallenging corners on the racing calendar which make it a great favouritefor the drivers, and also with the engineers because when you get the carright, you can really pick up a lot of time. To stand at Eau Rouge and watcha car go through that very fast corner, right on the limit, can still makethe hairs stand up on the back of your neck. The weather frequently plays arole at Spa and there is a great opportunity when bad weather strikes toachieve a surprise result. We have seen already this season that our car canperform rather better in the wet than the dry and I for one would certainlynot object to an inclement weekend."
Q. What are your thoughts ahead of the Belgian Grand Prix weekend?"All the drivers love going to Spa, and for me, it is one of the mostbeautiful circuits that we race on with fantastically green and lushsurroundings. For a driver, the circuit has one of those layouts which haseverything and gives you a real buzz to drive, just like Suzuka andSilverstone. Eau Rouge is a legendary corner and the feeling when you hitthe bottom of the hill, the car touches the ground and you shoot straightback up again is amazing. It's a crazy corner in the dry and even more so inthe wet. The weather can play a big part in the race weekend which is greatfor us as the car goes well in the wet. It can be raining at one end of thelap but completely dry at the other so you have to be ready and reactquickly to whatever the weather throws at you."
Q. After some technical problems in Valencia, are you confident of a morecompetitive showing in Belgium?"Our test in Monza last week was positive and we expect to have resolved thebraking problems which affected my weekend in Valencia. Spa is without doubtone of the best circuits on the calendar, and with the unpredictable weatherand the opportunities for overtaking, you always expect an entertainingrace. The lap gives you a fantastic feeling in a Formula One car as it isvery fast and flowing with some great corners.It's easy on the tyres, brakes and engine as there are an unusually lownumber of stops from top speed down to a low gear and you have a long timebetween those corners to cool the brakes. The car is set-up with a mediumdownforce package, similar to Montreal specification, but you have to keepyour options open if the weather turns when you will need to go to higherdownforce. Spa is also the longest lap on the calendar so you need to beprecise on your timing in practice and qualifying tomake the most of your track time." LAP OF THE TRACK with Alex Wurz
"Spa-Francorchamps is an old fashioned racetrack which makes it pretty cool.It has everything you want: hills, fast corners and long straights. It isalways nice to go there, although the weather can be really unpredictable.In the space of 10 minutes bright sunshine can turn into heavy rain, whichmakes racing at Spa a little bit more nerve-racking and difficult.
"The lap is incredibly long and on the whole very fast. There is only ashort run down to the first corner, La Source, and the exit is the onlything that matters here because you carry your speed all the way up the hillto Les Combes. Eau Rouge is flat-out in the V8-engined cars, but you have tobe intelligent in the way you do this. If you steer too much, you'll killyour speed through too much friction on the tyres.
"You're flat in seventh on the straight to Les Combes and you don't brakeuntil you get to the end of the kerbing on the left, which is about 60metres. This is a right-left-right complex and it's all inter-linked, so youcan't overdo it on the first right-hander, which is taken in third gearbecause that will ruin your line for the next two corners. If you do, youwill lose a minimum of 0.5s.
"On the run down to the Rivage hairpin, Turn 8, we reach fifth gear beforeslowing down to second gear for the corner. It's super slippery through hereand there's a monster bump under braking, which makes it difficult to slowthe car. Whatever you do with the set-up, you'll have understeer throughhere. The exit is slightly off-camber, and without traction control you willsee the drivers fighting the rear of the car the whole time.
"Turn 9 is a pretty fast left-hander, taken in fourth gear. You touch thebrake only to stabilise the rear, before turning in and using the kerbs atthe apex and the exit. The limit of the car comes quite abruptly and there'shardly any run-off, so you have to be very careful not to overdo it.
"Next up is Pouhon, a super-fast double apex left-hander. You arrive insixth gear and in qualifying you have just a little brake and ahalf-throttle lift. I think it's one of the hardest corners on the lapbecause you're constantly exploring the limits of the car and although youhave a minimum apex speed of about 230kph (143mph), you still think you cancarry more speed through it every lap.
"Then there's a short straight before you arrive at the Fagnes chicane,where there's a very late apex to the right-hander. The asphalt has a lot ofgrip and you can use the kerbs, so you can carry a lot of speed throughhere. Another short straight follows before you arrive at Turn 14, which isa slippery corner and it's very important to have a good exit because you'reflat-out all the way back to the Bus Stop. It's a third-gear corner and youuse every inch of kerbing on the exit.
"You go flat through the left-hander at Blanchimont and arrive at the BusStop chicane, which was re-done in 2006 and is now much slower. You go for alate apex on the right-hander and you're then battling poor traction at theexit. I preferred the old Bus Stop, where the second exit was just flat andyou were jumping towards the guardrail. That was cool!"