Eight races in fourteen weeks; that’s the schedule now facing the F1 circus as battle is joined again and it gets back to work for the second half of the season, after the official summer break. It leaves hardly any time to pause for breath as the teams crisscross the globe from east to west.
However, before the final six “flyaways” we come to two of the most evocative and historic events on the calendar, starting with this weekend’s race at Spa-Francorchamps.
The objectives. For Scuderia Ferrari, the objectives for the hectic dash to the 2014 finish line are clear: to finish as high up the order as possible in the Constructors’ classification in which it is currently third and, given that the technical regulations are more or less unchanged for 2015, to use development of the F14 T to learn valuable lessons for next season. This weekend’s race in the Ardennes takes place on a track that often throws up surprises, because of its high speed nature, that sees cars run in low downforce configuration, so that even teams usually regarded as backmarkers can be in the mix. It means the current front-runners are not necessarily the odds-on favourites and in terms of the show, spectators usually get to witness a fiercely competitive weekend.
A track for real drivers. It is also true that the challenges posed by the 7.004 kilometre track tend to highlight the abilities of the most talented drivers, but strangely enough, in this case Fernando Alonso is the exception that proves the rule, as he has never won here, his best results being two second places in 2005 and again last year. But given the Spaniard’s incredible driving this year, nothing can be ruled out this weekend.
On the other hand, team-mate Kimi Raikkonen, with four wins in Belgium is the most successful of the current drivers, equal with Jim Clark, one win behind Ayrton Senna and two behind Michael Schumacher. “Spa is probably my favourite circuit because it’s an old-style track which climbs and drops through the forest and I like the fact it’s fast and flowing,” says the Finn. “Also, it usually provides good racing to watch for the spectators. I think you can make a difference as a driver at every part of the circuit, but as with every track, it’s a combination of factors.
At Turn 1, the hairpin, you can actually lose or gain a lot of time and you need good speed out of it because after it comes the very long straight including Eau Rouge. That corner has been easily flat out for quite a long time now, although actually, with this year’s cars, that might not be the case. Last time I drove here in a Ferrari (in 2009) I won, and that was in a year when we had been struggling since the start. But in Spa we managed to get things going a bit more in the right direction and it would be good if the same thing could happen this year. That would hopefully mean the racing would be a bit more fun. It’s always more fun when we get the results!”
The weather factor. Of course, no Spa preview can be complete without a nod to the weather: not only is rain a frequent player, but given the fact this is the longest track on the calendar, parts of the circuit can be bone dry and others wet, all adding to the unpredictable nature of the race, which means teams have to really be on top of every situation. Another effect of the long lap is that those who do the best job of managing the Energy Recovery Systems could reap the benefit of a performance advantage. All in all, Spa is a great way to end the holidays!