Formula 1 returns from its summer break and sets up shop in the Ardennes forest this weekend for the Belgian Grand Prix. That means these 2017 beasts will be tackling my favourite circuit on the calendar, Spa-Francorchamps.
The famous 7 km ribbon of tarmac is one of the most demanding circuits in the world with some of the most recognisable corners in motor racing. While it has changed over the years, it remains an icon of Formula 1, and will pose a lot of challenges to the 20 drivers who will attempt to tame it this weekend.
Turn 1, La Source, can be a place to slip through, though the short pit straight makes it difficult. Still, the heavy braking and tight angle opens the door. With the high downforce of modern cars we have seen some incredibly brave wheel-to-wheel action through Raidillon and Eau Rouge as well.
However, the best overtaking spot of the lap comes at the top of the Kemmel Straight going into the Les Combes trio of corners. The DRS zone, along with the fact that these cars aren’t touching the brake pedal from La Source all the way up to turn 7, creates a lot of speed differential and some dramatic overtaking opportunities. There is also a chance for a lot of wheel-to-wheel action all the way from turn 7 to 11, where the narrow left kink forces single file racing, and Pouhon can be unforgiving to those that get off line.
The next chance for overtaking is a dive into Stavelot, but there is a gravel trap waiting, making it very risky. From turn 16 down to the new Bus Stop at 19 is flat out, and while Blanchimont requires precision, Max Verstappen has shown the brave can still find a way past.
The heavy braking into 19 is the other main overtaking point, however the switch-back of 20 limited the angles of attack.
Spa throws up some unique challenges. It’s an incredibly long track that can kill tyres in qualifying if drivers are too aggressive early in the lap. It also has a nasty habit of raining over some sections of the track and not others.
Usually just 44 laps, the Belgian Grand Prix is always a strategic nightmare for teams. Leaving a driver out a lap too long is more costly here than anywhere else, which means the pit wall is never quiet.
The choices teams have made when it comes to tyres this weekend are wildly different. Mercedes have gone more conservative with Lewis Hamilton, taking four of the hardest available compound, while the Red Bulls have been extremely attacking, limiting themselves when it comes to race day but putting a few more bullets in their chamber for Saturday’s qualifying session.
We have seen the ultrasoft tyre last for 20+ laps at some circuits this year, but around Spa getting ten good laps out of it will be tricky. A stoppage last year took away one pit stop from the teams, but this is going to be a two stop race, with anyone starting on the ultrasofts likely to head in very early. The supersofts are likely to be the superior race tyre, but the practice sessions will be vital in discovering the wear rates.
Which strategy do you think will work better at Spa, Mercedes’ conservative approach or Red Bull’s aggression? Where do you expect to see the most overtakes? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!
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