August 30th, 2012 (F1plus / Chris Cameron-Dow).- The mid-season break is finally over, and there could be no better place to celebrate a return to Formula One action than Spa-Francorchamps.
The circuit is one of the oldest in motor racing, having been opened in 1921. It featured on the calendar of the first Formula One season in 1950, and remains a firm favourite with teams, drivers and spectators due to its high-speed, challenging layout and picturesque setting in the Ardennes region of Belgium.
Over the years, the track has, like so many other great tracks around the world, undergone significant changes for reasons of safety. The original circuit was 15km long and ludicrously fast. Today's F1 cars would probably lap the original layout at average speeds close to 300km/h.
The current layout is the longest on the F1 calendar at 7.004km and, despite being much shorter than the original, has retained the essential character that made the previous layouts so appealing. Watching Formula One cars defy the forces of nature to blast at full-throttle into Eau Rouge and up through Raidillon is breathtaking, and that is only the beginning of the lap. The sweeping curves of the middle sector, followed by the enormously fast Blanchimont left-hander before the Bus Stop chicane, ensure that every lap of this majestic track is thrilling to watch.
The only downside to the Belgian Grand Prix is that it happens but once a year.
300 races for Schumi
Michael Schumacher celebrates his 300th Grand Prix this weekend at the circuit he describes as his “living room”. His description is apt, as Spa was the scene of Schumacher's first F1 race, his first win, and his seventh World Championship title in 2004. He also holds the record for most wins at Spa, with six.
The Mercedes W03 should be well-suited to the fast, flowing Spa circuit, and so Schumacher will be hoping to add to his impressive CV with a good result. In the 2011 race, he started last and finished fifth in one of the more impressive drives of his comeback. Another performance like that could see the illustrious German on the podium, or perhaps even challenging for victory.
Pirelli are providing their hard and medium compound tyres for the race.
Tyres, and tyre temperatures in particular, have played a significant role in determining results so far this season, and Spa is likely to be no exception, but the high-speed nature of the track should at least make it fairly straightforward to get the tyres up to operating temperature.
Lotus are long overdue a victory, and are well poised to strike at Spa. With their new, more efficient DRS likely to be raced, qualifying performance should be improved, and then the car's already impressive race pace can take care of the rest.
Kimi Raikkonen has won four out of his last five Belgian Grands Prix, which makes him the favourite to take the Lotus team's first win of the season.
Circuit Length: 7.004 km
Corners: 19 (some sources count 20)
Race laps: 44
Race length: 308.052 km
Lap Record: 1:45.108 – Kimi Raikkonen / McLaren (2004)
Race winner: Sebastian Vettel / Red Bull
Pole position: Sebastian Vettel / Red Bull – 1:48.298
Fastest lap: Mark Webber / Red Bull – 1:49.883
− The circuit is so long that it is not uncommon to have bright sunshine and heavy rain at different parts of the track at the same time.
− Ferrari have won the race 16 times, more than any other team.
− Championship leader Fernando Alonso has never won at Spa, although his team-mate Felipe Massa took victory in 2008.
Some rain is expected on Friday, but the rest of the weekend is forecast to be dry and sunny. However, sudden unpredictable weather changes are in the nature of Spa, which will doubtless have an effect on the weekend.