Spa’s long straights offer hope to Red Bull’s rivals (Belgian Grand Prix preview)

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

After a four-week break, F1 bursts back into life at the stunning Spa-Francorchamps circuit.

The seven kilometre track in the Ardennes is a fabulous place to watch F1 cars at the peak of their performance. Which is why dozens of F1 Fanatic readers are making their way to Belgium this weekend.

Force India impressed here last year but this weekend all eyes will be on Red Bull who are expected to be strong on the fast track.

Spa-Francorchamps has several high-speed corners – so this should be a Red Bull walkover, right?

It’s true that the RB6 has been fearsomely quick through F1’s fastest corners so far this year. So it should eat bends like Pouhon, Fagnes and Stavelot for breakfast.

But its greatest weakness is its poor straight line speed. That’s partly a consequence of all that downforce, which brings with it a lot of drag, but also due to its Renault engine not being quite as powerful as the Mercedes or Ferrari.

Red Bull’s deficit in this area has always been most clearly exposed at tracks with long flat-out sections. Like Montreal, where the RB6s were 11.6kph slower than the fastest cars through the speed trap in qualifying.

Spa-Francorchamps, 2010 Belgian Grand Prix
Spa-Francorchamps, 2010 Belgian Grand Prix

Spa has two of the longest flat-out blasts on the calendar. In the first sector, the stretch from the La Source hairpin through Eau Rouge and up the hill to Les Combes takes 24 seconds. Then in sector three, the cars accelerate out of Stavelot around Blanchimont and on to the chicane without lifting for 20 seconds.

So the key question in practice will be whether Red Bull’s advantage through the twisty stuff will be great enough to cancel out that deficit. And what new parts they might have on the car to help them with that task.

Red Bull’s weakness on the straights is a McLaren strength. The MP4-25 also likes smoother circuits and so should be more at home at Spa than the Hungaroring. But expect Ferrari’s revitalised F10 to be the biggest threat to the Red Bulls.

However there is an X-factor this weekend: the new static load test being imposed by the FIA in response to the flexing observed on Red Bull’s front wing in recent races.

Technical director Adrian Newey has denied the Red Bull’s front wing will have to be changed as a result of the test. But that doesn’t mean that other parts on the car which may be contributing to the flexing – such as its splitter – won’t be affected.

Keep a close eye on the RB6’s front wing at the end of those long straights to see if it’s still moving as much as it was at the Hungaroring.

Spa is a great track for drivers and Sebastian Vettel was quick here last year, though he could only finish third in the race after losing ground at the start. Despite losing another likely win at the Hungaroring, he must be favourite ahead of this weekend’s race.

Drivers to watch

Four driver to keep an eye on this weekend. Name your top picks in the comments.

Michael Schumacher – Schumacher has a lot of history at Spa: he made his F1 debut, won his first race and final world championship at this track. But he arrives under a cloud, facing a ten-place grid penalty which could see him start from last place if he fails to qualify in the top 13. Encouragingly for him, the W01 went well at Catalunya and Silverstone.

Vitaly Petrov – Had his best performance of the year so far at the Hungaroring. How close will he be to his team mate at this drivers’ circuit?

Adrian Sutil – The Force Indias flew at Spa last year, though Sutil could not quite match the performance of team mate Giancarlo Fisichella. The VJM03 may not be quite as well-suited to Spa as its predecessor, but it is quick in a straight line. A good weekend could put Sutil ahead of Schumacher in the drivers’ championship.

Pedro de la Rosa – Has had more DNFs than anyone so far this year, largely down to car failures. But he finally brought the car home in the points at the Hungaroring. He’s usually out-qualified his attention-grabbing team mate too. The C29 is another car which has been at its best on quick tracks, so more points could be on offer this weekend.

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2010 Belgian Grand Prix

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Image (C) Force India F1 Team