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

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.

The Belgian Grand Prix on F1 Fanatic

Join us to follow the action live throughout the Belgian Grand Prix weekend including the race, qualifying and all three practice sessions.

Before the race weekend starts look out for our unofficial race programme with quick links to all the important information.

We’ll have analysis of the times during Friday practice and extensive coverage of qualifying and the race.

Remember to keep an eye out for our “rate the race” feature after every Grand Prix and don’t forget to enter our predictions competition to win great prizes including F1 tickets, DVDs, paintings and books.

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2010 Belgian Grand Prix

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

  1. Ral (@ral) said on 23rd August 2010, 12:53

    I love Spa. But if Red Bull doesn’t qualify ahead of the McLarens or Ferraris, I think at the front the race might be over at corner 1 (barring any major mistakes or reliability issues of course). The Red Bulls might be faster through section two, but there isn’t much space there to overtake, so pretty much their only hope of overtaking is at the end of section two getting closer to the back throughout the section and then getting a ridiculous amount better drive out of Stavelot than the opposition. Whereas the McLarens in particular but the Ferraris as well, have two good chances: at the chicane before the start/finish and at the end of the Kemmel straight.

    I’m thinking the midfield battle will be more interesting for the race, with the Williams and Sauber getting better all the time, the Mercedes slowly slipping backwards and the Force India going up and down a bit it will be interesting to see who does the best job this weekend.

  2. Icthyes (@icthyes) said on 23rd August 2010, 13:01

    It’s going to be tight.

    Red Bull will probably lock out the front row, or Alonso might sneak into 2nd. Hamilton and Massa will contend for 4th or maybe 3rd if either has a stellar lap.

    If this happens, you’d expect Hamilton to make up one or two places by Les Combes, possibly more if he’s started 5th. It all comes down to what those places are. If he’s stuck behind a Red Bull or two going into Sector 2 it’ll be an ask to hang on until the long Sector 3, but if he can he’s in a prime spot for another place. After that the cars should be spaced out enough to prevent more overtaking by anyone.

    And then it’ll rain, probably ;-)

  3. Alastair said on 23rd August 2010, 13:04

    I’m off to SPA on Friday for the race! First time been to any other than the British GP – can’t wait!!!

    • bosyber said on 23rd August 2010, 13:30

      Have a lot of fun! I hope for you it doesn’t rain all the time – here in the south of the Netherlands we are having spells of sun and severe rain alternating – I wish you more of the sun bit :)

  4. bosyber said on 23rd August 2010, 13:32

    I think Ferrari should be real strong here, unless the FIA test change holds them back. But maybe McLaren have a new somewhat-flexy front wing now too. I have the feeling that Red Bull will lose too much in the speedy sectors, but I have been surprised about the bits around the diffuser they have before.

  5. renzo said on 23rd August 2010, 13:37

    I think that Red Bulls will be uncatchable in Spa. They will struggle a bit in the first sector but in the middle sector of the track I believe they will humiliate all the other cars

  6. Dipak T said on 23rd August 2010, 22:07

    People are plugging for either Red Bull or McLaren. But if there is a jack-of-all-trades car out theres it’s the Ferrari, and as much as it pains me to say it, I’d put Alonso down to win.

  7. I’m going to Spa on Thursday morning. Spa will be my first ever Grand Prix, although I’ve been a F1 fan for more than 10 years!

    I’ve been at the Spa track twice: I visited the track when there was a sports car owners day (somewhere in 2002 or 2003) and I went to the 2004 pit walk.

    I have a ticket for the Silver 1 grandstand at block G, close to the Gold 2 grandstand. Really looking forward to be there!

    • theRoswellite said on 24th August 2010, 17:12

      Fantastic, nothing like your first GP, hope you have good race.

      Back in the 70’s I was able to attend a couple of races at Long Beach…a fairly good track for taking photographs, as people would let you come into their apartment for, a couple of bucks, and shoot (or just watch) out the windows.

      I was young, just out of the military, and trying to break into the sports photo business (which didn’t work out). I can stll remember hanging out, as far as possible, from a couple of stories up…it was a spectacular angle, all most straight down. Somewhere I still have some old BW prints of Lauda and Schecter, which I was able to get autographed the following year.

      Hope you create some great memories, and hope you post them here.

      • Thanks theRoswellite!

        I can imagine it must have been a great time for you at Long Beach, unbelievable you just could get into these apartments for a few bucks!

        My plan is to upload some of my Spa pics to Flickr and of course share my experiences here :)

  8. DaveW said on 23rd August 2010, 22:33

    Given their likely speed advantage on the straights, I expect McLaren to run YellowG1 early on, as in Turkey, to put RBR under fuel pressure on this high consumption track. If RBR have to burn extra fuel to keep ahead on the straights, this could really hurt them. I can even see Button, by team strategy or his own habit, saving his fuel while Hamilton attempts to wear down the quarry. Ferrari is also a thirsty car, so I expect them also to see trouble if the race plays out this way. But overall its not clear if McLaren have found enough down force to permit them to exercise the top speed potential.

  9. tharris19 said on 23rd August 2010, 22:54

    The RB6 is the most flexible car on the grid with Ferrari a close second. The only hope for a McLaren podium is a bit of luck and balls out fight by Hamilton in setor one.
    The MP-25 may have potential but, potential has never won a race. I think it has turned into a put together piece of junk.

  10. US_Peter said on 23rd August 2010, 23:40

    So jealous of all of you that are going.

  11. Electrolite said on 23rd August 2010, 23:41

    I’m betting there’ll be August rainstorms all weekend and there’ll be one, long, epic Belgian race :P

  12. I wonder if the RB6 will take Pouhon flat?

    • dragon_2712 (@) said on 24th August 2010, 4:09

      Doubt it. I’d gladly be wrong, but if they take that first sweep in without lifting, I’m sure they’ll run wide.

  13. Well it’s tough to predict but I’m sure Red Bull will be strong. I just don’t know whether McLaren has improved their car to catch Red Bull and Ferrari or not. Renault is going to bring their F-duct in Spa and it will be a step forward for them as they already caught Mercedes. Williams, Sauber and Force India along with Renault were doing better than Mercedes in the last 2 races. I really doubt Mercedes will do anything special with Schumacher’s penalty and the fact that they don’t have a good car and Rosberg is going to fight Renaults and Willimas in both qualifying and the race(As a Mercedes fan I feel so disappointed). But all in all, I hope for an exciting race that we all enjoy.

  14. I think it’s obvious who is going to win… Kimi will casually turn up on race day in his Citroen WRC car, mumble a few words, take his 5th Spa win, do a couple of doughnuts then get drunk on the podium :p

  15. F1Fan said on 24th August 2010, 7:20

    Alonso should win this race. The F10 should have enough new things on the Spa package to partially cancel out the deficit to the RBR in the fast corners and then take advantage of the straights. I would not be surprised if Mercedes does well here too. But a lot depends on the weather.

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