Time for Vettel’s title rival to step up

2013 Belgian Grand Prix preview

Mark Webber, Red Bull, Spa-Francorchamps, 2012The spirit of real racing is alive at Spa-Francorchamps. This is a circuit of wickedly fast corners, daunting rises and crests, and a capricious climate waiting to catch the drivers out.

Two years ago the severity of the challenge posed by Spa proved too much for the tyres on some cars, which showed signs of damage under the high loads. The two Red Bulls and Lewis Hamilton’s McLaren were among those affected.

Fortunately the race, during the first year of Pirelli’s stint as official F1 tyre supplier, passed without incident. And there was no repeat of the problems last year.

However the spate of failures seen at Silverstone this year has raised concerns about tyre safety again. This will be the second race with the revised tyres which Pirelli introduced in Hungary.

“I think for this weekend coming all the teams will be on a reasonable degree of alert,” said McLaren managing director Jonathan Neale.

He indicated that some teams had been running their tyres outside Pirelli’s recommended camber and pressure limits, which also contributed to the problems in 2011: “There are high loads at Spa and Pirelli are being rightly cautious about making sure that the teams operate within certain restrictive windows on tyre pressure and we’re supportive of that process.”

Spa-Francorchamps information

Lap length 7.004km (4.352 miles)
Distance 44 laps (308.1km/191.4 miles)
Lap record* 1’47.263 (Sebastian Vettel, 2009)
Fastest lap 1’44.503 (Jarno Trulli, 2009)
Tyres Hard and Medium

*Fastest lap set during a Grand Prix

Spa-Francorchamps track data in full

As usual the teams will have the hardest compounds available – hard and medium – for this race.

In a change from last year a second DRS zone has been added on the start/finish straight. A lot of overtaking seemed to take place in the DRS zone last year, so this may serve to make it even easier. But it’s doubtful whether one DRS zone is needed on a track which offers as many long straights as Spa, let alone two.

When compared to the featureless cookie-cutter dross which has appeared on the calendar in recent year’s it’s no surprise the drivers talk about this track with genuine enthusiasm and affection.

It’s here the second half of the contest for the 2013 world championships will begin. Sebastian Vettel stole a march on his rivals in the first half: now the question is whether any of them can emerge from the chasing pack and put him under pressure over the remaining nine rounds.

Belgium Grand Prix team-by-team preview

Red Bull

Vettel has been on the podium at three of the last four Belgian Grands Prix: the exception was 2010, when he collided with Button. That incident highlighted a defining trait of the recent generation of Red Bulls: while they revel in Spa’s high-speed corners, their straight-line speed deficiency presents problems for overtaking.

At Spa Vettel usually tries to solve that problem by getting a quick run out of Blanchimont and passing into the chicane. That’s exactly what he was trying to do in 2010 when it all went wrong, but during an excellent run to second last year he showed he’d finally nailed it. Don’t rule out a repeat of his 2011 win.

Ferrari

Fernando Alonso, Ferrari, Hungaroring, 2013Ferrari head into the weekend determined to bounce back from a pair of disappointing races before the summer break. Team principal Stefano Domenicali dismissed speculation about future changes to their driver line-up, whether the subject of it is Fernando Alonso or the still-underperforming Felipe Massa: “We have spelt it out many times before: the driver topic is definitely not a priority,” he said.

“What counts is to give them the best possible chance of finishing ahead of everyone and, in order to succeed, each and every one of us must do our job to the best of our ability on all levels. If they have a winning car in their hands, then I am convinced they will know how to win with it. ”

McLaren

Before the break Jenson Button said he was confident about how the team would perform at Spa and even raised the possibility of getting the MP4-28 onto the podium for the first time. That may prove a little optimistic but Hungary showed the team have finally started to make progress with their car.

Lotus

Kimi Raikkonen, Lotus, Catalunya, 2013Spa expert Kimi Raikkonen is hunting is fifth victory on the Belgian track. The E21 has been in great shape in recent races and if they can get their straight-line speed boosting Drag Reduction Device working it could be enough to tip the balance in his favour.

Team mate Romain Grosjean merely needs to complete the first lap without hitting anyone to improve on his Spa record. As well as triggering a notorious crash last year which saw him receive a one-race ban, he was also involved in a crash at the start of the 2009 race.

Mercedes

This race will give a further sign whether Mercedes can emerge as credible rivals to Red Bull in the second half of the season. The raw speed of the W04 is not in doubt after seven pole positions, the question now is whether Lewis Hamilton or Nico Rosberg can consistently take points off the RB9s.

Reliability is also a question mark after Rosberg’s third breakdown last time out in Hungary.

Sauber

Life with the C32 has been difficult so far for Sauber but they are making progress. However it has not always been easy to see because of other setbacks, such as Esteban Gutierrez missing third practice in Hungary.

“Obviously qualifying in Hungary was not good, because of the time we lost in FP3,” he said, “but I think we can manage to get into the position we were expecting, which is around P10 in Spa-Francorchamps.”

Force India

Paul di Resta, Force India, Monte-Carlo, Monaco, 2013Paul di Resta believes “missed opportunities” has been the cause of Force India’s sudden halt in points-gathering.

But in Hungary the car simply seemed to lack pace – and the recent changes to the tyres are an obvious suspect. Force India have usually been competitive at Spa so if they turn out to be nowhere this weekend it will be hard to avoid the conclusion that some of the VJM06′s performance has gone missing.

Williams

Scoring their first point of the season in Hungary was a relief and Valtteri Bottas believes it was a sign of things to come: “We have shown some improvements in race pace over the past few races and we know we are heading in the right direction.”

Toro Rosso

Toro Rosso increasingly seem to be isolated in seventh position in the constructors’ championship, not picking up points at a quick enough rate to catch Force India and McLaren, yet not under any pressure from Sauber.

The chief point of interest for them is whether driver Daniel Ricciardo will get the call-up to race for Red Bull next year amid conflicting reports over whether they are still in negotiations with Raikkonen.

Caterham

Belgium’s round of the world championship serves as a surrogate home race for Giedo van der Garde, who had his most impressive showing of the season so far in Hungary.

“I’ve been excited about racing in F1 at Spa ever since the start of the season, actually probably for all my life,” he said. “As there isn?t a Dutch Grand Prix these days the Belgian GP is the closest I have to a home race and I know there?s going to be a lot of orange flags around the track.”

Marussia

Marussia looked lost in Hungary where they were well off the pace of even the Caterhams. The team are anxious to hold onto their tenth place in the constructors’ championship but their closest rivals are poised to exploit any opportunity to take it off them.

2013 driver form

Driver G avg R avg R best R worst Classified Form guide
Sebastian Vettel 2.7 2.22 1 4 9/10 Form guide
Mark Webber 6.9 4.44 2 7 9/10 Form guide
Fernando Alonso 5.3 3.67 1 8 9/10 Form guide
Felipe Massa 8.6 6.88 3 15 8/10 Form guide
Jenson Button 10.4 9.3 5 17 10/10 Form guide
Sergio Perez 11 11 6 20 10/10 Form guide
Kimi Raikkonen 6.4 4.2 1 10 10/10 Form guide
Romain Grosjean 9.2 8.63 3 19 8/10 Form guide
Nico Rosberg 4 6.75 1 19 8/10 Form guide
Lewis Hamilton 2.6 4.5 1 12 10/10 Form guide
Nico Hulkenberg 11.8 10.88 8 15 8/9 Form guide
Esteban Gutierrez 17.2 14.38 11 20 8/10 Form guide
Paul di Resta 13.6 9 4 18 9/10 Form guide
Adrian Sutil 10 9.71 5 13 7/10 Form guide
Pastor Maldonado 15.8 13 10 16 7/10 Form guide
Valtteri Bottas 14.7 13.56 11 16 9/10 Form guide
Jean-Eric Vergne 13.2 10 6 12 6/10 Form guide
Daniel Ricciardo 10 12.38 7 18 8/10 Form guide
Charles Pic 19.7 16.11 14 18 9/10 Form guide
Giedo van der Garde 19.9 17.13 14 21 8/10 Form guide
Jules Bianchi 19.3 16.13 13 19 8/10 Form guide
Max Chilton 20.7 17.5 14 20 10/10 Form guide

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2013 Belgian Grand Prix

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Images ?? Red Bull/Getty, Ferrari/Ercole Colombo, Lotus/LAT, Force India

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49 comments on Time for Vettel’s title rival to step up

  1. maybet said on 21st August 2013, 6:09

    Merc so gonna win this race if they have no tire issues.

    rooting for lewis.

  2. kpcart said on 21st August 2013, 13:32

    I actually don’t think anyone will beat Vettel.
    Hamilton had a good race in Huingaroring, but he always does there, but has a history of fading as the season goes along.
    Alonso could challenge if he had the car, but he doesn’t.
    Raikonnen cant challenge in the Renault.
    Also Redbull usually have the best development of the second half of the year, and more tracks suit them in the second half. Vettel would need to crash twice to give anyone a chance but he is the best driver out there, so it wont happen.

  3. Force Maikel (@force-maikel) said on 21st August 2013, 13:35

    As usual a great read by @keithcollantine. I think this could be the weekend were Mercedes really step up as Red Bulls main rival but you can never count out the boys from Maranello and those from Enstone for that matter. I’m really hoping the second half of the season is going to be an epic battle between everyone. It’s just Vettels consistency that makes such a charge very difficulty.

    Red Bull has always been a bit down on straight line speed but it hasn’t bothered them always, see Belgium and Italy 2011. But this year I think it might sting a bit more, they even had to use a ver small wing in Canada which might indication it is hurting them again.

  4. Another tough race for Vettel I’m predicting. It will be a fantastic drive if he can get it on the podium. He hasn’t had the fastest package since Montreal and the only other track where the Red Bull was strongest was Bahrain (though we didn’t see the potential of the Ferrari). I think Ferrari was ultimately faster at Sepang but Alonso made a driver error that forced him to retire from the race.

    I expect Lotus and Ferrari to be strong, I have a feeling Mercedes will struggle with tyres, Red Bull probably third fastest package come Sunday.

    • WilliamB (@william-brierty) said on 21st August 2013, 18:43

      What? If you were looking for the Sebastian Vettel fan blog when you stumbled on this site, it is my duty to tell you that it doesn’t exist.

    • Have we been watching the same championship????? Red bull have had the fastest package on race day since canada. Whether that continues into spa remains to be seen. Only time will tell! I believe it will, but i honestly do not see him running away taking 4 wins in Asia like last year. Why? Lewis Hamilton & Kimi.
      Lewis will go well at every track in the second part of the season if he has the car underneath him. This year, he has the most poles already (to no surprise,proving critics wrong along the way), and when u subtract the very silly shortcomings of the mclaren team and car of last year that may have cost him 3 to 4 more wins last season, something which his mercedes team and car has shown non of so far this season, then there’s a real potential for a very exciting second half on his side of the garage. Also i believe he will need Nico to be at his best right now more than ever! It will be in the best interest of the Mercs for them to Iron out Nico’s reliability woes and get the best out of him as well. Lewis would rather see nico behind or ahead of him if he were in P1 or P2 respectively, than seb , alo or Kimi. Whether he realises this is a different issue.
      On Kimi, i noticed that their car was very quick in Germany & hungary. I believe this means they will also be somewhere in the mix of things, ie if Ferrari don’t sort themselves out soon (judging from last year, i honestly believe they wont).
      I cant wait for the season part 2 to start. I am also keen to see if lewis makes 19/19 races this season. I believe it will be his first time going a season without retirement or dnfs. I also want to see webber more involved at the front of the pack.
      my quali predictions (spa-rosberg, monza-lewis, singapore-lewis, korea-lewis, japan-lewis, abu dhabi-lewis, us-vettel, brazil-lewis). The wins are a whole different issue entirely. I reckon lewis,vettel, kimi, alonso will all share wins. But ultimately the title will be decided by high scoring consistency, something in which vettel’s red bull is arguably the best at

    • TMF (@tmf42) said on 22nd August 2013, 6:44

      I think RB/Vettel will do much better this year in Spa. Last year they had a problem with the front forcing them to run a low down-force package on the rear and longer gears to keep the balance. So I have him on the podium if nothing unexpected happens and possibly a win if Merc isn’t that competitive in Spa.
      Lotus and Ferrari will make up the other places.

  5. Andy (@turbof1) said on 21st August 2013, 14:18

    It’s difficult to predict how teams will come out of the summer break. Both mercedes and red bull have vast resources which they are reliably able to convert into extra performance. Ferrari also the means to do that, but they are having difficulties to get the job done. Lotus are hampered by the limited means to keep developing.

    So I guess it is a race between red bull and mercedes. Mercedes looks to have a bit more potentional, as evident that they can make the tyres work and when they do, they are Red Bull’s Bane. Still, with such a big break red bull could suddenly be with head and shoulders ahead of everybody. They made such a freak suprise last year in Valencia, having rebuilt the complete backside of the car, and just smacking everybody on the pavement (until the alternator breakdown). That being said, Spa isn’t such a good circuit for Red Bull. In previous years when they had such a big downforce advantage, they just revved the car short and made use of the better acceleration. Didn’t matter then that they had a top speed advantage; they only needed a few corners to pull out a big enough advantage to have the straights covered. Last year they didn’t had that; they were forced to gear their car more for top speed and suddenly they were nowhere in qualy. It is similar this year by the looks of it.
    I’d put my money on mercedes. They now have data of the new tyres while they got them working. They should be able now to fully commit their resources updates.

  6. Andy (@turbof1) said on 21st August 2013, 14:26

    (Sorry for grammatic and spelling errors; typing on a iphone can sometimes be a hell!)

  7. Stu (@indystu) said on 21st August 2013, 14:38

    If the Mercs have gotten the tyres down pat then it should be no contest against even the Red Bulls. As their pure speed indicates they can blow the doors off anyone else on the track in a straight line, and given that Spa has a great deal of straights and high speed corners that straight speed should come shining through. The Maranello team just doesn’t have the car this year, Fernando can drive to the very limits but without some misfortune falling the other teams they’ll be lucky to get a podium. Should Lotus find some top end speed they could be a mighty contender in Spa, although if the weather turns wet they are in for a bad weekend. As a shot in the dark if Force India used the break to figure out the tyres they could be in the top 5 with another solid drive from Di Resta.

  8. Aerodynamic efficiency is key around Spa and in that respect I think Force India will be the surprise package – if they don’t suffer from the woeful pace they had on the new tyre of course. Mercedes should be strong for that reason also but tyres may be a problem; that said, they have long straights to cool them after the high-energy corners and they don’t really have a massive problem with graining it seems.

    Red Bull I think will be reasonable contenders if they can qualify well as usual but for it to really play into their hands I think they’d need some wet weather, which could easily occur. Lotus will be fairly strong I’d assume if it stays dry and so will Ferrari but any wet weather I think will render them on pace alone out of contention for a win.

    I think Toro Rosso could snatch a few points as well as fast circuits have always seemed to be their forte.

    So basically, as per usual I have no idea who will win and it’s game on for the points positions!

  9. Superted666 (@superted666) said on 21st August 2013, 16:11

    Can’t see the Mercs holding the challenge all season long.

  10. Glenn (@glennb) said on 21st August 2013, 16:15

    I’ve never been a fan of DRS and am even less keen on 2 DRS zones. This circuit does not need any gimmicks to produce a decent race, unlike the ‘cookie cutters’ you mention.
    As a RBR fan I wnat to see them do well obviously however this race could prove exciting in so far as the other teams stepping up and producing a fast car for this traditional race track.
    PS. Still looking for a driver to support in 2014 with Webber packing it in. As an Aussie Ricciardo is the obvious choice but as a long time fan I might just go with Rosberg. Hmmmm, dilemma…

  11. Shreyas Mohanty (@) said on 21st August 2013, 16:20

    Mercedes will be strong. They were strong – very strong at Hungary. I don’t see how that will change. And as @vettel1 mentioned, the straights will help cool the tyres before the intense high-speed turns. Red Bull – ah, I am not sure but I think their traditional lack of straight-line speed may hurt them – I may be wrong though. Ferrari, for me, remains a question mark. Whether they have worked out their issues or not I have no idea. Hoping for a pleasant surprise from the Scuderia though ;) Lotus will be podium-contenders for sure. Mercedes win, maybe.

    • Pace-wise they’re as good as anyone but I wouldn’t be so confident that Hungary is a sign they’ve solved their tyre issues is all @shreyasf1fan hence why I mentioned tyres at all: Hungary (even though ferociously hot) is a pretty low-energy circuit in the grand scheme of things. 10° track temperature is significant yes, but it’s the energy going through the tyres that matters most hence why I think there’s still question marks for Spa (although of course there are straights to cool them off).

      • Shreyas Mohanty (@) said on 21st August 2013, 18:37

        @vettel1 & @ladyf1fanatic Yes, it is obvious that RBR have the best overall package this year. And coupled with Vettel’s consistency, it seems yet another RBR dominated season is unfolding. Yes, of course there are question marks about Merc. I guess their performance at Spa will be the difference between a boring season or a legen-waitforit-dary one! ;)

    • Libellula (@ladyf1fanatic) said on 21st August 2013, 17:23

      Don’t read too much into Mercedes’s win in F1 HUN. If they can repeat the same performance at Spa then in Italy then we can start blowing hornets. Red buLL & Vettel are still the best package…

      • @ladyf1fanatic agreed, it certainly looks that way. Red Bull haven’t really been weak all season long apart from at Spain and perhaps China and to an even lesser extent Australia. Everywhere else they’ve looked strong (not really dominant anywhere bar Bahrain and Canada but strong enough everywhere to allow for podium contention). That hasn’t really been the case with any other team, so yes RBR favourites I agree.

        • Andy (@turbof1) said on 21st August 2013, 19:10

          Looks at it this way: Since Monaco Mercedes reached each time the podium too, except for Germany. Mercedes also won 3 out of those 5 races. At 4 of those races they took pole. Red Bull hasn’t been weak nor dominant, as you gents said, that is true. Mercedes on the other hand has been both dominant (qualy) and weak (race) at the same time, but still got 4 out of those 5 races a podium.
          I don’t feel that at the moment that RBR has the best package. Certainly not when they depend to win on whether or not the other team their tyres will break down. And that more and more looks like a bad call for RBR; Mercedes both won on a circuit with high lateral loads and a high temperature race, within 3 races. Sooner than later they will able to put all the pieces together, and Mercedes already proved to able to constantly bring updates that work, at a faster rate then Red Bull actually.

          At the moment neither has the best package. Mercedes beats Red Bull at qualy pace, and taken on average on those 5 races, Red Bull beats Mercedes at race pace. The better starting spot equals the better pace roughly.

          • Libellula (@ladyf1fanatic) said on 22nd August 2013, 18:42

            @turbof1 I can agree with you but also… My understanding is that Red BUll have the strongest package, the 2013 standings don’t lie (1st in both WCC &WDC) If that ain’t definition of best team+driver combo then what is it? Mercedes have been hampered by tyre woes. yeah implying a weaker race pace. God knows what would have happened had they mastered it before and been fastest since the start. Epic battle though!

  12. Libellula (@ladyf1fanatic) said on 21st August 2013, 17:20

    No idea who will win this one! Just glad F1 is back, summer holidays also not much left *sigh* but I hope the top 3 teams put up some good fight for the sake of this championship! Fingers crossed for my secret favs!

  13. karter22 (@karter22) said on 21st August 2013, 17:28

    Well, I for one would love it if Ferrari came up with some improvements that actually work for once! I feel MERC (HAM) will get pole and it would be a great show if somehow SV didn´t make the top 3 in qualy and ended up behind HAM, ALO and RAI !
    As previosuly said before though, Ferrari is a question mark and I feel that only Merc and Lotus will take it to the RBR team. I really hope I´m wrong about Ferrari and maybe they can surprise us all! Either way, I don´t think Mercedes will have problems with the tyres, RBR will fall short on straight line speed at it has ben customary to see them go for downforce and make up for it in the corners rather than on the straights. Lotus, well who knows and Ferrari… I know even less so lets just hope we have a great race and lets hope that we don´t have another Grosjean on the field!

    • Krichelle (@krichelle) said on 21st August 2013, 18:42

      If you are a Ferrari fan, and by your picture I can see it.. :P They will bring upgrades in this race… That has to be 100%… because SPA and MONZA are tracks that should suit the FERRARI. As we saw last year the speed of Ferrari in the straights are quite matched to that of MCLAREN, which was the fastest car on a straightline last season… But, I think 60% that if Mercedes are strong this weekend, Lewis will grab pole… I wonder if RED BULL will go for their philosophy on TRACTION in this circuit for this weekend as that is what they do when they are weak in straightline speed *CANADA this year*

      • Slava (@slava) said on 22nd August 2013, 0:33

        But I must add that, strangely, Ferrari hadn’t enough straight speed in the Nurburgring race. If I remember correctly, Alonso couldn’t overtake Lewis. That amazed me much as I didn’t expect Alonso would lose so much time attacking Hamilton (considering what terrible problems Ham had with his tyres). So, its difficult to predict Ferrari’s straight-line pace. Let’s wait and see:-)

  14. Fer no.65 (@fer-no65) said on 21st August 2013, 17:29

    2011: ****** about DRS at Spa’s longest straight and probably the easiest spot for overtaking in the calendar,
    2012: ****** about DRS at Spa’s longest straight and probably the easiest spot for overtaking in the calendar,
    2013: ****** about DRS at Spa’s longest straight and probably the easiest spot for overtaking in the calendar PLUS another one just in case magic happens and someone actually manages to defend at Kemmel.

    Get rid of this travesty of a rule at tracks where it’s not needed !

    • KaIIe (@kaiie) said on 21st August 2013, 18:34

      And to make matters worse, it looks like the DRS detection point for the S/F zone is right in the middle of the braking area for the chicane. So why overtake there when you can just wait for a few corners… unless, of course, you don’t have the straight line speed.

  15. Vettel’s 2.2 average finishing position stat is just ridiculous in the modern era. You only beat that by winning in streaks. No one has show the ability to do that. Mercedes have the best platform to do it, but their car is not an all-rounder.

    In the case the of Spa, though, I expect them to be very strong. They could dominate. It will be 60s and 70s F, and partly cloudy. As shown in Hungary, their tire issues come in the combination of lateral load and ambient temperature, not with one factor alone, and the ambient temp seems to be more of a factor than the load. It can always rain there, though. So it could be interesting.

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