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.


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. ”


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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 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. Shreyas Mohanty (@) said on 21st August 2013, 18:34

    @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! ;)

  2. Krichelle (@krichelle) said on 21st August 2013, 18:36

    I am surprised, that they add another DRS ZONE… The kemmel straight is more than enough to make an overtaking move, even in the past without DRS… The run to the bus stop chicane is also a good place for overtaking… I still don’t understand why ADD another DRS Zone to a circuit where last year, more overtakings were made without DRS…

    So… Mercs will be strong here, I will be surprised if they aren’t strong here… Red Bull as well, don’t ever count them out… But with the straightline speed they have… It was shown that last race in Hungary they were losing half a second in qualifying in SECTOR 1 alone, which is composed of 3 short straights… Raikkonen as we all know will be strong here as he has won 4 times in the past… Ferrari not sure what upgrades they have…
    Weather is always a factor, but lucky for the guys, it doesn’t say anything about RAIN this weekend…

  3. JackySteeg (@jackysteeg) said on 21st August 2013, 19:44

    The high-speed nature of the track does not play to Red Bull’s strengths, so I would expect Merc to be the ones to beat this weekend. The point of interest for me, though, is whether Merc can actually beat Red Bull, and by how much. The little need for downforce could allow teams like McLaren and Force India to mix it up with the front runners, and if they can get between Mercedes and Red Bull then that could have dramatic championship implications. Mercedes really need to get the maximum out of this weekend, as well as Monza. It’s probably the last chance they’ll have to take a real bite out of Red Bull’s lead this year.

    Of course, weather is always an issue at Spa and various forecasts indicate a good chance of rain on Saturday and Sunday. Who knows what’ll happen if it starts drizzling. Spa has never had a straight forward wet race.

  4. Hamilton on pole but Vettel will lead into the first corner. Hamilton to finish 2nd with Alonso and Raikkonen having good pace but qualifying too far back to finish 3rd and 4th. we always say red bull will struggle but they qualify too far in front of lotus and ferrari to get challenged. Dont think Red Bulls straight line speed deficit will make a big difference imo

  5. R.J. O'Connell (@rjoconnell) said on 22nd August 2013, 0:52

    Any chance Bottas or Gutierrez get on the board this weekend? Williams looked better as a team in Hungary, and Sauber really like their chances to improve starting in the second half.

    • Phenom said on 22nd August 2013, 5:11

      If Sauber are anywhere in the mix it will obviously be Hulkenberg and not the supremely untalented Gutierrez.

  6. Spa is a track where crashes and breakdowns tend to happen unusually frequently. Not coincidentally, both Hamilton and Alonso have DNF’d three times each there in the last four years. I don’t know who’s going to lose out this time but I’d be surprised if all four of Vettel, Raikkonen, Alonso and Hamilton crossed the finish line on Sunday.

    It’s a track which suits Mercedes engined cars. If conditions are showery, I would not be surprised to see Button on the podium.

  7. Arki19 said on 22nd August 2013, 1:51

    I’m tipping Hamilton and Rosberg to be on the front row. Then expect tyre issues to rear their ugly heads again during the race due to high lateral loads on fast corners. I really hope Ferrari have things sorted out and that Alonso shows us what he can do on the track. It would be so good to see him and Vettel going head to head.

  8. ferrox glideh (@ferrox-glideh) said on 22nd August 2013, 3:45

    I see Kimi, Alonso and Webber on the podium, with Grosjean, Button, and Vettel being taken out by Hamilton and Rosberg in turn one. Crystal ball, don’t fail me now!
    Also: Let’s abolish two DRS zones in 2014 PLEASE.

  9. McWoblin (@mcwoblin) said on 22nd August 2013, 9:40

    Its looking like it could be a wet qualy. Which other Q sessions this year have been wet?

  10. Spawinte (@spawinte) said on 22nd August 2013, 9:42

    Unless somebody pulls out 3 wins with podiums in the other races between now and India then the championship is Vettels.

  11. pSynrg (@psynrg) said on 22nd August 2013, 12:14

    We’ll see after the race and we’ll see by the end of the season if anyone does indeed step-up.

    Sorry, I just don’t see the point of all this speculation. What will happen is what will happen. Umm, maybe this, urm, maybe that?


  12. Ten races into the 2010 season, Hamilton was leading the standings with a 47 point lead over Alonso. He finished the season 12 points behind Alonso. That’s a 59 point swing in just nine races! So anything can happen at this stage.

  13. Shimks (@shimks) said on 22nd August 2013, 23:52

    Team mate Romain Grosjean merely needs to complete the first lap without hitting anyone to improve on his Spa record.

    Oh, Keith! I laughed so much at this line!!

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