New engines set for toughest test yet at Spa

2014 Belgian Grand Prix preview

Paul di Resta, Force India, Spa-Francorchamps, 2013After a month of respite to draw breath, Formula One’s eleven teams now prepare to charge headlong into what could well be the most challenging final stretch of a season in recent memory.

Over the final eight rounds of the 2014 season, not only must the teams and drivers contend with some of the fastest and toughest races on the calendar – including the challenge of a brand new circuit – the likelihood of a flood of engine component change penalties means we could be set for a frantic finish to this year’s championship.

And after four weeks without any Formula One action, where better to restart the season than Spa-Francorchamps, home of the Belgian Grand Prix?

Adored by drivers, teams and fans alike, Spa is one of the quickest, most challenging and organic circuits on the calendar. With an abundance of long straights and high-speed corners – including the famous Eau Rouge – F1 cars are rarely more spectacular to watch than during the Belgian Grand Prix.

But with new turbo engines comes an even greater challenge for drivers in 2014, with some drivers unsure whether the dramatic plunge and crest through Eau Rouge and Raidillon can still be tackled without lifting the throttle, as it has been since the V8 era.

Spa’s high-speed nature means that engines will be put under severe strain this weekend. With many drivers already close to exceeding their engine component allocations – particularly those with Renault power – some teams will head into the next two race weekends somewhat nervously.

Spa-Francorchamps circuit 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 Medium and Soft

*Fastest lap set during a Grand Prix

Spa-Francorchamps track data in full

Aside from the challenges it provides in the dry, Spa is notorious for its unpredictable micro-climate that ensures the threat of rain constantly hangs over the 7km circuit. While races here are often dry, when the rain does fall, it never fails to produce dramatic races.

Pirelli have opted to bring the soft and medium compound tyres to Belgium for the first time since 2011. It’s a bold decision as on that weekend several teams were alerted to tyre damage problems caused by using camber angles beyond the limits recommended by Pirelli. The Red Bull pit wall was a focus of concern, though it didn’t keep them from recording a one-two finish.

The second half of the season will also begin with a new driver in the field, as Caterham give three-time Le Mans 24 Hour winner Andre Lotterer a unique opportunity to make his grand prix debut, almost 12 years since the German last tested a Formula One car with Jaguar.

Belgian Grand Prix team-by-team preview

Red Bull

Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull, Hungaroring, 2014Fresh from his second victory of the season in Hungary, Daniel Ricciardo’s stock is at an all time high. Despite the performance advantage of the Mercedes this season, he is best placed of all the remaining drivers to mount a late – though unlikely – title challenge.

Given the RB10′s penchant for high-downforce circuits, it seems unlikely that win number three will be on the cards for him this weekend, unless Red Bull and Renault arrive at Spa with some significant improvements to their package.

After a season characterised by mechanical issues and some lacklustre performances, Vettel resumes his season knowing that he has always performed at his best during this final stretch of the year. Last year he was undefeated in the nine races which followed the summer break.

Mercedes

The destination of the drivers’ championship will effectively be decided over an eight race shoot-out between the two Mercedes drivers. But despite the 11-point head start that Nico Rosberg holds heading into this weekend, it’s Lewis Hamilton who holds the momentum after his dramatic recovery drive from the pit lane to the podium in Hungary.

Mercedes will almost certainly be the dominant force this weekend thanks to Spa’s long straights. Having not achieved a pole position since the Spanish Grand Prix back in May, a strong qualifying performance from Hamilton could go a long way towards him closing the gap to his team mate even further on Sunday.

Ferrari

Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari, Spa-Francorchamps, 2009After Fernando Alonso’s superb drive in Hungary secured Ferrari only their second podium of the season, Ferrari will be looking for another good result at Spa to buoy the tifosi ahead of the upcoming Italian Grand Prix. Remarkably, he has never won at this track, and unless it rains it’s doubtful that will change.

Team mate Kimi Raikkonen, however, is the most successful active driver at Spa. His fourth and most recent victory at the circuit in 2009 was also his last for Ferrari (pictured). There were signs of an upswing in his form before the summer break – the question is whether he has sustained that momentum four weeks later.

Lotus

Having seemingly suffered the most from the banning of FRIC suspension at Hockenheim, Lotus have struggled to challenge for points ever since.

The team look to turn their fortunes around this weekend by introducing a raft of upgrades to the E22′s suspension, springs and front and rear wings.

McLaren

Jenson Button’s tenth place in Hungary moved McLaren within a single point of Force India, and the team have a clear objective for this weekend to reclaim fifth place in the constructor’s championship from their fellow Mercedes-powered rivals.

Like many, McLaren are also introducing an upgrade package to their car this weekend – although Eric Boullier believes it will take some time for the effects to be felt.

“Spa and Monza are tracks where every team runs a unique downforce package, so it won’t be until Singapore – where we resume with a more conventional set-up – that we’ll get a clearer read on our progress,” he said.

Force India

Nico Hulkenberg, Force India, Hungaroring, 2014A record run of points finishes for Force India came to a rather abrupt end in Hungary when Nico Hulkenberg retired after colliding with his team mate, before Sergio Perez crashed out of his own accord just a few laps later.

Force India will be keen to return to their point scoring ways immediately at Spa, a circuit which holds very happy memories for the team, who achieved their first and only pole position and podium finish here in 2009 with Giancarlo Fisichella.

Like Williams, Force India’s package has performed best around low-downforce circuits, meaning that the team will be looking for strong finishes by both drivers this weekend.

Sauber

Adrian Sutil came desperately close to scoring Sauber’s first points of the season in Hungary. He crossed the finishing line within striking distance of Button’s McLaren.

Despite the disappointment, Sauber will know that if any of the eight remaining races is likely to offer the chance of stealing some points through attrition, Spa may well provide the best chance of another rain-affected or chaotic race.

Giedo van der Garde will perform first practice duties in place of Esteban Gutierrez.

Toro Rosso

With eight DNFs recorded in the first 11 races of 2014 prompting technical director James Key to describe Toro Rosso’s points haul so far as “pathetic”, reliability will be a major focus for the team during this final stretch of the season.

Following the announcement that Max Verstappen will partner Daniil Kvyat at Toro Rosso next season, Jean-Eric Vergne has eight races to convince other teams he deserves a place on the 2015 grid.

Williams

Felipe Massa, Williams, Hungaroring, 2014After a strong mid-season run, Hungary proved a difficult race for Williams. But with two low-downforce power circuits back-to-back, Rob Smedley anticipates a strong performance by the team over the next two races.

“The drag sensitivity – especially at Spa – is very high. And we know our car is very strong in those areas,” said the team’s head of vehicle performance. “I’m reasonably confident our car can go well in both of those races, but I’ve said before that we don’t fear anywhere.”

Marussia

Each race that passes without a Sauber or Caterham points finish is another step closer for Marussia securing a valuable ninth place finish in the constructors’ championship.

Jules Bianchi strengthened his claim to a future place at Ferrari with some strong drives in the first half of the season. However Marussia’s edge over Caterham seems to have been blunted by the removal of FRIC, and with their rivals bringing a major upgrade package this weekend Marussia need their lead driver to be at the top of his game to protect their championship advantage.

Caterham

Caterham’s CT05 will have a new look this weekend with a revised nose design expected to appear. There will be a new face behind the wheel as well, as Kamui Kobayashi steps aside for World Endurance Championship and Japanese Super Formula racer Andre Lotterer.

Having tested for Jaguar in between 2001, Lotterer has not driven a representative F1 car for 12 years. But he has no shortage of experience in comparable machinery when in comes to sophisticated hybrid systems (Audi’s R18 E-tron Quattro) or high-performance single-seaters (Super Formula being one of the quickest categories outside F1). He also knows Spa well, and has already competed in six- and twenty-four-hour races at the track this year.

2014 driver form

Driver G avg R avg R best R worst Classified Form guide
Sebastian Vettel 6.45 4.63 3 7 8/11 Form guide
Daniel Ricciardo 5.09 3.67 1 8 9/11 Form guide
Lewis Hamilton 6.09 1.67 1 3 9/11 Form guide
Nico Rosberg 1.91 1.80 1 4 10/11 Form guide
Fernando Alonso 6.73 4.91 2 9 11/11 Form guide
Kimi Raikkonen 9.91 9.30 6 12 10/11 Form guide
Romain Grosjean 14.09 10.83 8 14 6/11 Form guide
Pastor Maldonado 18.18 13.86 12 17 7/11 Form guide
Jenson Button 9.00 8.27 3 17 11/11 Form guide
Kevin Magnussen 9.55 9.00 2 13 10/11 Form guide
Nico Hulkenberg 8.82 6.60 5 10 10/11 Form guide
Sergio Perez 11.64 8.63 3 11 8/10 Form guide
Adrian Sutil 15.55 13.00 11 17 6/11 Form guide
Esteban Gutierrez 16.64 15.17 12 19 6/11 Form guide
Jean-Eric Vergne 10.91 10.00 8 13 6/11 Form guide
Daniil Kvyat 10.36 11.00 9 14 7/11 Form guide
Felipe Massa 8.18 8.75 4 15 8/11 Form guide
Valtteri Bottas 7.73 5.50 2 8 10/11 Form guide
Jules Bianchi 17.73 14.88 9 18 8/11 Form guide
Max Chilton 19.18 15.90 13 19 10/11 Form guide
Kamui Kobayashi 18.91 15.14 13 18 7/11 Form guide
Marcus Ericsson 20.36 16.83 11 20 6/11 Form guide

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2014 Belgian Grand Prix

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Images © Force India, Red Bull/Getty, Ferrari/Ercole Colombo, Williams/LAT

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13 comments on New engines set for toughest test yet at Spa

  1. Bruno (@brunes) said on 21st August 2014, 11:34

    What engine supplier will have the most DNFs in SPA due to engine failure?
    Mercedes-Benz?
    Renault?
    Ferrari?

  2. nidzovski (@nidzovski) said on 21st August 2014, 11:55

    And add Monza to that next?

  3. greg-c (@greg-c) said on 21st August 2014, 13:01

    Are there actually any new engines in any team available ?

  4. greg-c (@greg-c) said on 21st August 2014, 13:05

    Funny how much stick we give Jarno but holding fastest lap at one of the greatest driver tracks ever , for near a decade is quite a feat ,

    • petebaldwin (@petebaldwin) said on 21st August 2014, 13:08

      It’s just a shame he usually did “those” laps in qualifying and then held everyone up throughout the race!!!

    • Aled Davies (@aledinho) said on 21st August 2014, 13:33

      Nearly a decade? 5 years ago..

      Jarno was a strange case, capable of some incredible performances in qualifying and often slipped back through the field in the races. I wonder sometimes whether he was harshly dealt with by the press with “trulli train” nickname referring to him holding other people up..i think he probably didn’t always get the credit he deserved for getting his car higher up the grid than it should have been.

  5. greg-c (@greg-c) said on 21st August 2014, 13:44

    @aledinho

    Sorry , my bad, didnt have my glasses on, looked like 2004 ,
    so Im now only half as impressed …

  6. svarun (@svarun) said on 21st August 2014, 14:08

    Hoping for a great race in Spa and maybe Ferrari and RBR have closed down a little on Merc.

    BTW @Keith, I just started a Web development course and started learning WordPress,just got a feeling,that this site is made in wordpress.Is it??
    Just out of curiosity.

  7. craig-o (@craig-o) said on 21st August 2014, 14:40

    Interesting to see that Lotterer has been handed the number 45 for this race. That’s the same number that Alex Rossi used in FP1 for the Canadian Grand Prix. I take it all test and reserve drivers don’t get a choice in their number or they get assigned a number?

  8. Jeffrey Jung said on 21st August 2014, 16:07

    Like Williams, Force India’s package has performed best around low-downforce circuits

    I.E. when the actual design of the car has less of an influence relative to the Mercedes engine….

    That is an underated point to me. Williams, FI and McLaren have the same engine and gearbox as Mercedes has. The difference between them and Mercedes in terms of pace is nevertheless HUGE. That speaks to how good a job Mercedes have done on the rest of the package (or how poor Williams, FI and McLaren did if you like)

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