In recent years, the Belgian Grand Prix has always been the first race after the summer break. Everyone would return to work having enjoyed some rest in preparation for the final couple of races in Europe before heading off to Asia, America and the Middle East. However, with this bizarre 2020 calendar, there has only been one weekend off since Spain. The Belgian event marks the start of another triple-header which will end with Scuderia Ferrari’s 1000th Formula 1 Grand Prix. The legendary Spa-Francorchamps circuit is one of the most beautiful tracks in the world and has produced some of the greatest racing moments, to date hosting 52 of the 64 Belgian Grands Prix, with Zolder home to ten races and two being staged at Nivelles-Baulers on the outskirts of Brussels. Scuderia Ferrari has won 18 times, including last year when Charles Leclerc secured his maiden Formula 1 victory, but a cloud hung over the weekend because of the terrible accident in the Formula 2 race involving Anthoine Hubert and Juan Manuel Correa in which the young Frenchman lost his life and the American was seriously injured.
The first 1000. While Sunday’s race is the 998th for Scuderia Ferrari, it is also the 1000th in the sense that, on two occasions, when the factory team was not present, its engines were represented. The first time was the 1960 United States Grand Prix: with the championship titles already decided, the Scuderia decided to focus on its 1961 car, as that year would bring radical changes to the technical regulations, requiring a major effort from the constructors. However, starting this race was a Ferrari-powered Cooper T51 entered by Fred Ambruster’s team for Pete Lovely to drive. The American finished eleventh. The other race featuring just one Ferrari engine dates back to 1966. That year, the factory team was unable to send its two 312 F1s for Lorenzo Bandini and Mike Parkes to compete in the British Grand Prix, as there was a metalworkers’ strike in Italy. But on the grid was the Ferrari powered Cooper T73 entered by Pearce Engineering for Chris Lawrence. He too finished eleventh.
Unique track. Spa-Francorchamps is a traditional track par excellence, on which the driver can still make the difference. Already, the first braking point at La Source hairpin is demanding. The cars decelerate, going from around 285 km/h to 80 kmh. Because of its very wide run off area, there are several lines on the exit that leads to the iconic section of track, the very tough uphill esses of Eau Rouge-Raidillon, after which comes the long Kemmel straight, the scene of many spectacular overtaking moves. Then comes the right hander at Les Combes, which is the heaviest braking point on the whole track. After this it plunges downhill to the Bruxelles hairpin where the track undulates before coming to Pouhon, a fast left hander that puts a lot of load on the driver. After braking for Stavelot, it’s one long acceleration all the way to Blanchimont and the Bus Stop chicane leading onto the start/finish line.
Enrico Gualtieri Head of Power Unit
"The Spa-Francorchamps circuit is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful and demanding on the calendar, for the drivers and also for we engineers. It’s particularly difficult to find the perfect car balance for its entire seven kilometres. In terms of Power Unit management, the track is pretty demanding with over a minute spent at full throttle. It’s important therefore to have enough power – you can never have too much – but you also want good driveability, especially when it comes to the first and last corners. Apart from its power output, energy recovery through the MGU-H is also key, so that the overall efficiency of the Power Unit is what counts.
Even before the introduction of DRS, overtaking was relatively easy at this track, but it’s the choice of the aerodynamic downforce level that really makes the difference. With low downforce, your top speed by the end of the Kemmel straight is very good, but then in the second sector, you run the risk of really struggling. However, if you opt for medium to high downforce, you might do well in qualifying but then in the race, you risk getting overtaken and above all, struggle to overtake even with DRS. To all this you can add unpredictable weather with different conditions at various points on the circuit, so the brain teaser is really complete. In fact, the forecast for this weekend suggests the weather will further complicate matters, with a mainly dry Saturday, but rain forecast for Sunday, with temperatures no higher than a decidedly not summery 16°C.
In this first part of the season we have seen the championship pretty much divided into two groups: on the one hand, three drivers who seem to be uncatchable and on the other, another ten or so all within a few tenths of one another. In Barcelona, we paid a high price for a lack of reliability, and in fact we have now identified the problem with the electronic control unit that caused Charles’ retirement. But we also suffered from not maximising our qualifying performance, which put us in a difficult situation in the race. Aware of the current difficulties, we have to focus on our work in preparing for the weekend. The main aim is to ensure the drivers can get the most out of the SF1000. We must optimise the car-PU package, work well in the garage, define the best strategy and be efficient when it comes to reacting to changing conditions. Every thousandth of a second counts, every decision can make the difference".
Sebastian Vettel #5
"The Spa circuit is truly unique. No other track we visit has so many variations in height. It continually climbs and drops, a feature you can’t really appreciate seeing it on television. The track has some of the most difficult and enjoyable corners on the calendar, such as Eau Rouge, Pouhon and the esses before Stavelot, which in French, they call a 'piff paff'.
It’s medium to low in terms of downforce requirement, but all sorts of factors can affect how you do in the race, starting with the weather, which is usually changeable. So you need to be able to tackle all the variables in the best way possible".
Charles Leclerc #16
"The Spa-Francorchamps circuit has a special place in my heart. While it is here that I took my first win, it is also where we lost our friend Anthoine last year. It will be difficult to return to this track and he will be in our thoughts all weekend.
In terms of expectations, it will be tougher for us in terms of performance this time around as we do not have the same level of competitivness as we did in 2019. However, we have seen that anything can happen at this track, especially with the unpredictable weather.
As a team, we will have to work very hard to do all we can to get the most out of the car right from Friday. In free practice, we must gather all the information needed to pick the best strategy for qualifying and especially for the race".
Last week in the team
Following the Spanish Grand Prix, the usual debrief took place to analyse everything that happened in the race, in which Sebastian Vettel finished seventh and Charles Leclerc had to retire because of a problem with the electronic control unit on his car.
On Tuesday, Ferrari confirmed it had signed the new Concorde Agreement which will govern the Scuderia’s participation in the FIA Formula One World Championship for five years from 2021 to 2025. The agreement which was signed with the FIA (Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile) and Formula One, covers all regulatory and governance of the blue riband motor sport category, while the commercial aspects are set out in the agreement between Ferrari and Formula One.
GP contested 997
Seasons in F1 71
Debut Monaco 1950 (Alberto Ascari 2nd; Raymond Sommer 4th; Luigi Villoresi ret.)
Wins 238 (23.87%)
Pole positions 228 (22.87%)
Fastest laps 254 (25.48%)
Podiums 772 (77.43%)
FERRARI STATS BELGIAN GP
GP contested 63
Debut 1950 (Alberto Ascari 5th; Luigi Villoresi 6th)
Wins 18 (28.57%)
Pole positions 14 (22.22%)
Fastest laps19 (30.16%)
Total podiums 48 (76.19%)
FERRARI ENGINE STATS
GP contested 999
Seasons in F1 71
Debut Monaco 1950 (Alberto Ascari 2nd; Raymond Sommer 4th; Luigi Villoresi ret.)
Wins 239 (23.92%)
Pole positions 229 (22.92%)
Fastest laps 260 (26.02%)
Podiums 778 (77.88%)
Belgian GP Facts & Figures
2 – The municipalities in which the Spa-Francorchamps circuit is located: Stavelot, of which Francorchamps is a part and Malmedy. In fact, the track has not gone through the Spa municipality after which it is named since 1979, when it was reopened after extensive changes. The old track was over 14 km long, with famous corners such as the Masta kink, described by Jackie Stewart as “by far the most difficult in the world” and Burnenville, where cars dived between two groups of houses right on the apex of the turn. The new 7 km track was created using a link through the woods, with wonderful corners such as Pouhon and Stavelot which joined up the first section with the end of the original track, from Les Combes and the current turn 16, named in honour of Belgian racing driver and journalist Paul Frere, while leads to Blanchimont and the Bus Stop.
4 – Ferraris in the top four in the 1961 Belgian GP, making Ferrari the only constructor to ever achieve this at this track. That year, the Scuderia won the Drivers’ title with Phil Hill and the Constructors’ and in this race, Hill won ahead of Wolfgang von Trips, Richie Ginther and Olivier Gendebien, the latter being a local driver, whose 156 F1 was painted yellow, the Belgian national colour, as the local Ferrari importer, former Formula 1 driver Jacques Swaters, was involved in his entry.
13 – Cars involved in the carambolage at the start of the 1998 race. Fortunately, there were no serious injuries, although Rubens Barrichello did not take the restart having hurt his right arm. To date it is the biggest Formula 1 crash in terms of cars involved and the financial costs of repairing the damage. At the time, the use of a third spare car per team was permitted for restarts, which was fortunate, otherwise only four drivers would have been able to line up for the second start.
20 – Belgian drivers have taken part in at least one Formula 1 Grand Prix, of which nine raced with Ferrari. The most successful is Brussels-born Jacky Ickx with eight wins, six of them at the wheel of a Prancing Horse car out of a total of 114 starts. With the 312B, he finished second in the world championship in 1970, his best ever result. The only other Belgian to have won Formula 1 World Championship races and the driver who has taken part in the most is Thierry Boutsen. He raced in Formula 1 from 1983 to 1993, winning three times from 163 starts, all of them at the wheel of a Williams.
21 – Charles Leclerc’s age when he took his maiden Formula 1 win here in Belgium last year. The Monegasque thus became the youngest driver to have won a World Championship event for Ferrari. A week later, he did it again at Monza and thus Charles also became the youngest ever driver in the highest level of motor sport to win two consecutive races.
This week in our history
25/8 – In 1996, Michael Schumacher won the Belgian Grand Prix, his second victory at the wheel of a Ferrari. Together with the team, the German made perfect use of the Safety Car period following Jos Verstappen’s accident at Stavelot, managing to overtake Jacques Villeneuve’s Williams at the pit stop. At the restart, the Canadian tailed the F310 for a long time, but could not get past the German. For Michael and the fans it was the perfect boost before Monza two weeks later, where he won again, sending the Italian crowd wild with delight.
26/8 – In 2007, Felipe Massa took his second consecutive Turkish Grand Prix win on the spectacular, technical Istanbul Park track. The Brazilian did not put a foot wrong and led home team-mate Kimi Räikkönen, the pair claiming Ferrari’s 74th one-two finish. The result also reignited the Scuderia’s hopes for the Constructors’ crown with Ferrari now just 11 points behind McLaren.
27/8 – In 1959, Gerhard Berger was born in Worgl in the Tyrol. Still very popular with the fans today, the Austrian took part in 96 races for Scuderia Ferrari in two stints, from 1987 to 1989 and from 1993 to 1995. He won five times: two in 1987 in Japan and Australia, on in 1988 in Italy at Monza, the year he was third in the championship, one in 1989 in Portugal and one in 1994 in Germany, possibly the most important win, when he put an end to a barren spell for the Scuderia that dated back to the 1990 Spanish Grand Prix. That year, he was again third in the championship.
28/8 – In 2008, after a brief time in hospital, Phil Hill passed away. Winning the 1961 World Championship with Ferrari, he was the first American to take the title. He won three Formula 1 Grands Prix, one in 1960 and two the following year when the Ferrari 156 F1 and its drivers dominated the season. He was born in Miami on 20 April 1927 and was also an extraordinary exponent of long distance racing. He had many wins, mainly in Ferrari sports cars as well as with other marques. The highlights were three wins with the Scuderia in the Le Mans 24 Hours, in 1958, ’61 and ’62, on all occasions paired with the Belgian Olivier Gendebien.
29/8 – In 2004, at the end of an incredible Belgian Grand Prix, Michael Schumacher finished second behind Kimi Raikkonen in a McLaren, which was enough for the German to clinch his seventh world title, his fifth with Ferrari. At that point in the season, Schumacher had won 12 of the 14 races and it was only points taken by team-mate Rubens Barrichello that prevented him from locking down the title even earlier. By the end of the season the F2004 had won 15 of that season’s 18 races.
30/8 – In 1941, race driver Ignazio Giunti was born in Rome. His family were Italian nobility and from an early age he fell in love with cars and become an expert hillclimb racer and a specialist at the Vallelunga track where he trained a lot. Skilled in both single-seaters and sports cars in endurance races, Enzo Ferrari called him up in 1969 and gave him a drive for 1970. On his second outing with the team, he won the Sebring 12 Hours along with Nino Vaccarella and Mario Andretti at the wheel of a 512 S. He also shone on his F1 debut, coming fourth in Belgium at the wheel of a 312B. Giunti lost his life in January the following year in a terrible accident in the Buenos Aires 1000 Km. He was leading when he came out of the last corner and found the Matra of Jean-Pierre Beltoise right in his path, having run out of fuel. The Ferrari slammed into the French car and for the 29 year old Italian there was no escape.