As usual, the Formula 1 world championship gets underway after the summer break in Belgium, with the twelfth race of the season and this time it’s the first part of a triple-header. Following on from this weekend, the Dutch Grand Prix takes place on Sunday 5 September and the Italian round takes place the following weekend in Monza. Spa-Francorchamps, one of the most famous race tracks in the world, has already hosted 53 of the 65 editions of the Belgian Grand Prix, ten having been held at Zolder and two at Nivelles-Baulers on the outskirts of Brussels.
Institution. Spa-Francorchamps is one of the true classic tracks, where drivers can still really make a difference. Coming up to the first corner at La Source, drivers have to deal with the demands of braking from 285 to 80 km/h, before heading for one of the most famous sections through Eau Rouge and Raidillon, a very difficult uphill left-right-left S combination which leads onto the long Kemmel straight. It’s then flat to the right turn into the Les Combes chicane, which is the heaviest braking point on the circuit. Then the track drops down to the Bruxelles hairpin and on to Pouhon, a fast left hander where the drivers’ neck muscles take a pounding because of the high g-forces. The following Stavelot corner is the last time the brakes are used as the cars accelerate flat out up through Blanchimont, only slowing for the Bus Stop chicane that leads onto the start-finish line.
Efficiency reigns. Finding the right car balance is a particularly tricky task for the teams, as each section of the track has very different characteristics from the others. While it’s true that power is very important, with the power units at their maximum for 60 of the 105 seconds it takes to complete a lap, so too is driveability, especially in the second sector and for the first and final corner. Top speed is essential for overtaking, but a car with too little aero downforce can be a disadvantage in the twistier sections. Therefore the key to a good lap in Belgium is the car’s overall efficiency. The weather in the Ardennes can also make life complicated in the race: it is usually very variable and can go from sun to rain several times on the same day.
Programme. The cars take to the track on Friday at 11.30 local time, for the first hour of free practice, followed by a second one at 15. The final free practice session starts at 12 on Saturday, in preparation for qualifying at 15. The 66th Belgian Grand Prix gets underway on Sunday at 3pm.
GP entered 1019
Seasons in F1 72
Debut Monaco 1950 (A. Ascari 2nd; R. Sommer 4th; L. Villoresi ret.)
Wins 238 (23.36%)
Pole positions 230 (22.57%)
Fastest laps 254 (24.92%)
Total podiums 776 (25.38%)
Ferrari Stats Belgian GP
GP entered 64
Debut 1950 (A. Ascari 5th; L. Villoresi 6th)
Wins 18 (28.12%)
Pole positions 14 (21.87%)
Fastest laps 19 (29.69%)
Total podiums 48 (25%)
Belgian Grand Prix: facts & figures
1. The number of father-son pairings to have won the Belgian Grand Prix, they being Antonio and Alberto Ascari. The father triumphed in 1925 in an Alfa Romeo, while Alberto won in 1952 and 1953 in a Ferrari 500 F2. The other “racing families” to have won, but only with either the father or son were Andretti (Mario won in 1978 at Zolder, but Michael did not manage it), Hill (Damon won three times in 1993, 1994 and 1998 but his father Graham never did) and Rosberg (Nico taking the victory in 2016, but father Keke’s best was a second in 1982.) The only family that could equal the Ascaris would be the Schumachers, Michael having won at Spa no fewer than six times, while Mick still has plenty of time to build up his palmares.
11+1. The different Spa-Francorchamps track layouts. Originally, the track measured 14.981 kilometres and where Eau Rouge-Raidillon is now, there was an uphill hairpin, the Virage de l’Ancienne Douane. This configuration was abandoned in 1938, long before the creation of the Formula 1 world championship, which made its debut over a reduced distance of 14.120 kilometres, which already included the famous uphill esses. In 1956, the distance came down to 14.100 kilometres and stayed that way until 1982, as a modification introduced in 1970 did not affect its length. The biggest change came in 1983 when the first and final sectors, which used public roads, were linked by a purpose-built section, bringing the lap length down to 6.949 metres. There were seven further small changes and the current layout was established in 2007, doing away with one of the two esses at the Bus Stop, with the distance now set at 7.004 kilometres.
16. The furthest back on the starting grid from which the Belgian GP has been won. This feat was performed by Michael Schumacher in 1995, after a wet qualifying. The German worked his way up to the lead and a few days later came the announcement he would drive for Scuderia Ferrari as from the following year.
1924. The year racing first took place at the Spa-Francorchamps circuit, (although a test race was held in 1922). The Ardennes track, which was reduced in length in 1983 from 14.100 kilometres to 6.949, is the second oldest circuit in use on the world championship calendar. The oldest is the Autodromo Nazionale di Monza, inaugurated in 1922, while Monaco first hosted a race in 1929.
8700. The number of different beers brewed in Belgium. There are 125 companies in this sector as well as countless artisans who produce small quantities. Belgians consume 96 litres of beer per year per head, just 30 less than the amount of water they drink, 124 litres. But the Belgians are not the biggest consumers of beer, as in the Czech Republic the figure is 189 litres per year per head, in Austria 108, in Romania it’s 100 and in Germany 99.
This week in our history
25/8. In 1996, Michael Schumacher won the Belgian Grand Prix, his second victory with Scuderia Ferrari. At the wheel of an F310, he took Scuderia Ferrari to a total of 107 wins, with Jacques Villeneuve and Mika Häkkinen finishing second and third.
26/8. In 2007, Scuderia Ferrari dominated the Turkish Grand Prix. At the wheel of an F2007, Felipe Massa started from pole and took his fifth career victory ahead of team-mate Kimi Räikkönen, who set the race fastest lap, thus recording the Maranello marque’s 74th one-two finish.
27/8. In 1959, Gerhard Berger was born in Wörgl, in the Tyrol. The Austrian is still a great favourite with the tifosi, having taken part in 96 races for Scuderia Ferrari over two periods of three years, from 1987 to 1989 and from 1993 to 1995. He took five wins: two in 1987 in Japan and Australia, one in 1988 in Italy, at Monza, the year he also finished third in the championship, one in 1989 in Portugal and one in 1994 in Germany, the Scuderia’s first win since the 1990 Spanish Grand Prix.
28/8. In 2008, Philip “Phil” Toll Hill, died in Salinas, California. He was the 1961 World Champion with Ferrari, the first American to take the title and had three races wins to his name, one in 1960 and two the following year, when the dominant force was the Ferrari 156 F1 and its drivers. He was born in Miami on 20 April 1927 and was also an incredible endurance racer. He took countless wins in sports car races for Ferrari and then with other marques. His three outstanding successes with the Scuderia came in the Le Mans 24 Hours, in 1958, 1961 and 1962, on each occasion paired with the Belgian Olivier Gendebien.
29/8. Michael Schumacher finished second in the 2004 Belgian Grand Prix at the wheel of an F2004, behind his team-mate Kimi Räikkönen. The German picked up enough points to claim the world championship title, his seventh and fifth with Scuderia Ferrari.