Maranello, 20 august – Going back to school after the summer holiday was always easier to deal with if the first day featured a popular topic and the same can be said of the Formula 1 mid-season break, because there can’t be many people who don’t look forward to the weekend at the Spa-Francorchamps circuit. Many tracks have been purpose built to provide thrills and excitement for drivers and spectators alike, but none of those manage it with the easy grace of Spa, which was originally put together using public roads that had to be closed for racing. In 1979, the massive 15 kilometre track was shortened approximately by half, but it still retains a certain special something appreciated by all the drivers. In fact it’s a great example of Mother Nature knowing best, because what really makes Spa special is the way the track dips, dives and climbs through the Ardennes forest.
Both Scuderia Ferrari drivers are fans. “It is a very special circuit that always gets your adrenalin pumping, what with the way the track rises and falls and the very quick corners, which all go to make it a really fantastic experience for a driver,” reckons Fernando Alonso, who split the break between home in Spain and some beach time. “One lap of Spa is like twenty at any other track, in terms of the excitement and adrenalin it generates.” As for Felipe Massa, he made the rather longer trip to his home in Brazil, but is now back in Europe, batteries fully charged, ready to tackle the Belgian Grand Prix. “Spa is fantastic, something of a dream for all drivers to race there, especially in a Formula 1 car,” says Felipe. “There’s so much history there and it’s a wonderful challenge with all the climbs and drops and changes of direction, which all add up to make driving there a true pleasure.” As to which part is the most exciting, the Spaniard plumps for the famous Eau Rouge. “It’s an uphill corner taken in seventh gear at over 300 km/h. Even if you take it flat out these days in a modern Formula 1 car, your body still experiences more compression than at any other corner in the whole championship and that’s what makes it special.” Felipe is a fan of the rollercoaster corner too, but it’s not his favourite. “In a modern F1 car, with all the technology and the aerodynamics and the downforce, although Eau Rouge looks like a corner, you actually drive it as though it was a straight, taking it flat out every lap,” explained the Brazilian. “So actually, the part I think is the most fun is towards the end of the second sector and the start of the last one, where there are so many fast corners and changes of direction. The most demanding section comes after the climb from Eau Rouge, when you get a straight followed by all those downhill chicanes because the slightest mistake here costs you a lot of time over the lap.
There are many other challenges at this circuit and Fernando reckons one of the most important comes near the end of circuit. “The most demanding corner is definitely the final chicane before the finish line, because you approach it at around 330 km/h but then you have to tackle this very, very slow chicane with very little grip, because at Spa you set up the car with very little downforce. It’s here that positions change a lot during the race and it’s also important as it marks the entrance to the pit lane, which is very narrow. For the best set-up at Spa you need to make a significant aerodynamic compromise, because the first and third sectors are made up entirely of long straights, where you want the minimum downforce, in order to have as much speed as possible and then there’s the middle sector which has plenty of corners where you want the maximum aerodynamic downforce. So finding the right balance is always very complex at Spa, which means this is the aspect that we will prioritise in free practice.”
Of the current Scuderia Ferrari driver line-up, only Felipe has won here before, back in 2008. “Everyone wants to win here,” maintains the Brazilian. “I love the circuit and I hope there are more Spa wins to come in my career. It means a lot because of its history.” His team-mate agrees that a win in Belgium is special. “Spa is considered to be a very complete circuit which provides a real challenge for both the driver and the team,” says Fernando. “Therefore, it’s one of those races, along with Monaco and Monza and the other famous tracks with a great reputation, which gives them some added worth, as all the big names have won here in the past, so hopefully this year, we can put our name there. But at the end of the day, it’s still 25 points for the win, just like any other round.” Surprisingly, given he is a double world champion, the Scuderia’s Spanish driver has never held the winner’s trophy in Belgium. “I did well in 2005 when I came second and also back in Formula 3000 So far, I’ve never been in with a real chance of fighting for the win and I’ve often retired at Spa, usually for reasons of plain bad luck or with technical problems or down to my own mistakes. So it would be great to make up for that this year, picking up all those lost points.”