2014 Belgian Grand Prix: Weekend Preview

After what has seemed like the longest summer break ever, the simply sublime 2014 season returns, with Spa-Francorchamps the venue for the twelfth race of the campaign. The circuit is unquestionably a fans favourite and the layout is certainly challenging for the drivers to master with high speed corners such as Pouhon, Blanchimont and the infamous Eau Rouge. If any more spice was needed to start the second half of the season with the proverbial bang, Andre Lotterer will make his Formula One debut this weekend at the age of 32, as Kamui Kobayashi makes way in the Caterham. That and plenty more to come in this preview…

Spa-Francorchamps overview” by Nathanael Majoros
Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 

The Facts…

  • At 7.004km, the Spa-Francorchamps circuit is the longest on the F1 calender.
  • Sebastian Vettel holds the lap record, with a 1:47.263 set in 2009. 
  • The final sector of the circuit is much faster than in the past, as the Bus Stop Chicane was reprofiled in 2007 to accommodate the new pit-lane complex.
  • The first Belgian Grand Prix was held in 1950 and was won by Juan Manuel Fangio in the Alfa Romeo.
  • Ferrari are the most successful team across the history of the race, having won 16 Belgian Grand Prix’s, with McLaren having won 14.
  • Jim Clark won the Belgian Grand Prix in four consecutive seasons, starting with victory in 1962 in the Lotus-Climax.  

Rewind 12 Months…

Sebastian Vettel took the first of his nine consecutive victories in Spa last season, in a typically clinical drive. It was a Vettel-classic, as Sebastian took the lead on lap one, (with some rather clever deployment of KERS it must be said) and broke clear of Lewis Hamilton’s DRS. From this point forward, the German never looked back. Meanwhile, Lewis battled with Fernando Alonso over second place and after several exchanges, Alonso clinched the position. However, the Ferrari man suffered a terrifying snap of oversteer at the top of Eau Rouge in the latter stages of the race which prompted a catch that even Matt Prior would be proud of. 

Opportunity Knocks For Lotterer

Caterham’s driver line-up has been far from stable for a while now. Neither Kamui Kobayashi nor Marcus Ericsson have delivered on a consistent basis and while Carlos Sainz Jr was rumoured to be in-line for a drive, it is Andre Lotterer who has been given the opportunity at the expense of Kobayashi.
Lotterer is hardly an unproven talent – he is a three time Le Mans winner and is currently second in the Formula Nippon championship in Japan, and has previously experienced the Formula One paddock as a Jaguar Test Driver in 2002. Consequently, it is unlikely that he would be over-roared by the occasion and could provide the sort of inspiration that Marcus Ericsson needs.
The most frustrating aspect of the news is the fact that Caterham have cited the “changeable conditions” which are a notorious aspect of the Belgian Grand Prix as the reason for Kamui’s departure. This makes little sense as Ericsson in particular has seriously struggled in damp conditions so far this season, and it would be crazy to drop a driver on the off-chance that precipitation effects the weekend anyway. In reality, this decision is driven by money and in Caterham’s situation, it is unfortunately understandable.
“I’m ready for this challenge and I cannot wait to jump in the car and make the most out of the weekend ahead,” Andre stated. Regardless of how long Lotterer’s stint in the sport will last, it will certainly add another talking point to this weekends agenda and it is another aspect of the event which will attract attention.

Watch Out For Williams

Williams are definitely set for an excellent weekend – I would say that both Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa are dark horses for the victory but that would be downplaying their chances – they are true contenders and everyone seems to be aware. Both Spa and Monza play to Williams strengths, as their superior straight line speed has placed even the mighty Mercedes in their shadow so far this season. I fully expect Williams to head through the sector one split as the fastest come the final stages of qualifying. Whether they can hold off the Mercedes charge in the final two sectors is debatable. 
“To be competitive in Spa you need a car with efficient aerodynamics, so we expect to be strong and are aiming for a good result,” Bottas stated. My outright predictions are featured below in prediction corner, but I do expect both Williams drivers to challenge the Mercedes supremacy both this weekend and next time out in Italy. P3 and P4 should be considered an absolute minimum for the Grove based team this weekend.

Prediction Corner

Predicting who will win the Belgian Grand Prix is perhaps the hardest of the season so far, as it is not just two names, but this time four names in the hat. However, I still believe that Mercedes will just have a narrow edge over the Williams in terms of their pace across the 44 laps. We have witnessed the true speed of the W05 in Bahrain, Spain and in Germany, and on each occasion, their advantage was significant. Hence, when they need to maximise the potential of their car, I expect them to have an advantage, if only a small one. 
For me, Lewis Hamilton heads into the weekend with the best mindset – He escaped from the runoff at Turn Two in Hungary with his car in-tact and managed to reduce the gap to Nico in the championship. Having not won a race since the Spanish Grand Prix in May, Hamilton is certainly hungry for that winning feeling and at a track where he has won twice in the past, (three times if you ask the most die-hard Hamilton fans), his form has to take a turn for the better.
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