Reports

Belgian F1 Grand Prix

2016 BELGIAN GRAND PRIX – PREVIEW

Circuit stats
2015 winner Lewis Hamilton, 43 laps, 1:23:40.387s
2015 pole position Lewis Hamilton, 1m47.197s
2015 fastest lap Nico Rosberg 1m52.416s (lap 34)
Name Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps
First race 1950
Circuit length 7.004km/4.352 miles (longest of the season)
Distance to Turn One 265m 0.165 miles (longest of season: Barcelona 730m/0.454 miles)
Longest straight 2.015km/1.252 miles, from Turn One, La Source, to Turn Five, Les Combes
Top speed 345km/h/214mph, on the approach to Turn Five (fastest of season: Monza, 360km/h/224mph)
Pitlane length 390m/0.242 miles, estimated time loss 22s (longest of season: Silverstone, 489m/0.304 miles)
Full throttle 60 per cent (highest of season: Monza, 75 per cent)
DRS zones Two, on the approaches to Turns One and Five
Key corner Turn 10, a double apex left-hander called Pouhon. The approach is downhill and fast – 300km/h (186mph) – and the entry is blind; the drivers need to demonstrate total commitment to be quick
Fastest corner 301km/h (187mph), Turn 18
Slowest corner 64km/h (40mph), Turn Two
Major changes for 2016 None, except for a few changes to the kerbs at Eau Rouge
Fuel consumption 2.3kg per lap, which is high
ERS demands High. There are several long straights, along which energy deployment is vital, and only a couple of slow corners at which to harvest energy. An efficient ERS is imperative
Brake wear Low. There are only nine braking events around the lap and plenty of long straights along which to cool the brakes
Gear changes 48 per lap /2,112 per race

Circuit facts
History lesson Spa-Francorchamps is one of only four tracks on this year’s calendar to have featured on the inaugural world championship calendar in 1950. The original circuit was fast and long (14kms/8.7 miles); the modern iteration of the track (7kms/4.3 miles) was opened in 1983 and features many of the original corners such as La Source, Eau Rouge, Stavelot and Blanchimont.
What makes the track unique The long straights and fast corners. There are plenty of both, which combine to produce one of the fastest average speeds of the year – 235km/h (146mph).
Grip levels Medium. The asphalt isn’t abrasive and, despite the number of high-speed corners, Pirelli is able to take some of its softer tyre compounds to the race.
Run-off When the track re-opened in 1983, it was deemed to have acres of run-off. Other tracks have since caught up in terms of safety and Spa is now considered to have an average amount of run-off.
Watch out for… Turns Three & Four, Eau Rouge. This high-speed flick up the side of a hill has featured on every iteration of Spa-Francorchamps’ challenging layout and it’s always been fast. The cars approach the corner at 300km/h (186mph) and they endure a 1.7g compression at the bottom before heading up the hill.

The drivers on: the circuit

#14 Fernando Alonso

“Spa is an incredible circuit that definitely deserves its reputation as a legendary place to go racing. You have to have a strong package there, in terms of performance and reliability. More than 70 per cent of the lap is spent at full throttle, which will be a challenge in itself, but we’ve shown over the past few races than even on the circuits that statistically should be difficult for us, we’ve worked hard and surprised ourselves with our level of performance relative to our competitors.

“It’s a long lap, with two very high-speed sections and a twistier section, so we have to find the right balance between the two to get the best car set-up. We’re seeing good correlation between the data back at base and in the car on track, so I hope we can continue our momentum and get the maximum out of the weekend. This circuit is always a tough challenge for car and driver and but if we can pull all the elements together we can enjoy a positive weekend. It won’t be an easy race, but as always we’ll be pushing for points as hard as we can.”

#22 Jenson Button

“I love Spa! Eau Rouge is one of those fabled corners that drivers and fans always talk about – but it really is that special. The feeling of the sweep uphill through the corners is just awesome, every time. As well as being the longest circuit on the calendar, it’s also got an average speed of 230km/h (143mph) so it’s pretty quick! That means it’s pretty brutal on the cars – you’re at full throttle for almost three-quarters of the lap – so all the team and drivers will be working hard to manage all the different aspects of the car and react quickly to anything that crops up during the race.

“The important thing, as always, is reliability, and because of the nature of the Spa circuit it tends to be a race of attrition. The guys and girls back at MTC and also in Sakura are working hard to keep pushing the limits of our package, and I hope we can enjoy a smooth race from that point of view. I’ve always loved Spa right from the early days of my career. It still feels mega with every lap you do and never fails to put a smile on my face. It’s easily one of the best circuits on the calendar and definitely one of my favourites, so let’s see what we can do – I hope we can have a solid weekend.”

Event stats
Start time 14:00hrs local/13:00hrs BST
Race distance 44 laps (full world championship points will be awarded after 75 per cent distance/33 laps)
Safety Car likelihood High. Accidents at Spa-Francorchamps are usually high-speed and, as a result, there’s an 80 per cent chance of the Safety Car
When to press record Qualifying laps at Spa-Francorchamps are spectacular because it’s a high-speed track and drivers need to be brave to extract the maximum from their cars. The 150mph (241.402km/h) average lap barrier could be broken in Q3 this year; the record currently stands at 149.924mph (241.279km/h), set by Jarno Trulli in 2009
Don’t put the kettle on Whenever two cars exit La Source nose-to-tail because there’s likely to be an overtaking manoeuvre on the approach to Les Combes 20s later. As for pitstop strategy in the race, the top seven drivers pitted twice last year. The first pitstops came between laps nine and 13, and the second stops came between laps 21 and 30
Weather conditions now 22 degrees
Race forecast 20 degrees with some sunshine. However, the Ardennes region of Belgium has notoriously changeable weather and the teams need to be prepared for all weather conditions
Tyre choices Supersoft/Soft/Medium, the eighth time this season that this combination has been used at the race

Event facts
First Belgian Grand Prix 1950
Slogan There is no official slogan for the Belgian Grand Prix, but it’s one of the most historic races in F1. It featured on the inaugural world championship calendar in 1950.
Belgium’s F1 heritage This is the 61st world championship Belgian Grand Prix and the 49th to be staged at Spa-Francorchamps. The track was first opened in 1921 and in ’25 it staged the European GP, which was won by Antonio Ascari, father of future world champion Alberto. The most successful Belgian driver in history is Jacky Ickx, who won eight grands prix and twice finished runner-up in the world championship standings.
Smallest winning margin 0.7s, in 1961. Ferrari dominated the weekend: Phil Hill took pole position, from team-mate Wolfgang von Trips, and the American then headed home a Ferrari 1-2-3-4 in the race, coming home just ahead of his German team-mate.
Sporting legacy Given the history surrounding the Belgian Grand Prix, the country has produced relatively few F1 stars. Only 24 drivers have contested grands prix, with just two victors – Jacky Ickx and Thierry Boutsen.
Did you know? This is the home race of McLaren-Honda’s reserve driver, Stoffel Vandoorne; it was at Spa, in 1997, that F1’s first Safety Car start took place.
Don’t forget In 1968 McLaren won its first grand prix at Spa-Francorchamps. Team founder Bruce McLaren came home 12s ahead of Pedro Rodriguez.
Fan zone: Jacques, aged 18, from Liege, asks: “After the three-week summer break, how challenging is it to return to business at one of the most challenging circuits in the world?”
McLaren’s answer: “Undoubtedly, Spa-Francorchamps is one of the great circuits in F1. But our preparation is the same for every race, irrespective of the challenge; the only difference for Spa is that much of the preparation work was done three weeks ago, before the factory shut-down.”

The drivers on: the event

#14 Fernando Alonso

“It’s time to go racing again! I’ve enjoyed the summer break, spent some time with my family in Asturias and at my kart circuit, enjoyed a break in California and managed to fit in some training too, so it’s been well spent. It’s also been a good opportunity to reflect on the first half of the year, the progress we’ve made, and channel our energy into the second half of the season. As a team, we’re getting stronger and stronger, and I’m looking forward to getting going again.

“Spa is a great challenge and the perfect venue to come to after the summer break. I feel refreshed and raring to go, and ready to take on the incredible twists and turns of this legendary track. There’s a lot to think about at this circuit: strategy, tyres, fuel, power unit management, and then there’s the weather. This is the sort of circuit that always throws up something unpredictable and there’s usually some drama during the race, so I hope we can fight hard and take advantage of any situation that comes our way.”

#22 Jenson Button

“Spa is one of those legendary classics. It fully deserves its reputation as one of the great circuits on the calendar, and it never fails to provide great racing year after year. I often stay in my motorhome next to the circuit at European races, and Spa is one of those special places where the atmosphere is incredible – the fans are really passionate and flock from all over, and everyone is itching to see the F1 cars scream past them and race wheel-to-wheel after a few weeks off.

“I’m looking forward to getting back in the car. The summer break has been great – a chance to rest, recharge and spend time with friends and family. I spent most of it in the United States, but still managed to keep up with Team GB’s efforts in the Olympics – incredible! It’s been a great summer of sport and I’m hoping for more positive results as we start the second half of the season. There’s a lot to work on, but we are all working hard together towards the same goals, and pushing for more progress. Spa is a great place to get going again, and I can’t wait to get started.”

Hear from the management

Eric Boullier

“Spa-Francorchamps is a very special race for us, for a number of reasons. It’s the venue where McLaren took its first ever grand prix win at the hands of our founder Bruce McLaren, in 1968. It’s also the home race for our reserve driver, Stoffel Vandoorne, who is sure to have a busy weekend there. Its legacy is richly deserved, a classic circuit with an impressive heritage and a track layout that’s the stuff of legends. The circuit is a huge test of both car and driver, and an incredible spectacle for the thousands of fans that travel there from all over Europe.

“The whole team has had a well-deserved break after the gruelling schedule of 12 races since the start of the season. We are now just over half way through, and ready to fight again to achieve our end-of-season goals. The midfield pack is particularly close, and each team is stronger on different circuits, so there’ll be no let-up in in how hard we push or the developments we bring to the car, in our bid to continue our progress through the rest of the season and into next year.

“Together, McLaren-Honda is continuing to push hard, and everything we bring to the car – be it on the chassis or power unit side -  is valuable learning for next year. We’ve enjoyed a couple of weeks away from Formula 1, but our ambition is as strong as ever, and we’re definitely ready to go racing again!”

Yusuke Hasegawa

“After a hard-earned summer break, it’s exciting to start the latter half of the season at such a magnificent track as Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps. This track is as beautiful as it is challenging – probably one of the most challenging circuits on the current F1 calendar. The steep uphill of Eau Rouge to Raidillon, and the fast technical downhill to Stavelot will especially require the ultimate combination of power, car balance and driver performance.

“Though the long and power-hungry nature of Spa won’t suit us, our target for the remainder of the season is clear: to aim for championship points and take further steps forward with each race. We hope that we can continue our positive momentum that we had before the summer shutdown and look to another strong weekend in Spa.” 

2016 BELGIAN GRAND PRIX – PRACTICE

"In the end we made a lot of progress today"

FERNANDO ALONSO, MP4-31-04
FP1 - 3 laps 22nd
FP2 1m49.772s (+1.687s) 30 laps 12th
It's not ideal

“It’s obviously not ideal to start the weekend with a brand-new power unit, only do three laps with it, and then have to change it, especially as it means we’ll be taking penalties.

“It’s not ideal, as I say, but you always prefer these things to happen in practice sessions rather than in races – and it’s worse still if you’re running in a points-scoring position when such mishaps occur. So let’s look on the bright side: as ever, we’ll learn from our mistakes and we’ll make sure we minimise the incidence of repeat occurrences in the future.

“We’ll be starting Sunday’s race from the back of the grid, but we’ll be trying our best to recover positions from there. I expect Lewis [Hamilton], who’ll be starting next to me, will be quicker than me, so I’ll try to hang on to his tail, put a rope around his car and get him to pull me through the field!

“I still don’t have a feeling for the performance of the revised PU, as today we ran it only in conservative modes, so tomorrow we’ll see how much we can push. I’m sure it’ll be a step forward.”

JENSON BUTTON, MP4-31-03
FP1 1m52.407s (+4.059s) 18 18th
FP2 1m49.419s (+1.334s) 23 9th
In the end we made a lot of progress today

“In the end we made a lot of progress today: after making set-up changes following a challenging first practice session this morning, we had a much improved second practice session in the afternoon.

“As a result, we’ve now achieved a handling balance that works for us, but there’s still room for improvement. Our long run was reasonable; we seem relatively competitive, certainly compared to the cars against which we usually race. And we were quicker than Kimi [Raikkonen] on the longer runs, which was good to see.

“Getting through to Q3 is always our aim on Saturdays, but what happens on Sundays is more important still. Put it this way, we didn’t get through to Q3 at Hockenheim yet I still finished eighth. And, here at Spa, it’s easier to overtake than on most circuits, so I’m feeling reasonably optimistic about the race

“It’s unusually hot here this weekend, but that’ll mix things up for the race, which could be good for us too.”

ERIC BOULLIER
We still have a lot of work to do before qualifying tomorrow,

“Today was a tricky day for us, compromised by a number of factors, but we reacted well to those challenges and by the end of FP2 we’d made good progress with regard to finding a decent handling balance.

“As a result our corner speeds were competitive – competitive with anyone’s in fact – but we knew in advance that the long and fast Spa-Francorchamps circuit wouldn’t suit well the specific characteristics of our car’s performance envelope.

“Having said that, the work that both Honda and Esso have done recently, in terms of improving combustion efficiency and turbo/compressor harvesting/deployment, has had a small but discernible positive effect, for which congratulations are due.

“However, we still have a lot of work to do before qualifying tomorrow, and of course whatever Fernando is able to achieve will necessarily be stymied in terms of grid position by his very significant PU-related penalties.

“But those are the rules, and that’s all there is to it.”

YUSUKE HASEGAWA
We’ll look to our engineers to fine-tune for tomorrow’s qualifying

“For the Belgian Grand Prix weekend, we’ve introduced a new ICE with increased combustion efficiency and a new turbo/compressor combination, to increase power unit performance including efficiency for the latter half of the season. 

“Unfortunately, during FP1 we found a water leak in Fernando's MGU-H and had to cut short his running time. Based on the situation, we assessed that the MGU-H issue was not a consequence of the update and therefore elected to replace it with the same updated spec for FP2. As a result, we’ll incur grid penalties for the race on Sunday. Thankfully the team did a great job in preparing a new power unit to run in FP2, and we were able to get straight back out on track at the start of the session.

“Today’s sessions were focused on running the cars with low downforce and checking grip levels, and, despite the power hungry nature of the circuit, we were able to finish in our now usual midfield positions. The initial feedback on the power unit updates has been positive, so we’ll look to our engineers to fine-tune for tomorrow’s qualifying and Sunday’s race.”

2016 BELGIAN GRAND PRIX – QUALIFYING

“I’d say that was the best qualifying of our season so far”

It was a day of mixed fortunes. A P9 at Spa is a great qualifying result for Jenson, especially on such a challenging circuit. The challenges remained mostly in the garage for Fernando, who will start at the back of the grid. We're focusing on the positives and looking forward to the race.

JENSON BUTTON, MP4-31-03
FP3 13th 1m49.665s (+1.691s) 10 laps
Q1 11th 1m48.700s On Options
Q2 10th 1m48.051s On Options
Q3 9th overall 1m48.114s On Options

“I’m very happy with ninth place. Spa is a tough circuit for our car so I don’t think we expected to get the result we did. You’ve know when you’ve done a good job, and I feel I did just that.

“We obviously won’t be near the front, but our race pace should be better than our qualifying pace was so we’ll certainly be competing with the cars that have qualified around us.

“The team have done a great job this weekend, and Honda have brought us a new power unit, so we’re looking at a situation of definite improvement. We didn’t expect to be this far up in qualifying here, so hats off to the whole team; it’s good progress as I say.

“All in all, I’d say it’s the best qualifying of our season so far.”

FERNANDO ALONSO, MP4-31-04
FP3 11th 1m49.453s (+1.479s) 9 laps
Q1 DNS No time
Q2
Q3

“We noticed that there was an issue after P3 but we didn’t have time before qualifying to do a proper investigation, so in qualifying we managed to do only about 500 metres before we had to stop the car.

“Now all we can do is to do everything we can to make sure we finish the race without any further issues.

“It’s been a difficult weekend so far for me – a little bit unlucky because after all Jenson has the same new-spec PU yet he’s had zero problems. But as I say it’s just a bit unlucky, that’s all.

“With regard to the new-spec PU itself, again, as was the case yesterday, I’ve had too few laps on it so far this weekend to be able to really compare it with the previous one. We’re moving in the right direction though – Jenson’s result shows that I think.

“Obviously it’s painful when you have reliability problems such as these, but at the end of the day it’s part of our learning process. We know what we have to do: we have to understand what’s still too fragile in the PU, reinforce those parts, and make sure that next year we have a PU that’s powerful and strong enough to be capable of fighting at the front.”

ERIC BOULLIER

“Fernando had another very frustrating day, failing to complete even a single lap in this afternoon’s qualifying session before his car drew to a halt on his out-lap.

“We don’t yet know the exact cause of the problem – that’ll require a thorough investigation – but it’s possible that he may require yet another PU change for tomorrow’s race. If that’s how things pan out, he’ll incur further penalties, but he was always going to start from the back row of the grid anyway owing to the penalties he’d already incurred.

“On Jenson’s side of the garage, things are altogether more cheery. He drove very well this afternoon, moving smoothly from Q1, to Q2, to Q3, and ending up recording a very creditable P9 by the end of the qualifying hour, just 1.370s behind Nico’s [Rosberg] pole time.

“Tomorrow, as Fernando has already japed, he’ll do his best to hang on to Lewis’s [Hamilton] flying Mercedes as Lewis inevitably carves his way through the field from the back row. Watching them race their hearts out doing that should make for great TV.

“As for Jenson, who’ll be starting from the fifth row tomorrow, there’s every reason to expect him to drive one of his typically gritty yet disciplined races to a points-scoring finish, as indeed he did last time out at Hockenheim.”

YUSUKE HASEGAWA

“It was another bitter-sweet qualifying weekend for us, but, to first focus on the positives, Jenson drove brilliantly in qualifying, finishing P9 despite the power-hungry nature of this track. This confirms that our power unit update has indeed performed as expected, and I’m thankful to everyone in Sakura and Milton Keynes for working on the development and engineering of the power units during the summer months.

“On the other hand, Fernando’s side of the garage suffered a difficult day. During the final laps of FP3, his ICE showed an oil pressure drop. We started investigating the issue immediately following the session, and, after data checks, maintenance and understanding the risks, we took a team decision to run the car in qualifying. Unfortunately the oil pressure couldn’t be maintained, and it was duly necessary to stop the car at the start of Q1.

2016 BELGIAN GRAND PRIX

“That’s progress – real progress – and, believe me, a few months ago that would have been unthinkable on a circuit like this”

It was a weekend of mixed emotions. One that saw the team work tirelessly in challenging circumstances at one of the toughest circuits. Ultimately on the day, we saw an incredible performance from Fernando, coming from the back of the grid, enduring a red flag and race restart, to secure P7. It was incredible to watch. Sadly Jenson's race ended in the first lap when his car was damaged. We're pleased with the progress we're making, and feeling good about Monza next weekend.

FERNANDO ALONSO, MP4-31-04
Started 22nd
Finished 7th
Fastest lap 1m54.484 on lap 54 (+2.901s, 15th)
Pit-stops One: lap 24 (2.36s) [Prime-BackUp]

“It was an exciting race to drive and I had a good feeling throughout.

“We had good pace this weekend; we did better than expected on this track; we were in the top 10 with Jenson yesterday in qualifying; and we’ve scored points today.

“Believe me: a few months ago that would have been unthinkable on a circuit like this. That’s progress – real progress.

“And, after all the bad luck we’ve had so far this weekend, we finally got some good luck today. We started last, but we managed to keep away from all the incidents, gain some positions thanks to the Safety Car and then a couple more because of the red flag.

“We then put on fresh tyres and found ourselves in fourth place – and, better still, we had the pace to manage the situation afterwards.

“Okay, we couldn’t hold back Lewis [Hamilton], Checo [Perez] or Seb [Vettel], because they were just too fast, but we had enough pace to keep Valtteri [Bottas] behind all the way to the flag.

“Finally, it’s great news that we overtook Toro Rosso in the Constructors’ World Championship – I think we can be regularly in the points from now on.

“So, to sum up, this weekend we saw evidence of very good progress from the team; we’re moving in the right direction, that’s for sure.”

JENSON BUTTON, MP4-31-03
Started 9th
Finished DNF
Fastest lap -
Pit-stops None

“We looked really good for points today, so it’s disappointing that we didn’t score any, but it happens. I’ve been around long enough to know these things happen.

“I had a really good start – I got ahead of a Williams, pulled in front of a Red Bull and drew alongside a Force India. But then I lost a lot of places at La Source and ran wide. I rejoined the track, but Pascal [Wehrlein] made contact with me at Turn Five, damaging the rear of my car. There was a lot of damage and we were unable to complete the race.

“After such a short race, there’s not much more to say!”

ERIC BOULLIER

“Having suffered problem after problem yesterday and the day before, Fernando enjoyed a trouble-free run today, forcing his way from the back of the grid to a fine seventh place by the end of a truly dramatic Belgian Grand Prix.

“By contrast, very soon after the start, Jenson’s car was hit by another car, through no fault of Jenson’s, and we judged the damage it had sustained too serious to feel able to authorise him to continue. It was massively frustrating for him and for us, because he’d shown very impressive pace here so far this weekend.

“That being the case, we’re encouraged by our car performance here, overall, and we’re optimistic of building on this weekend’s decent form when we arrive in Italy in a few days’ time.

“Granted, Monza is the fastest racetrack on the Formula 1 calendar – and as such our car should in theory be unsuited to its very long straights – but we’ll do our very best to score points there all the same. Talking of points, the half-dozen that Fernando scored today have lifted us ahead of Toro Rosso in the constructors’ world championship table; as a result we’re now in sixth place. That’s not great, but it shows that things are going in the right direction for us.

“Last but not least, on behalf of all at McLaren-Honda, I want to say ‘get well soon’ to our ex-driver and old mate Kev [Magnussen] after his massive shunt at Eau Rouge today.”

YUSUKE HASEGAWA

"Fernando drove a brilliant race today, and the team did a phenomenal job to get him from the very back of the grid to finish P7 – and at Spa too! This is another confirmation that our power unit has indeed taken a step forward, and I’m happy and thankful to everyone for all their hard work.

“Jenson was unlucky to retire at the very start of the race, when he was unexpectedly hit from behind. He had a strong start to the weekend, and it was a great shame that he couldn't capitalise on his very good P9 starting position.

“Of course, we’re still hungry and not completely satisfied by these results, but after each race we go home encouraged by our progress and this one is no different.

“Next up is Monza, which is probably the toughest circuit of the year for us, but we’ll prepare as usual to give our all."