Reports

Belgian F1 Grand Prix

2017 BELGIAN GRAND PRIX – SET UP

Spa-Francorchamps is one of the most revered racetracks in the world. Its fast, undulating sweeps are a stern test for car and driver, and with an average speed approaching 233km/h/145mph, it’s one of the fastest laps of the season. The circuit is inextricably linked with McLaren because it was here, in 1968, that the team scored its first world championship grand prix victory in the hands of Bruce McLaren

NEED TO KNOW

Race title 2017 Formula 1 Pirelli Belgian Grand Prix
Circuit name Spa-Francorchamps
First race 1950

TRAVEL

City Spa
Time zone CET/BST +1
Population 11,000
Surprising fact There are 480 guesthouses in the villages surrounding Spa-Francorchamps. But there aren’t many big hotels
Local speciality Mussels (moules) and French fries, or simply fries and mayonnaise. If you don’t like fries, you could try a waffle or some local mineral water. Thanks to its plentiful springs, Spa is known as the café of Europe
Weather Recent temperatures have hovered around 20 degrees and more of the same is expected over the grand prix weekend. Irrespective of temperatures, rain is always a possibility in this region of the Ardennes mountains

Track

Track length 7.004km / 4.352 miles (longest track of the year)
2016 pole position Nico Rosberg - 1:46.744s
2016 winner Nico Rosberg, 44 laps - 1:44:51.058s
2016 fastest lap Lewis Hamilton - 1:51.583s (lap 40)
Lap record 1:47.263s (Sebastian Vettel, 2009)
Tyre choice Purple Ultrasoft | Red Supersoft | Yellow Soft
Distance to Turn One 265m / 0.165 miles
Longest straight 2.015km / 1.252 miles (from La Source to Les Combes)
Top speed 360kmh / 224mph (on the approach to Turn Five)
Full throttle 70 percent
Brake wear Low. There are nine braking events around the lap, but only three of them are heavy
Fuel consumption 2.27kg per lap, which is high
ERS demands Low. It’s a long lap and there are plenty of opportunities to harvest braking energy
Gear changes 48 per lap / 2112 per race

RACE

Laps 44 laps
Start time 14:00hrs local / 13:00hrs BST
Grid advantage The short dash to Turn One reduces the emphasis on any grid advantage. Pole position isn’t on the grippy racing line; it’s on the right side of the grid, giving the pole-sitter the inside line for Turn One
DRS There are two DRS zones, on the approaches to Turns One and Five
Don't put the kettle on... Last year’s race strategy was skewed by the red flag on lap nine, after Kevin Magnussen crashed at Eau Rouge. Race winner Nico Rosberg used a two-stop strategy – one stint on the Soft tyre, followed by two stints on the Medium – and the likelihood of a repeat this year won’t be known until after Friday practice, because Pirelli is taking its softest compounds to the race for the first time
Pitlane length/Pitstops 390m/0.242 miles (A pitstop takes 20s, but the time loss to those on-track is relatively small because they have to negotiate the La Source hairpin)
Safety Car 80 per cent, which is high. Most accidents at Spa are high-speed and take a lot of clearing up, but the weather can also bring out the Safety Car. A heavy downpour prior to the start of the 1997 race resulted in the sport’s first ever Safety Car start
Watch out for... Turn 10, a 180-degree double-apex left-hander. Last year’s entry speed was 290km/h/180mph; this year, with the extra grip produced by the 2017 cars, it’s expected to be even faster. The drivers need to be totally committed through here in order to be fast

THE DRIVERS

FERNANDO ALONSO

“I love the first race after the summer break! It’s a great feeling to come back feeling rested, relaxed and recharged, and ready to go again for the second half of the season. I’ve enjoyed time away with family and friends, worked hard on my training and now I’m really looking forward to getting back in the car. 

“Spa is incredible – for many of us it’s one of our favourite tracks. It’s got a legendary reputation and it’s totally deserved. The feeling when you drive Eau Rouge is completely different to any other corner on the calendar. You’re so low in the car and the gradient is so steep that as you go up it you can only see the sky – it’s completely surreal. 

“As the season goes on we’re getting stronger and stronger, and I hope the second half of the year will bring us some more points-earning finishes. This race is a difficult challenge for the whole team – the engineers and the mechanics – as you’re on the throttle for almost three-quarters of the lap, which makes it’s a tough circuit for both the car and the driver. We know we’ll have to work hard to get any kind of result there, but it’s a long lap and there are plenty of overtaking opportunities, so we’ll keep pushing to get everything we can from the weekend.”

STOFFEL VANDOORNE

“I’ve been looking forward to driving in my first Belgian Grand Prix as a Formula 1 driver for so long. It’s exciting for any driver at their home grand prix because it’s always a special weekend. It’ll be great to have the backing of my home crowd, and there’ll be a lot of fans out there, as well as family and friends coming to support. 

“After a busy first half of the year you always look forward to a holiday, but after a few days I already wanted to be back in the car! But it’s been good to have a bit of a break, reflect on what’s happened in the last few months, analyse the good things and the bad things, train hard and then come back even stronger in Spa for the second half of the season. 

“The start of the season has definitely been challenging – not only from my side but for the team as a whole. We’ve suffered a few problems which have hampered our running, and I think maybe from my side it took a bit more time to really understand what I needed from the car because of those problems. However, more recently we’ve been seeing the results of a lot of hard work I’ve been putting in with the engineers and with the team back at the factory. Everything we’ve been working on has been a good step, and from that we’ve seen positive progress. The margin for improvement is still significant and there’s more good things to come, so I’m hopeful the next few races will be promising for us.”

THE MANAGEMENT

ERIC BOULLIER

“Going racing after the summer break is always a good feeling. We’ve all had the chance to recharge our batteries and spend valuable time with loved ones, and now we’re raring to go racing again. The Spa-Francorchamps circuit is always a special race for the team, and this year’s Belgian Grand Prix will be even more poignant. 

“Firstly, it’s the home race for our very own Belgian driver Stoffel, who will be tackling his favourite circuit as a Formula 1 driver for the very first time. Secondly, Spa is the venue at which our founder, Bruce McLaren, won his first-ever grand prix for his team in 1968. What’s more, this year we’ll be celebrating another very special milestone: Bruce would have celebrated his 80th birthday on 30th August, so on Sunday we’ll be honouring his incredible legacy with a fitting tribute. 

“We’ve certainly endured our fair share of ups and downs in the first half of the year, but we still have our sights fixed firmly on our goals for the end of the season and there are nine more races to demonstrate the fruits of the incredibly hard work we’re putting in behind the scenes. It’s a long season, and there are plenty more opportunities for us to push hard and score valuable points. Our reward will be continued progress, and I hope we can show the enthusiastic Belgian fans an enjoyable weekend of racing.”

YUSUKE HASEGAWA

“After having a short but refreshing summer break, we’re now heading to Belgium to start the second half of the season. 

“Spa-Francorchamps, one of the most popular and historical tracks on the calendar, is a tough circuit for the car with the long straights and various high-speed corners. 

“It’s also said to be one of the most difficult but favourable tracks for drivers, as they are able to prove their own skills and courage through some difficult sections such as Eau Rouge, one of the toughest corners on the calendar. 

“McLaren Honda had a positive wrap-up of the first half of the season in Hungary with a double points finish in the race and also collected some precious data for improvement at the in-season test. 

“Now on to the second half, we see Spa-Francorchamps as a challenging circuit for us with its power-hungry features, however we will try our best to have a good race and maintain the momentum we acquired in Hungary.”

2017 BELGIAN GRAND PRIX – FREE PRACTICE

“SPA IS PROBABLY THE BEST CIRCUIT IN THE WORLD”

A relatively smooth Friday in both practice sessions for McLaren Honda. Both sides of the garage opted to use both sessions to conduct aero evaluations and work on various set-ups and balance configurations for the rest of the weekend. 

In FP1, both drivers reported issues with the DRS, which led to a couple of brief stoppages. Despite an additional short hiatus for a red flag, as well as set-up changes between runs, both were able to clock up good mileage to prepare the team for qualifying and beyond. At his home race, Stoffel finished the session in 10th position, and Fernando in 13th. 

The second session began productively, with further evaluations and handling changes. In typical Spa style, the weather turned on its head 20 minutes before the end of FP2, drenching the track quick enough to render it too saturated even for Wet compound tyres. Thus, the team elected to conclude both drivers’ running early in order to avoid taking any unnecessary risks on track. Fernando set the session’s 11th fastest time, while Stoffel finished the day in 14th.

FERNANDO ALONSO

#FA14 MCL32-05
FP1 1:48.252s (+2.750s) 18 laps 13th
FP2 1:46.743s (+1.990s) 20 laps 11th
FP3 1:46.060s (+2.144s) 12 laps 10th

“Spa is probably the best circuit in the world, and every lap you do here is magic. Having said that, we lose so much on the straights, but then we gain in the corners, so it’s a difficult weekend for us here. 

“We didn’t have a great day today, especially in the first session, where we had some issues. The second session was business as usual and we eventually got to a reasonable car, which we can work on tonight with the engineers and try to find some tenths for tomorrow. When it started raining, we went out in the wet conditions to check how the car would behave in case there’s more rain over the weekend. We didn’t expect it to rain that much, so I quickly came back into the pits to bring the car home safely. 

“We need a good qualifying, a good start and a good strategy to make everything perfect if we want to take points, and we need to be focussed and concentrated. It’s going to be difficult, but maybe the weather will help us – mixed conditions would be ideal.”

STOFFEL VANDOORNE

#SV2 MCL32-04
FP1 1:47.865s (+2.363s) 18 laps 10th
FP2 1:47.303s (+2.550s) 17 laps 14th
FP3 1:46.300s (+2.384s) 14 laps 14th

“The feeling in the car was quite positive today, the handling felt quite good. From my position, this weekend we know we are starting last, so we had a bit of a different run programme today compared to a usual Friday, concentrating more on high-fuel runs to set up the car for the race. That’s where our main focus is for this weekend, and hopefully with a bit of changeable weather we can still have a good result. 

“The penalty doesn’t affect my motivation at all. It’s a shame that it’s happened in Spa, but it’s the way it is. The penalties were inevitable considering the issues we’ve had at the beginning of the season, so it was always going to be like this. We need to think about the future, and hopefully it will help us at other grands prix. 

“I feel confident about the rest of the season. As usual, there are circuits that will suit us better and circuits that will not suit us as much – but when the chance is there to grab some points, we need to take advantage of that.”

THE MANAGEMENT

ERIC BOULLIER

“Today was a relatively productive day despite the stoppage for rain, and we were able to conduct a number of useful evaluations on the chassis side with aero and handling. Spa is a tough circuit on the cars, and we want to make sure we’re as prepared as possible for the weekend ahead. 

“I’m pleased that we managed to run reliably in both sessions - it’s given us useful information to take forward into tomorrow’s all-important qualifying session. We know that Stoffel will unfortunately be starting at the back, but for Fernando a good grid slot will be key to a solid result on Sunday. For Stoffel, we’re focusing on giving him the best race car we can for his home grand prix, and he put a solid performance today in front of his home crowd. 

“As we can see, the weather is typically unpredictable here at Spa, and conditions can change rapidly. We’re working hard to optimise our set-up for all eventualities, and a bit of rain on Saturday could really spice things up for qualifying. And that means on Sunday, anything could happen.”

YUSUKE HASEGAWA

“Today we used the updated PU for both drivers in FP1 and FP2. I’m satisfied that we were able to confirm the effectiveness of the updates we brought here, without any major issues. I think it was a positive day overall. I’m also happy that both drivers finished close to the top ten, even though we expect a tough weekend at this power-hungry circuit. 

“It’s a shame that Stoffel has to start with grid penalties at his first home race in Formula 1. However, we decided as a team to change his PU in order to introduce the updates as early as possible. In spite of the situation, he showed solid running in front of his home crowd today. Fernando improved his position in the afternoon session and I think both drivers are in good shape going into Saturday’s qualifying. 

“With the famous Spa weather, the weekend may still be tricky. That said, I think we have a chance for both drivers to get some points from the race.”

2017 BELGIAN GRAND PRIX – QUALIFYING

"SOME INCREDIBLE TEAMWORK BETWEEN OUR DRIVERS TODAY"

On an unexpectedly dry Saturday morning in Belgium, both Fernando and Stoffel ran smoothly in FP3, and were able to conduct all of the necessary preparation ahead of the qualifying session. The track started damp from overnight rain, but quickly dried out, enabling both drivers to run to plan. Fernando completed 12 laps and set the 10th-fastest time, and Stoffel posted the 14th-fastest time after 14 laps.

Given Stoffel’s grid penalties for his PU changes which mean that he will inevitably start from the back of the grid for tomorrow’s race, the team elected to optimise Fernando’s strategy for qualifying. The two team-mates worked well together, staying close with every run to ensure the best possible tow. Both progressed through to Q2, with Stoffel in 10th position and Fernando in 14th.

In Q2, the team once again opted to take advantage of Stoffel’s slipstream, executing a perfect strategy whereby Fernando stayed tight to his team-mate’s rear wing for much of his two runs. Unfortunately, in the dying moments of the session, Fernando lost deployment in the final sector of his final lap, and narrowly missed out on progression to Q3, ending the session in 11th. Stoffel didn’t set an official time in Q2 and finished the session in a net 15th, but will start his home grand prix from 20th place due to engine penalties.

FERNANDO ALONSO

#FA14 MCL32-05
Q1 1:45.668s (14th) Option tyre
Q2 1:45.090s (11th) Option tyre

“In the end, today was a positive day for us, if you look at the overall performance. We were 1.5 seconds from P1 in Q2, and this for us is like pole position. However, at the end of the lap, because of an issue we didn’t manage to make it into Q3, but it could have been possible today.

“The team did a great job and we tried to take benefit from Stoffel’s penalty to help the other car take some slipstream on the straights. But, at the wrong time – in the last attempt in Q2 – we had a problem with the deployment, and I lost six tenths between Turns 11 and 12, so I aborted the lap because it was no longer possible to improve.

“We’ll start from P11 tomorrow – which here in Spa is a bit of a surprise for us anyway – and maybe being on new tyres and choosing the compound is better than starting 10th.”

STOFFEL VANDOORNE

#SV2 MCL32-04
Q1 1:45.441s (10th) Option tyre
Q2 No time set (15th) Will start 20th due to 65-place grid penalties

“It’s been reasonably positive today – I’ve been preparing for the race all weekend because I know I’ll be starting from the back. Today was all about helping Fernando try to get both cars into Q2 and then help him with the slipstream, and that’s what we did. Unfortunately he just missed out on Q3, but now we have to focus on tomorrow. I know starting from 20th I’ve got a lot of catching up to do.

“I hope I can rely on the usual Spa weather like I could yesterday in the practice sessions – that would definitely help us! We knew it was always going to be difficult to get into Q3 here. We tried everything we could today, I tried to help the team as much as possible, and it’s a shame that Fernando just missed out.

“It was good teamwork today. Fernando and I have a very good relationship – we’ve showed that in the past, and we’ve showed again today that we work really well together. I’m sure the situation will come where I’ll need his help!

“This weekend is so special for me – there are a lot of fans here, and I have friends and family here with me to cheer me on. It definitely gives me a little extra bit of motivation for my home grand prix.”

THE MANAGEMENT

ERIC BOULLIER

“Today the team showed immense strength and spirit after a difficult start to the day. I’m both pleased and proud of the efforts of every single one of the guys and girls in the garage, who worked together seamlessly, executing the perfect strategy in order to optimise our potential for tomorrow’s race.

“Overnight, we discovered some issues within Stoffel’s power unit, which led to another PU change and further grid penalties for our Belgian star at his home race. His crew worked tirelessly to ready his car in time for FP3, and I’d like to praise and thank them for all their hard work. Also, thanks to both Stoffel and Fernando, who acquitted themselves admirably as the perfect team-mates throughout qualifying. In Q1, Fernando and Stoffel helped each other with tows – even on the same lap – a remarkable feat to pull off, and one which helped them both to progress to Q2.

“In Q2, Stoffel – fully aware of his starting position for tomorrow’s race – did the honourable job of sacrificing his own performance to provide Fernando with an extra little boost on what is renowned for being an extremely challenging, power-hungry circuit. Bravo, Stoff – I’m sure the favour will be returned in due course!

“After a tough start to the day, and despite a lot of effort, a broken curfew, and excellent teamwork, it’s a shame that Fernando was unable to progress through to Q3. He came excruciatingly close, until a deployment setting issue at the end of his final flying lap meant he was unable to better his lap time. However, 11th place isn’t a bad place to be, and it gives us more options for tomorrow’s strategy. History tells us that this will be a tough race, but with hard work, luck, and potentially some changeable weather on our side, I hope we can put on a good show tomorrow for our Belgian fans.”

YUSUKE HASEGAWA

“I feel satisfied that Fernando will start the race from a position ready to fight for points at this power-hungry Spa-Francorchamps track.

“As is always the case with Fernando, he pushed to the maximum during the session, and although he missed out on Q3 he finished ‘best of the rest’ which leaves the team a free choice of tyres for the race tomorrow.

“We think we could have extracted a bit more from our package, but the power deployment ran out before the end of Fernando’s final flying lap. We will now work on adjusting the settings accordingly with McLaren and Fernando before the race.

“Regarding Stoffel, we detected a potential issue in his ICE data after yesterday's FP2 and as a precaution opted to change his power unit overnight. With this in mind, his qualifying strategy was to concentrate on set-up for the race, rather than pushing for position.

“We also witnessed some incredible teamwork between our two drivers today. Both Stoffel and Fernando worked seamlessly to help each other with tows, which helped them to progress through into Q2.

“Considering today’s performance, we’re hopeful that we’ll be able to score some much-needed points tomorrow, and we’ll do our best to maximise the opportunity.”

2017 BELGIAN GRAND PRIX – RACE

“FOR A FEW LAPS WE DARED TO DREAM OF PROGRESS, BUT UNFORTUNATELY IT WAS SHORT-LIVED”

A frustrating day for McLaren Honda at the Belgian Grand Prix. Both drivers made excellent starts – Stoffel moving from P20 to P17 and Fernando from P10 to P7 on lap one. However, despite initial optimism, the pecking order was quickly established, and neither were able to capitalise on their early promise. 

The notorious power-hungry nature of the Spa-Francorchamps circuit took its toll, and meant Fernando and Stoffel were left vulnerable to attack on the straights. To compound the issue, Stoffel lost time during his two pit stops due to a sticky front left tyre. On lap 26, Fernando reported a problem with the engine, and the team opted to retire his car as a precaution. 

A Safety Car in the latter stages of the race didn’t provide any respite for Stoffel’s race, and although he was gaining in the closing stages, he was unable to catch the tight pack in front. He still managed to put in a solid performance under the circumstances – starting from 20th and last position on the grid – and finished the race in 14th place.

FERNANDO ALONSO

#FA14 MCL32-05
Started 10th (due to gearbox penalty for PAL)
Finished DNF (25 laps)
Fastest lap 1:51.720s (lap 12) +5.143 (19th)
Pit stops One - lap 10 (3.82s) Option > Back-Up

“In general, it’s been a good weekend. We played a good team game in qualifying, we had a great start – taking the outside lane was the right decision – and we were seventh after the first lap. It was fun for the first three or four laps! Then we tried to defend our position, but in the middle of the straights some cars passed us without even activating the DRS. 

“For sure, is not easy to race like this, as you cannot have any good wheel-to-wheel battles. It was a difficult afternoon and we were not competitive in race trim. The car was too slow on the straights and it was impossible to have any battles out there, so points were also impossible today. 

“Eventually, we had to stop due to an engine issue.

“The situation is what it is and we need to improve it as soon as we can. I know the team is working day and night improving the car, and we hope we can see the results soon.”

STOFFEL VANDOORNE

#SV2 MCL32-04
Started 20th
Finished 14th
Fastest lap 1:49.907s (lap 44) +3.330s (15th)
Pit stops Two - laps 18 (6.52s) and 30 (5.39s) Prime > Option > Option

“It was a difficult race for us today. 

“We had a good start, but from there on it was a pretty frustrating race. From the position we were starting in too, it was always going to be tricky, especially as I felt that our car was reasonably good and the pace was there to progress, but we were just a sitting duck on the straights. It meant we had no chance to overtake anyone, and no chance to defend from the other guys behind us. It was more or less the maximum we could do today. We got to the flag and that’s probably the only positive. 

“We always knew it was going to be tough, and today showed that.”

THE MANAGEMENT

ERIC BOULLIER

“Today was a very disappointing day for McLaren Honda, despite the best efforts of our drivers. Both Fernando and Stoffel made excellent starts, and for a few laps we dared to dream of progress, but unfortunately it was short-lived. 

“We knew this track would be difficult for us, but after a positive start to the weekend, we were surely hoping for a better on-track performance come race day. Sadly, our package was not up to the job and, as we feared, we were unable to keep up with our nearest competitors when under pressure on the long, arduous and infamous Spa-Francorchamps circuit. 

“Fernando gave everything all weekend, and showed his inimitable talent and prowess at the start, rapidly gaining places, which he was ultimately rendered powerless to defend. Stoffel too, started strongly, but was unable to show off his knowledge of his home circuit – and favourite track – and finished the race in 14th, points too far out of reach. Nevertheless, he drove a measured, solid race and did all he could to finish in 14th despite starting from the back, a couple of tricky pit-stops and a car that was unable to provide the performance required to reward the thousands of fans who turned up to show him support at his first home grand prix.”

YUSUKE HASEGAWA

“We thought we had the possibility of scoring some points here in Belgium today, so it was disappointing that we finished the race outside of the top ten. 

“After starting brilliantly, Fernando then had a tough race overall. He radioed in with what he thought was a problem with the car, and although there was nothing showing in the data, we decided to stop the car as a precaution.

“Despite starting from the back of the grid, Stoffel had good pace throughout his home race, and drove well with some great overtaking manoeuvres. 

“This weekend was definitely a bag of mixed fortunes. We were able to show some decent pace in qualifying, but we still have work to do with our race pace, and we will continue to accelerate our development in order to improve our PU further.”