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Spa – the joy of a real race track!
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Spa – the joy of a real race track!
Posted By: James Allen  |  27 Aug 2009   |  12:06 pm GMT  |  47 comments

Just arrived at Spa after a 6-55am BA flight from Heathrow. Ross Brawn and some of his senior engineers were on it as well as some of the photographers.

Then the 90 minute drive from Brussels to Spa, which is about half an hour south of the city of Liege. Amazingly it’s a beautiful day here. I’ve been coming to Spa for the Grand Prix for 20 years and I can count on my fingers the number of times I’ve seen a hot sunny day here. Let’s hope it lasts. The forecast is for it to stay sunny or partly cloudy all weekend, with a high of around 22 degrees.

A real man's corner

Eau Rouge: A real man's corner


I always love that moment when you drive down the forest track which leads to the car park here and there in front of you is your first sight of Eau Rouge. It’s like seeing a favourite mountain.

I used to stand up there with the legendary journo Denis Jenkinson and he could always tell the top 6 just from the way they went through the corner. He was always right.

This track is very special and it’s special to me because it’s a track where my Dad, Bill, always did really well. He was a works Lotus driver in the late 1950s and early 60s and also ran the Lotus sportscar team doing Le Mans, Spa 24 hours and all the big events. He told me all about this place long before I ever came here and I have always loved it.

One of my strongest memories of this place is the time when Kimi Raikkonen was battling with Michael Schumacher for pole position, it was 2002 and Olivier Panis had blown an engine in the BAR at Radillon, at the top of Eau Rouge, which meant that there was a curtain of dense white smoke sitting on the hill. Raikkonen plunged into it without lifting, or caring where in that pall of smoke the stationary BAR might be. It was one of the bravest and most committed pieces of driving I’ve ever seen. Raikkonen always goes well here and even though they have stoped developing the Ferrari I think he’ll get a good result here, especially as the KERS will help him on the long run from Eau Rouge to Les Combes.

Another strong memory here is the time when there was a massive pile up at the start in 1998 and I was doing on the spot reports for ITV F1. I realised that it was going to be a long afternoon, so I popped into a portaloo. Out of the blue Murray Walker threw to me, so I had to hurriedly retrieve my mike and make something up on the spot.

I’m looking forward to this race. Ross was saying on the plane this morning that they just need to get the tyres up to temperature and they will be competitive, but in trying to make that happen in the past by loading up corners of the car, they’ve introduced imbalances. He’s hoping that it will work this weekend. Red Bull should be quick, although they are going to be concerned about engines for this race and the next one at Monza after Sebastian Vettel lost his fourth of the season in Valencia.

Mark Webber needs a strong weekend and a win. If he doesn’t win and take a big bite out of Jenson Button’s lead then it’s going to make it hard with the races we have coming up.

On the tittle tattle front, it looks like Williams is moving closer to using Renault engines next year. And all routes seem to point to Nico Hulkenberg getting promoted to a race seat next year, possibly alongside Robert Kubica.

Red Bull are divided on switching to Mercedes. I hear that some of the team want to do it, but there is some resistance from some key people.

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47 Comments
  1. Tim Mustoe says:

    Wish I could be there JA! I can tell you’ve gone all misty-eyed while writing that…

  2. Lee says:

    As a Williams fan it brings back some great memories hearing the possibility of Williams-Renault being in the sport next year, but I am concerned with Renault’s reliability.

    Do you think the problems Vettel has had – especially this last weekend – are specific to his driving or the Red Bull, or is it a flaw in the engine?

  3. Oliver Drew says:

    This is one of the races of the season for me. Belgium, Spa, is THE racing track on the F1 calendar for me, it nearly always produces fascinating races, has some of the best corners on the whole season, and ALWAYS produces great racing.

    This race, alongside Monza, Monaco and Silverstone should be protected as much as possible in F1 (as should the old Hockenheim have been in my view). Here’s hoping for a great race (and a Jenson Button victory!)

    1. Werewolf says:

      And Suzuka!

      1. Oliver Drew says:

        Quite right…it’s sooo good that we’re going back there for the next few years.

  4. Robert McKay says:

    “Let’s hope it lasts. The forecast is for it to stay sunny or partly cloudy all weekend, with a high of around 22 degrees.”

    It’s easy for me to say, watching in the comfort of my armchair, but I want it more unsettled than that…

    Interesting titbit on the Red Bull/Mercedes story…I wonder what the resistance is, given that (a) it’s powerful and (b) it’s reliable, unlike the Renault engines currently in the back of the RBR which pop every other race it seems…

  5. CoolGav says:

    The Williams-Renault name is quite evocative of their sucess in the 90′s, and I wonder whether Renault (the car maker) might feel that they could return to being an engine maker and still get as much from the sport as they do with their own team. However, if the costs come down and F1 teams become profitable, it makes sense to keep the whole team.

    As for Red Bull changing engine supplier, I wonder if aero/packaging people prefer the Renault, where as engineers with an eye on reliability no doubt feel Mercedes is a better solution. Perhaps if Peter Sauber can broker a deal with BMW, they might prefer to tkae up Mercedes’ 4th team supply.

  6. ja9ae says:

    Just the thought of Spa makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. Is there a more exciting circuit? I don’t think so.

  7. **Paul** says:

    Spa is without question my favourite race of the season. I’m really looking forward to this one, especially if Brawn can get the tyres working and battle it out with Red Bull, McLaren and Ferrari.

    It would be great to see Hulkenberg in F1, his record is good and I think he can go a long a way.

  8. Pawel says:

    Williams is rather a limited-budget team. On that basis I don’t believe Kubica would join Williams as Pole is not backed by rich sponsor.

  9. martin_tf says:

    Can’t wait for this weekend’s race. I hope it will be more interesting than last week.

  10. silverstoned says:

    very little has been said in the media lately about Kimi’s flattery of the package he’s working with. Take valencia. With basically a fifth row car, he put it on the third row of the grid in quali and even better in the race itself. JA’s review only mentioned a ‘strong performance’ . Surely understatement?

  11. Babur says:

    Couldn’t agree more on the Raikkonen’s qualifying lap memory from that weekend. I was at a sports bar with some friends watching the qualifying and there was a collective “Wow” from everyone there when he went through the smoke without lifting. I think that’s where his “Iceman” nickname started from.

  12. Steven says:

    A Williams-Renault combination? Hmmmmm ;-)
    Victories next season? I hope so and in my opinion Nico Rosberg should stay.

    1. Werewolf says:

      I tend to agree, Rosberg is at least as good as any of the drivers likely to be available.

      Are F1 teams selecting drivers for their forenames these days? We’ve grown accustomed to Sebastiens at STR, now it seems Williams likes Nicos!

  13. chris says:

    Well well a Renault back in a Williams, who’d have thought it.

    Excellent blog btw.

  14. Peter says:

    Kubica to Williams seems a great move for both sides! Also Williams going back to Renault will be a pleasure to most.

  15. Steve Evans says:

    Some lovely recollections there James, I look forward to reading your motor sport memoirs one day!

    1. Werewolf says:

      I was thinking something similar. In any case, James, discussing F1 with Jenks at Spa is the epitome of cool and I am profoundly jealous!

      I’d add Hakkinen’s move on Schumacher to the recent great moments and going back a bit Dan Gurney’s win in the Eagle-Weslake (1967, I think) was special.

  16. john g says:

    you’re saying hulkenberg to renault, alongside kubica? or those two at williams-renault… noises are getting louder about the possibility of toyota leaving at the end of this year, and selling their team, maybe williams know something we don’t?

    i too love spa, if you get there early, you can get onto the track and drive around (slowly as there’s loads of trucks and vans working on it, but it’s still great) and then explore the old circuit and the beautiful region around. i don’t know much of the history of the place but it’s just incredible to be there, you can feel it in your blood that it’s such a special race.

    it just makes me more sad that bernie has popped up again saying that these incredible classic circuits, that all the drivers and fans love, have to match the multi-million payments of new government backed proposals from new countries who want to use F1 as a marketing exercise. with the circuit paying bernie / CVC to host F1, and bernie taking all the money from trackside advertising and paddock club, the circuits can only try to recoup the hosting fee’s through ticket sales. they are getting screwed from every direction and i can easily see that in a few years time, if bernie does not sort it out, there will be none left (except perhaps monaco). bernie is singlehandedly devalueing F1 racing – he, and CVC, has to realise that chasing the new government money is a hopelessly short sighted approach as fans turn off from a sport which gives them increasingly less in return for their support.

    1. Werewolf says:

      Let us all fervently hope FOTA has sufficient influence to keep the classic races alive. As television is such a vital factor in F1 finances, I wonder whether or not the old circuits generate better viewing figures, but then I believe Canada was normally a ratings winner and was still dropped.

      I suspect the question of revenue will be big leading up to the next Concorde Agreement, there being one or two other issues this time around.

      1. Rudy Pyatt says:

        Ditto plus 10 on your comments and John G’s. But let me go further.

        There’s a wonderful track in Germany. Not only do they have a 24hr touring car race, but anyone with a few euros in pocket can turn up and run as many laps as they choose to pay for, on motorcycles even. Oh yeah, I remember. It’s the Nurburgring Nordschleife.

        Seriously, if that track is suitable for weekend warriors to take on; if “mere” touring car drivers can run 24hrs there; if motorcyclists can be mad, bad and dangerous to know there; how is it that the self-proclaimed “pinnacle of motorsport” and “the world’s best drivers” can’t?

        I heard you in the back of the class, but don’t call “safety” as the reason. I repeat: MOTORCYCLISTS run that lap daily, many making the trek from the UK regularly, and they’re not going slowly. That’s orders of magnitude more dangerous than anything you can do on any road course except at the Isle of Man, and certainly way beyond anything in F1. Surely all that superfine, expensive driving and engineering talent (and tools) can make an F1 car get around there safely too.

        I mean, come on. Think of the spectacle. In Bernie’s terms, think what enormous buzz/TV ratings/$$$$$ would come from adding the real ‘Ring to the calendar. As we say in the South, though, “too much like right” for it to happen.

      2. john g says:

        as much as i love the nordschliefe (i had a wander round part of it when i was out for the nurburgring GP this year, and it’s such an incredible place to be!), it just wouldn’t work. this is one time where i’d have to say that the safety is not up to scratch – with such a long circuit, you couldn’t marshall the whole track, and support vehicles would take an age to reach an accident. add to that, the tv coverage would be quite sparse (unless you used on-boards the whole time, which actually i like). Also, the surface isn’t suitable for an F1 car – when nick heidfeld went round a few years back in the BMW F1 car, it looked like it was on stilts. he did love the experience tho, there’s probably no better circuit for a racing driver.

        need to go for the 24h once in my life, read about in motorsport a few months back. what a race!

  17. Red Kimi says:

    Gotta love Spa… anyting can happen at Spa but usually the best drivers win there… not for the faint of heart!

  18. Peter says:

    It would be great to have the video link of Kimi driving through the smoke, please.

    Kimi is absolutely phenomenal on this track and I will be sorry to see him not to be able to fight for the victory as Ferrari stopped developing the car. Kimi`s performance in Monaco and Spa show how great driver he is. He is up with the greatest ever on this circuit, just have a look the list of winners of Spa.

    1. Pay The Piper says:

      OnBoard:
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=emYvs3D-2q4

      All four of his Q laps from that weekend are also on youtube somewhere. Watching Kimi hang the tail out, going wider and wider, throwing it around, kicking up dirt … what happened Kimi, yeah we know Ron wound you up, but they built you a car that could let you show-off all your natural ability … maybe one last tour of duty down Woking way, before calling it quits, eh?

    2. Babur says:

      onboard camera of the same corner

  19. Nicollers says:

    I’ve always liked Spa (a close 2nd to Montreal for me), but have only recently become aware of the Spa 6 Heures race. Basically it’s a 6 hour race that starts mid-late evening, into dusk and then finishes at night and the cars have to be older than 1970 ish. James, did your old man ever do this?

    I’m really looking forward to a great Grand Prix. I’ll be up in Wales and Sunday looks like it’s rainy. My father-in-law loves Grand Prix, so there will be no Eastenders Omnibus on. It’s a shame this old lady of a circuit wasn’t used as the first race after the summer break. It really gets everyone’s juices flowing.

    I think James had answered my question in his blog re KERS, as I was wondering when the McLarens and the Ferraris would use it. After Eau Rouge it seems, but I would love it if one of them pressed the button through the best corner(s) in the world….

  20. mp4-19b says:

    Martin Whitmarsh was earlier quoted saying that kers might not be beneficial in spa. so just thought i would analyze it my self. my analyis, surprisingly is in close agreement to Whitmarsh. I’ve used Motec i2 pro to analyze the braking. Spa has very few hard braking points, three significant heavy braking points are la source, les combes & the new bus-stop. now we all know that the circuit is 6 odd kms & kers can deliver that extra boost for 6.6 sec. Now as spa comprises of mainly high speed sweeping curves, there is hardly any usage of brake to aid kers in recovering the loss dissipated. The straight from la source to les combes is flat out, nowadays nobody lifts at eau rouge. then you have a series of right-left hander’s heading into rivage, but not too hard on the braking as you can see from my analysis,pouhon these days is taken flat out ,as there is a new tarmac(no gravel) so gives drivers extra confidence even if they run off the track.Fagnes & Stavelot are very gentle on the brakes, the final sector comprises of Blanchimont which is flat out, then you have the new bus-stop. so the net energy dissipated during braking is very less, as to what is required to make kers work efficiently around spa.

    i’ll briefly explain the parameters used in my analysis

    in the video you will see 11 parameters

    1) a map of the circuit with a small dot indicating the position of the car. (note the darker colour in the braking zones)

    2) brake pedal position (notice how few a times it is used)

    3) Throttle position, unsurprisingly you’ll notice its ON almost 60% of the time.

    4)Then there is a numeric bar gauge displaying longitudinal & lateral g-forces(notice it going through eau rouge ;) )

    5) then there is a red colour graph of brake-pedal position(in %) vs time(in sec) notice that it hardly reaches its peak.

    6) then there is a green colour graph of throttle pedal position (in%) vs time(in sec) obviously you’ll notice the peaks, cuz of obvious reasons.

    7) one more graph depicts brake temperature vs time (not of much importance in this discussion) but still you’ll notice that its comparatively low(less that 1000 Celsius peak) in places like montreal & monaco the brake temp easily exceeds 1000 Celsius,but not at spa.

    8)there are 3 gauges displaying the Gear,engine rpm & cornering speed.

    What i could infer from this analysis is that spa is not suited for kers,as previously thought. There are not enough braking points for the kers to get recharged. Its like having a kers car on an oval, of what use is it? simply put into simpler terms aerodynamic downforce wins over kers at spa. So i don’t expect mclaren & ferrari to perform as well as they did at hungary & valencia.

    This is purely my thought & i might be wrong.

    Spa braking analysis using motec by me

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2VSXyh95xyw

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tp9jN7vAvfE

    1. john g says:

      ferrari say that Spa will be a very good track for KERS, contrary to mclaren…

    2. Rudy Pyatt says:

      Thanks for this. Bottom line from an engineering wannabe’s perspective: Flowing tracks do not need KERS. Modern point and squirt tracks with long straights and first or second gear corners at either end? That’s KERS territory.

  21. Andrew says:

    First time to visit Spa this weekend. Seated in the 3rd row in the stand at the end of Eau Rouge in you blog picture. Should be a blast.

  22. Ian Curtis says:

    SPA is by far my favourite track.
    I can’t go this year, but have been loads of times. The campsite atmosphere is absolutely fantastic. Especially if you happen to pitch up next to the dutch!.
    1 year when Jos Verstappen was driving (an arrows I think) we were pitched up in our little toblerone tents, campfire blazing.. tinnies in a bucket of cold water.. when this landy pulls onto the site pulling a horse box. Orange flags all over it.. who’s brought horses to an F1 meet says my mate.. hehe.. out jump 6 Dutch lads and procede to pull out the BIGGEST speakers i have ever seen from said horse box.. bigger than wardrobes htey were.. laugh?.. i almost got some sleep on that saturday night. Needless to say.. we followed them to the track on Sunday as we knew thats where the fun would be.. hehe.. Fantastic memories.. great reace track.. my favourite.. long may it reign. Have a great weekend there James! (Still waiting on that limo)
    Regards.

  23. Ferrim says:

    I would like Rosberg to stay at Williams, but by now I’ve accepted he’s going to McLaren. I think it’s gonna be a mistake in his career, but I can understand the guy.

  24. Andrew says:

    The Renault works team and Webber seem to have escaped. It may just be coincidence, that’s what I think anyway.

  25. Brian says:

    Man I remember that qualiying lap from Kimi in 2002. I was a huge Shumi and Ferrari fan, but that was the day I became a Raikkonen fan. It was insane, any other driver would have lifted off the throttle. This is a great track and hopefully see a great race.

  26. Carl M says:

    Spa is no doubt the best track on the calendar. Hopefully Kimi can make it 4 wins at Spa. However I believe Rubens Barrichello will carry on the form that saw him win last weekend.

    1. Barrichello
    2. Hamilton
    3. Kimi

  27. Howard Hughes says:

    Excellent, excellent post.

  28. SS says:

    That awesome moment in Spa 2002 – MEGA Kimi commitment!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mwYgyT1eEcQ

    ENJOY!

  29. Obster says:

    James-I had the same experience-sort of lost, driving down the hill, parking the car, and, on a misty afternoon, suddenly arriving on foot right at La Source, to see Eddie Cheever in the Alfa-Benneton blast around the hairpin.
    “Guess I found it” was my first thought, my mind was truly blown at the sight.
    Catching the broadcast of qualifying is a must at this track.

  30. Neal says:

    Just reading this in my hotel room in Stavelot getting very excited for my first experience of live Eau Rouge tomorrow from my seat.

    1. James Allen says:

      You must be in one of the few hotels around here with broadband then!

  31. Casey says:

    Appreciate your writing as ever. Hope Badoer doesn’t hurt himself or the car at least. Seems more fair and sensible to me that Marc Gene, a proven racer of some sort of late, unlike Badoer, would get this next race. Could be a race-by-race rotation between the two unless one really shows over the other, as I expect Gene would.

  32. Greg says:

    I’ll be there on sunday
    hoping for a thriller of a race ! :D

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