Track characteristics and key strategy indicators
Spa Francorchamps – 7.004 kilometres. Race distance – 44 laps = 308.052 kilometres. 19 corners in total. Average speed 238km/h. Circuit based on public roads.
Aerodynamic setup – Med-low downforce. Top speed 322km/h (with Drag Reduction System active on rear wing) – 312km/h without.
Full throttle – 80% of the lap (high). Total fuel needed for race distance – 150 kilos (high). Fuel consumption – 3.35kg per lap (high)
Time spent braking: 14% of lap. Number of brake zones – 6. Brake wear- Low.
Loss time for a Pit stop = 18 seconds (average)
Total time needed for pit stop: 22 seconds
Fuel effect (cost in lap time per 10kg of fuel carried): 0.38 seconds (high)
The Spa Francorchamps circuit has a very strong history in F1, going right back to the first year of competition in 1950 and is one of the drivers’ favourites. It has the longest lap of any modern F1 track at over seven kilometers and it provides one of the sternest tests of an F1 engine, with 80% of the lap spent at full throttle. The run from La Source hairpin to the braking point for Les Combes features 23.5 seconds of constant full throttle. For this reason teams rotate the engine use so they do not use the same engine at the next race in Monza, another tough one on engines.
This year with the adjustable DRS rear wing, Spa presents one of the highest possible usages of the DRS with over 60% of the lap. Only Monza is higher. However the FIA has ruled that drivers must not use the DRS in the famous high speed Eau Rouge corner for safety reasons, in case it destabilises the car and leads to an accident.
Qualifying is not hugely significant to final race result; the pole sitter has only won the race twice in the last ten years. Overtaking is not a problem at Spa and the DRS wing will help anyway. This season thanks to the DRS and Pirelli tyres we have seen 513 overtakes in 10 races, compared to 439 in 19 races last season.
In addition to the long straights there are quite a lot of high-G corners, similar to Silverstone, which take their toll on the tyres.
The Belgian Grand Prix is the twelfth round of the 2011 FIA F1 World Championship and comes after the teams’ enforced two week factory shutdown, during which no development or fabrication work may be carried out.
This does not mean that there will not be any new parts on the cars, as most teams will have been planning a significant Spa upgrade for weeks prior to the shutdown.
Having dominated the early races, Red Bull has not won a race since Valencia, four races ago. Although the team is still unbeaten in qualifying, there is no doubt that the changes in engine mapping rules meaning teams must use the same maps in the race as in qualifying, has evened things out a little. But McLaren and Ferrari have also improved their aerodynamics and closed the gap on Red Bull.
Only Red Bull drivers have started from pole this season with eight pole positions for Sebastian Vettel and three for Mark Webber.
As far as drivers’ form is concerned; Webber started last year on pole, but Lewis Hamilton won the race. Strangely only three of the current drivers have won at Spa; Hamilton, Massa (2008) and Schumacher (6 wins). Neither Fernando Alonso nor Sebastian Vettel has won this event.
Spa is notorious for fickle weather. With such a long lap, it can be raining on one part of the circuit and the rest can be dry. The forecast for this weekend is for some rain on Friday, with partly cloudy conditions on Saturday and Sunday, with temperatures around 18 degrees. However this can change very quickly and it’s always a good idea to factor in a wet weather plan.
Pirelli tyre choice for Spa: Soft (yellow markings) and medium (white markings). This combination was seen in Valencia and Germany.
The crucial factor here will be the difference in performance between the soft and medium tyre. It was over 1.5 secs/ lap in Germany and with the long lap at Spa this weekend it could be even greater.
In Germany team strategists tried to run on the soft tyre for as much of the race as possible, taking the medium tyre briefly at the end – with the extreme solution by Vettel and Massa of pitting on the last lap for the mediums.
This weekend is expected to be similar. Teams will be hoping that they use the wet or intermediate tyre at some stage in the race as that will mean they don’t have to use the medium at all.
With cool conditions forecast, warming up the medium tyre could be a challenge, especially for the Ferraris, which have struggled with this so far this season. Caution over their warm up of the harder compounds has dictated their strategy on several occasions, although they do seem to have made good progress in fixing this weakness.
Another interesting factor will be the effect of the blown diffusers as they take away horsepower from the engine, which is vital for Spa. The wealthier teams will have produced special exhaust pipes for this race to minimize the effect. But those who haven’t will suffer, so the gap between the top and midfield teams could be slightly larger than usual.
Number and likely timing of pit stops
The time needed for a stop at Spa is average at 23 seconds. Although it’s a long pit lane, the cars on the track must navigate a slow hairpin so the lost time isn’t as great as it might be.
Team strategists are expecting the pattern of the stops to be similar to what was expected at Silverstone, although that race started in wet conditions, which changed plans.
In a fully dry race, teams who are able to get closer performance between the soft and the medium may be able to make two stops work and the rest are looking at three with a late stop for the medium.
Teams have developed their cars over the season so they get progressively more laps out of the tyres at each race. The soft tyre lasted for 30 laps at the Nurburgring, but Spa is a longer lap with more high loading corners.
The chance of a safety car at Spa is statistically very high at 80% and 1.4 per race. Rain is one reason, but also accidents tend to be high speed and so there can be quite a lot of debris.
Recent start performance
Starts are a critical part of the race and strategy can be badly compromised by a poor start, while good starts can make strategists change their plans in the hope of a good result.
We have seen several trends over the season; starts continue to be a real problem for Mark Webber; he has had pole three times and lost the lead at the start each time, while overall he has lost 15 places off the grid on aggregate.
After poor starts in the first half of the season, Williams has seen a noticeable upward trend in recent races, beginning in Germany. Between them Barrichello and Maldonado have gained ten places in the last two races.
The most consistent start performer of the year is Timo Glock in the Virgin, who has been picking up places consistently, often getting ahead of one of the Lotus drivers.
As far as 2011 start performance is concerned drivers have gained (+) or lost (-) places off the start line this season on aggregate as follows:
+14 Buemi #
+8 Schumacher *, Liuzzi
+6 Kobayashi**, Heidfeld ******, Alguersuari
+2 Massa, Rosberg*****, Petrov,****
+1 Alonso***, D’Ambrosio
-2 Vettel, Di Resta, Chandhok
-8 Button, Sutil ##
– 20 Perez ###
* Schumacher had one bad start in Australia, losing 8 places but since then gained 16 places in five races. But he lost four places in Monaco
** Kobayashi lost 10 places in Spain, prior to that he had gained 8 in 4 starts. In Germany he gained four places and three more in Hungary
*** After losing places in the first three races, Alonso has reversed that trend.
**** Petrov had a good record until he lost 4 places at the start in Valencia
***** Rosberg lost four places at the start in Silverstone.
****** Heidfeld had gained 20 places but lost 12 at the start in Germany
******* Di Resta had consistent start form and gained 7 places in the first nine races, but lost 12 at the start in Germany.
# Buemi made up nine places at the start in Hungary having started 23rd on the grid
## Sutil had a positive start balance until Hungary where he lost 12 places at the start
### Perez lost nine places off the start in Hungary.
This strategy content is written by James Allen in consultation with strategists from several leading F1 teams. It is brought to you by UBS. For more key Strategy insights click Here on