Insight: How F1 team strategists approach the Belgian Grand Prix
Posted By: James Allen  |  23 Aug 2011   |  12:11 pm GMT  |  111 comments

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.

Form Guide

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.

Weather Forecast

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.

Spa - a Real drivers' circuit (Darren Heath)

Likely tyre performance and other considerations

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.

80% chance of safety car at Spa (Darren Heath)

Chance of a safety car

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 #
+10 Glock

+8 Schumacher *, Liuzzi
+6 Kobayashi**, Heidfeld ******, Alguersuari
+5 Kovalainen
+4 Trulli
+2 Massa, Rosberg*****, Petrov,****
+1 Alonso***, D’Ambrosio

Held position
– Ricciardo

Lost places
-1 Hamilton,
-2 Vettel, Di Resta, Chandhok
-7 Barrichello
-8 Button, Sutil ##

-15 Webber,
-16 Maldonado
– 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

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This stat has to be read rather carefully. It is obvious that someone like Vettel is going to perform worse than Glock, say. Or take Webber vs. Buemi as your comparison.

The reason is simple: even if all drivers were equally good starters, and the changes after one lap were purely down to chance/random fluctuations, then the driver on pole will on average perform worse than the driver starting last.

A better measure of success might be some kind of relative gain in position: e.g. how many positions did a driver gain/lose out of the overall possible places he could have gained/lost.


James, which side of the track is pole position? Is it on the “inside” or the “outside” of La Source?

Also, I’ve heard that the WCC of any given season can choose, circuit by circuit, which end of the pit lane they’d like to be in. Is that true?


James, top speed assessments, with and without DRS, is based on last year’s data? or it’s based on simulation.


Brilliant insight James, thanx 4 the info!

Im a motorsport technology student at Stafforsshire Univeristy and as part of my placement we run a Ginetta G40 in the Ginetta Junior champioship and a G50 in the Supercup that both support the BTCC championship. The info is useful as we do things like fule calculations and have to think about tyre wear and pressures.

I was wondering tho in relation to fuel how you work out “Fuel effect (cost in lap time per 10kg of fuel carried): 0.38 seconds (high)” please? I know how to do the fuel calculation to work out how much fuel is used per lap but it would be great to know how to work out how fuel carried costs in terms of lap time.

Keep up the great work and thanks for the link to the ubs site for more info.



Jonathan, as a university student in a technical field, can’t you do some analysis of your own about acceleration and deceleration rate changes from changing mass? Seems pretty straight forward to me; more mass to accelerate = less acceleration. The less the acceleration the longer the lap time. If you are racing you should have some good data on acceleration and mass of your car. Figure it out. I suspect you won’t see much difference as you are at 800kg and 150 hp.

Jonathan Powell

Thanks for your reply Steve. Im aware that the more mass you have to accelerate the less acceleration you have but am wanting to know how James works out the fuel effect which is in this case 0.38 seconds per 10kg carried per lap?

Kind regards,



Data from F1 engineers


How good starts this! Shame about the prohibition of DRS in the best part of this circuit, but I hope it will be a good show

I wish I could go to a grand prize at the championship of this year, because today I could not go because it is impossible to buy tickets at these prices


Ok, it’s very interesting data consideration, thanks for that precise analysis.

James, question applies to engines’ comparison. As far as SPA is demanding to engines, Ferrari’s Luca Marmorini mentioned that, each extra 10 hp gains 0.3 sec lap time at SPA.

So, can one consider difference between Renault and Mercedes (or Ferrari) engine performance, supposedly: 15-20 hp? and can just this factor (in this assessment) make 0.5 sec (or some like that) loss for RBR?


Why are starts so appreciably harder for Webber?

Can the drivers practice starts at non-GP times?



First of all, fantastic post. So informative and interesting, especially those “fuel effect” and “engine use” type stats.

2 questions.

Can we expect this for every race from now on(would be great)?

What is the difference between “loss of time for a pit stop” and “Time needed for pit stop”? Wouldn’t they both be the same?

Anyway, love this site.


Yes, every race. Loss time for a pit stop is how much time coming in and out of the pit lane takes. The Time needed for a stop is the total pit stop time, including the bit where they change the tyres.


James, I like the gain and lost position information. THANKS!

It’s quite amusing with Lewis’s overtaking skill he’s gained only 1 position. For Alonso I can understand as Ferrari had a draggy start for the year so gaining 1 is justifiable.

Wow, Webber, Maldonado and Perez lost so much.

Didn’t expect Buemi to top the list.

It’s amazing F1 statistics seem endless, which is really why it’s the most interesting sport in the world.


Be careful on Buemi – he made up 9 places in Hungary because he started at the back. It’s still a great achievement, but needs some context.


Great post as usual James, thank you.

I too would like you to elaborate more on how Blown diffusers can effect the engine’s horsepower please.



I believe it is due to having to push the exhaust through a “nozzle”, used to accelerate the exhaust flow to increase the speed of the exhaust as it leaves the pipe.


James do you know how big the DRS zone is going to be? Surely this would’ve been an ideal chance to see what no DRS would be like with these tyres. Hopefully it won’t be too big, I want to see overtakes, not cars passing each other before the breaking point!

Hopefully the FIA won’t mess it up like Canada and Turkey. I’m one of those fans that supports DRS but it needs to be used properly.


Breaking point??? Oh, braking point. What’s wrong with overtaking because of a better run out of a corner or better positioning for a series of corners and forcing the issue?


Highlight of the season for me. Must be a ‘track guy’? Remains the best track on the calendar… for how much longer?

Agree that RB and Renault at a disadvantage on this venue, and Mac pole distinctly possible. With Vettel off top step now for some time, maybe he’ll press himself into a DNF, or show he really HAS matured.

I wish someone(?) Would take a deeper interest into MW’s starting performance, one of the bizarre but reliable facts keeping the leaders teammate down with the ‘rest’.


Fantastic article James. I’m afraid the Massa win still rankles with me. I was sitting at Eau Rouge that day – and it was clear that Massa had no appetite for it when it started to rain, whereas Lewis and Kimi were going through there on the ragged edge! Great race – but we heard the news about the result from some Ferrari fans in a tiny bar about 2 hours later. Not Fun!


I take your point – Hamilton was amazing to watch that day. But he made a mistake. And that mistake was not so much overshooting the chicane, as not waiting until after La Source to pass.

It was dead obvious that the pass was assisted by the manner in which he let the Ferrari past (ie he did so in a manner that left him closer to the Ferrari than had he taken the corner properly). Did he hand the position back? Yes. Did he gain an advantage? Without any doubt.

Totally fair call in my opinion. A sad way to end a great race, and a shame that Lewis didn’t win because it would have been more fitting. But absolutely a fair penalty.


I think that it is hard to argue that the penalty wasn’t ‘factually’ correct. It is clear that Hamilton had an advantage on the straight that he wouldn’t have had if he had stayed on the circuit. However I would still argue that the penalty was ‘unfair’- on the grounds that many similar incidents before and after have gone largely un-punished. My central point was that Massa drove for the points (and lucked into the win) but Lewis and Kimi raced for glory. I know which previous Spa ‘winner’ I’d like in my team going into this weekend.


Enough on the 2008 anaylsis, please


Me too! Massa was the winner for the most undeserved F1 win of the century after Spa 2008!


It is an advantage, and I already told you why.

It is not the position that he returned on the straight that I am talking about, it is the time advantage that he gained. If he actually went through the chicane properly, he would have not been close enough to Kimi to make the pass. He gained in terms of time from cutting the chicane, and therefore was rightly penalized.

If Hamilton was thinking everything through, he would have realized he had a major advantage over Kimi in terms of grip, and passed him later in the lap. He could have hung back, ensured that it was obvious that he ceded the position, and then started charging again after the next corner.

Either way, by cutting the chicane, he was able to position himself perfectly for an overtake into La Source – a position he would not be in had he actually stayed on the track.


Tony, it’s always been a case of a penalty being assessed whether you gain a position, defend a position or gain time by cutting a chicane. There is no retrospective application of rules here… it was written in stone then too.


Good point Malcolm except that at the time the conventional wisdom was that if you gain a place by going off the track you have to give it back. Not give it back and wait an unspecified amount of time. This is exactly what he did.


Did Massa go off the track? No.

Did Hamilton go off the track? Yes.

What if there was a wall where Hamilton cut the chicane? Would Massa have still not deserved the win?

Just because you are the fastest car on the track doesn’t mean that you deserve to win. If you drive over the limit and cut parts of the circuit, and gain an advantage, then you should be penalized.

What Hamilton did gained him an advantage. Had there been grass there, he would not have been in a position to overtake at the next corner. Had he driven around the chicane properly, he would not have been in such a prime position for overtaking. Hamilton gained an advantage by cutting the chicane in that it put him in a superior position for the entry to La Source.

Just because he was fast doesn’t make him innocent.


Did Hamilton gain an advantage. No. He handed back the position. Lewis fell behind the rear of Kimi. It was n’t Lewis’s problem that Kimi was struggling with a car that had no grip in wet conditions that he slowed.


You failed to mention your favourite one, Singapore 2008.


Hi James,

Can you give us some insight as to why some drivers (Raikkonen and Schumacher comes to mind) really excel at Spa? Is Spa a true mark of a good driver?



I’ve always thought so. But so is Monaco and that’s a low speed circuit. Both very challenging though.


Precision and accuracy are crucial in the most extreme corners – the tightest confines and the fastest sweepers.

Monaco is challenging because you have to thread the needle and position the car perfectly to extract that last little bit. Spa is challenging because you be very precise, lap after lap, with your entries into each fast corner, focusing on positioning the car perfectly and carrying very high speed into each corner.

While it is a very different approach, and some drivers tend to be better at one than the other, it still comes down highly to positioning the car perfectly for these crucial corners. If you are off by 25 cm on entry, at Spa or Monaco, your speed must be reduced drastically to avoid going off the track or hitting the wall. Because of the high speeds or the tight confines, any adjustment to your entry will result in a very slow corner.

If you are off by the same amount in China, Valencia or Abu Dhabi, you can still make it work by trail-braking a little harder to get the car to rotate (or run over the exit kerb a bit and use some run-off as part of the track). The losses on these circuits by making little mistakes are measured in the hundredths in such a corner, rather than the tenths.

Basically, at Spa or Monaco, there is more to lose when you make a mistake, and that’s what separates the great from the good.


That’s why the only drivers ever to win more than one Formula 1 race at Spa are all world champions


I think the whole Monaco is a real drivers circuit is a _______ (insert favourite 4 letter word)….

The winner is almost always the fastest car regardless of driver. So unless the top driver changes each season, I think it’s mostly the car.

2011: Vettel in a Red Bull (WCC looks to be)

2010: Webber in a Red Bull (WCC)

2009: Button in a Brawn (WCC)

2008: Hamilton in a McLaren (fastest car)

2007: Alonso in a McLaren (McLaren had more points that Ferrari in the WCC)

2006: Alonso in a Renault (WCC)

2005: Raikkonen in an unreliable McLaren (fastest car, but lacking the reliability to win the WCC)

Last 7 wins all in the best car.


Monaco is definitely a driver circuit rather than a car circuit. I think you’ll find that’s a common theme in the opinion of drivers and engineers alike.

Don’t forget, to your stats you can add Senna’s wins in 87, 92 and 93 – none of which were in the best car.


You dont think thats because the best drivers tend to arrive in the best cars do you.

You could argue that about winners of Monaco, but whatabout some of the standout performances from other drivers.

Kubica in a renault last year, Senna in a toleman in 84, Alesi in a tyrell. Those drives were standout drives IMHO.


Excellent summary, it’s so good to have these stats in one place.

However, the figure which concerns me is the likelihood of a Safety Car. I am still not happy with what sometimes appears to be the over-use of this, apart from starting a race in monsoon conditions. It seems unfair to me that a driver who has risked his neck driving on the limit for 15 or more laps to eke out an 8 or 10 second lead, should have it snatched away from him through someone else’s accident.

Isn’t it be possible to control professional drivers with flashing yellows (or waved yellows), rather than using the blunt axe of a Safety Car?


For the first time in a season, am left wishing the dark clouds stay away for thanks to Pirelli & DRS, dry races are more interesting & I believe this weekend will be a dry one since last year we had a wet Spa (excuse the pun)

But you know what, Massa’s win still hurts so bad for come on, Spa is a driver’s track & Massa definitely doesn’t deserve to be on that list of past winners.

And yes it’s really amusing that the most complete driver EVER has never won Spa.

Another fun fact, Spa has been won by Ferrari & Mclaren the past 10 years with each winning it for two years back to back then the other team taking over the next sequence of years.

Last time round, Ferrari won it in 07, 08 & 09 so this can only mean 2010, 2011 is Mclaren’s year.

And with the super long straights, I think this will be the track where Red Bull’s domination of poles will finally come to an end since the Renault engine isn’t as strong as the competition.

Anyway the wait is over, it’s time for the hostilities to resume.


Am not happy with the fact that whenever we have cooler temperatures, the Ferrari excuses come flooding in on how they can’t warm their tyres as reason for poor performance – Crazy!


It’s not an excuse, it’s an admission of a problem they are facing.

If they say that they can’t heat the tires quick enough, then that is their problem, and nothing is being excused. They are admitting that their car isn’t extracting the most out of the tires.

Realistically, that’s all that a racing car is designed to do: optimize the tire. The engine? Made more powerful to keep the tire propelling the car forward at its optimum grip level. The suspension? Controlling the tire so that it maintains an even level of grip. Brakes? Made very powerful to maximize how the tire can slow the car. Wings? Pushes the tires harder into the ground so they work better.

If Ferrari admits that they can’t heat the tires, then it is an admission that they didn’t design the car to get the best out of the tire.


“the Ferrari excuses come flooding in on how they can’t warm their tyres as reason for poor performance”.

So true! An admission of failure if there ever was one!


And what’s McLaren’s excuse for sucking on warm weather?


Fantastic as usual James. Having the DRS zone down Kemmel straight, something that has already allowed for large breaking zones into turn 3, do you expect there to be alot of DRS based passing?


Given how obvious Les Combes is as an overtaking spot, I’m surprised they didn’t put the DRS zone on the run through Blachemont into the bus stop. They did well by putting the DRS zone in a less obvious place at the Nurburgring.


Totally agree with that. This placement is, I fear, a bad mistake.

For me, DRS works best when it actually puts a driver in a position to pass on the following (non-DRS) part of the circuit (eg Malaysia and Nurburgring). The advantage of your suggestion of pre-bus stop is that it would help the following driver to get into a good position at La Source, to execute a non-DRS pass into Les Combes.


Yes, naturally

Stephen Hopkinson

Presumably, with a relatively low-downforce setup at Spa, DRS will offer less of a reduction in drag and therefore less of an advantage?

Also James, any thoughts on DRS at Monza? Surely the nature of the circuit should raise some unique issues, particularly trading off qualifying performance against race pace?


But James, he is correct.

There is a trade-off, as the drivers will either need to opt for a quick qualifying time (more downforce, using DRS on the straights), or faster straight-line speed for the race (less downforce, less drag all around the circuit – not limited to the DRS zone).

If a driver chooses to use a low-downforce set-up, they will destroy any driver that goes for a high-downforce set-up on all of the non-DRS straights. Lesmos and Paribolica will be where the high-DF cars rule, but every straight will be made up by the low-DF cars.

It will be interesting to see, for sure.


No, it means you can run more downforce, which will look after the tyres in the race, but still get the low drag running in qualifying – win/win


I’m hoping that the possibility of wet weather or a chaotic race could help Kobayashi or Schumacher to a podium this weekend.

I guess a Vettel DNF is pretty important too or the championship is done, and it’s way too early for that to happen.


I agree – for the sake of excitement in the championship, we could really use Vettel DNFing this weekend (and then at Monza too). It seems like all of the top 5 have had a couple of instances of bad luck this season except for Vettel. While I’d never wish bad luck on an honest sportsman, you feel like it’s the only way now that the championship can be in any doubt…

I’d also love to see Schumacher get a podium this year – 20 years since his first GP start. When he was riding up in second towards the end of Canada this year, I was screaming at the screen for him to hold on.


OK.. Massa won the 2008 edition on paper…


Hi James,

Interesting analysis on the gains from starting position (Is this is gains over the first lap, or just to the first/second/third corner??)

While it is very interesting data – im not sure how much we can take from it–

One thing is reaction times and bravery/risk taking in the first corner….

However, the fact the drivers outside the top 10 generally start on new tyres, allowing them to pick off a few drivers who started on older tyres inside the top 10.

It could also highlight drivers who underperformed in qualifying (either deliberately or not) – when they find themselves starting among slower cars.


!st lap. It’s interesting to look at trends

Tom in adelaide

This would have been a great place to trial no DRS….. Opportunity missed.


You are right on the money. If we thought Turkey was bad, DRS at Spa will make overtaking a total walkover.

I’ve been wondering all year how they would treat Spa – I assumed it was a given that it wouldn’t be in use up to Les Combes.

I think this is a real mistake.


agreed, Les Combes is already an overtaking spot, should put it all the way from stavelot to the bus stop, let the drivers sort out if they can make blanchimont with it open.


I agree… why not completely de-activate the DRS at this race? It is not needed. Or, at the very least, activate it at one of the shorter full blast sections where a new opportunity for passing (up to the bus stop?) can be made. Rather than making overtaking after Eau Rouge a ‘guaranteed’ thing?

Mark in Australia

Simply a fantastic article James, well done. If I wasn’t already aching for the re-commencement of F1, 2011; I sure am now..!!! Sensational stuff mate.



This is fantastic! Gives such a great insight ahead of a race weekend!! Please keep them coming for the rest of the season – great read.


Insightful indeed! Pls. keep up the good work and thank you.


Great post again.

Looking forward to the weekend race.

Hopefully Vettal has a DNF make the championship more interesting.

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