How the F1 teams will approach the Belgian Grand Prix
Posted By: James Allen  |  29 Aug 2012   |  11:37 am GMT  |  62 comments

The F1 season resumes this weekend with the classic Belgian Grand Prix at Spa Francorchamps.

It’s the 12th round of the 20 race season and there are lots of talking points in this Strategy Briefing around how this race will be run strategically and who it will favour. Pirelli have made some changes after the controversy last season when their tyres suffered severe blistering on the Red Bull and other cars.

The choice of hard and medium compounds and the changes made to the shoulders of the tyres should ensure that the drivers can push to the limit. Spa these days, with high downforce cars and DRS wings, is flat out for most of the lap. The track presents one of the highest possible usages of the DRS with over 60% of the lap. Only Monza is higher. DRS is worth 1.2 seconds a lap here, so if you can amplify that with a double DRS device, there are significant gains to be had in qualifying. DRS use is not permitted in Eau Rouge corner.

So it should be a very interesting race.

Once you’ve read the analysis, go to our RACE STRATEGY CALCULATOR and see if you can find the best strategy for the race.

Track characteristics

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 – Medium downforce. Top speed 322km/h (with Drag Reduction System active on rear wing) – 312km/h without.

Full throttle – 70% of the lap (high). Total fuel needed for race distance – 144 kilos (high). Fuel consumption – 3.2kg per lap (high)

Time spent braking: 14% of lap. Number of brake zones – 8. Brake wear- Low.

Loss time for a Pit stop = 18 seconds (average)
Total time needed for pit stop: 21 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 around 70% 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 from their allocation of eight engines per driver for the season, so they do not use the same engine at the next race in Monza, another tough one on engines.

Qualifying is not hugely significant to final race result; the pole sitter has only won the race three times in the last 11 years. Overtaking is not a problem at Spa and the DRS wing makes it very straighforward anyway.

In addition to the long straights there are quite a lot of high G-force corners, similar to Silverstone, which take their toll on the tyres. This year Pirelli has brought medium and hard tyres, last year it was soft and medium. They have done a lot of work on blister resistance, as Red Bull and other teams found tyres blistering when they ran extreme camber angles on the tyres.

Form Guide

The Belgian Grand Prix is the twelfth round of the 2012 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 in the weeks prior to the shutdown. The high speed nature of the circuit will suit Red Bull, Lotus and Williams in particular.

As far as drivers’ form is concerned; Sebastian Vettel won last year’s race while Kimi Raikkonen has always been outstanding here, winning four times. They are the two favourites this year. Lewis Hamilton and Felipe Massa have both won here, while Michael Schumacher has 6 wins. He will celebrate his 300th Grand Prix this weekend. Fernando Alonso has never won at Spa.

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. Also the temperatures can fluctuate dramatically, so it can be 30 degrees one day and 15 degrees the next. The forecast for this weekend is for temperatures around 20 degrees and rain showers, with a 30% chance of rain on Sunday.

However the weather can change very quickly at Spa and it’s always a good idea to factor in a solid wet weather plan.

Likely tyre performance and other considerations

Pirelli tyre choice for Spa: Medium (while markings) and hard (silver markings). This combination was seen in Malaysia.

Last season Pirelli brought the soft and medium tyre, this year they appear to have gone a step harder, but as the whole range has moved towards softer tyres, in fact the difference is slight. But there are some important differences in the way the tyres will work at Spa.

The medium tyre has a lower working temperature range so will be easy to warm up if the track temperatures are cool. It will be the main qualifying and race tyre. The hard will be more difficult to warm up but is more durable. If the temperatures are right it could offer an alternative strategy with longer stints on the hard tyre.

Pirelli had problems with blistering on some cars last year, most notably the Red Bulls, when they ran extreme camber angles. This led to very early first pit stops in the race, which rather dictated strategy. Also the harder tyre last year was much slower so drivers wanted to spend the minimum time on it and that led to more stops.

This year Pirelli have done work on blister resistance to avoid a repeat of the problem. Meanwhile they also reduce the tread thickness of the tyres by ½ mm to avoid the heat build up caused by the very high wheel rotation speeds.

Number and likely timing of pit stops

The time needed for a stop at Spa is average at around 21 seconds. Although it’s a long pit lane, with a slow exit, the cars staying on the track must navigate a slow hairpin so the lost time isn’t as great as it might be.

Last year, because the uncertainty over the blistered tyres in the early part of the race forced the strategy, we saw the top four finishers using four different strategies; a mixture of two and three stop strategies, with different tyre combinations. The winner did three stops. Two or perhaps three seems likely, the key will be in finding the fastest combination. In the two races before the break the harder of the two chosen compounds was the preferred race tyre for doing two stints on.

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. Last year’s race saw a safety car.

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. Much can change. In Hungary, for example, only three drivers completed lap 1 in the same position as their grid slot.

As far as 2011 start performance is concerned drivers have gained (+) or lost (-) places off the start line this season on aggregate as follows:


+25 Massa *****
+ 23 Glock,
+19 Perez***
+18 Alonso, Kovalainen
+15 Senna * *****
+14 Vergne
+13 Pic
+11 Raikkonen
+10 Karthikeyan
+7 Kobayashi****
+5 Schumacher* ******
+4 Hamilton , Maldonado****
+3 Di Resta *****, De la Rosa ****, Petrov*****
+2 Button

Held position: Vettel, Webber

-1 Hulkenberg Rosberg
-3 Grosjean** **** *****
-15 Ricciardo*
Note- This table is intended as an indicator of trends. Where drivers have had first lap incidents which dropped them to the back of the field, they are not included above, but are detailed in the notes marked * below. This affects other drivers’ gains, but shows prevailing trends of places won and lost at the start.
* Senna, Ricciardo and Hulkenberg were all involved in accidents on 1st lap in Australia
** Schumacher and Grosjean collided on Lap 1 in Malaysia, Senna and Perez pitted for wet tyres on opening lap
***Perez punctured on lap 1 in Spain and went to back of field
**** Eliminated by or involved in first lap accident in Monaco
***** Di Resta eliminated lap 1 at Silverstone, Petrov did not start
***** Massa, Senna and Grosjean involved in first lap collisions dropping them to the back
****** Schumacher forced to pit lap 1 in Hungary (lost six places)

Pit Stop League Table
Of course good strategy planning also requires good pit stop execution by the mechanics and we have seen tyre stops carried out in less than two and a half seconds by F1 teams. The record is a 2.31s stop in Germany by McLaren.
It is clear that the field has significantly closed up in pit stops.

The league table below shows the order of the pit crews based on their fastest time in the Hungarian Grand Prix, from the car entering the pit lane to leaving it. The positions from the previous race are in brackets.

1. Red Bull 18.964s (2)
2. McLaren 19.059 secs (1)
3. Ferrari 19.365s (3)
4. Toro Rosso 19.600s (8)
5. Williams 19.755s (9)
6. Lotus 19.772s (4)
7. Sauber 20.065s (10)
8. Mercedes 20.352s (6)
9. Force India 20.352s (7)
10. Marussia 20.383s (5)
11. Caterham 20.515s (11)
12. HRT 21.259s (12)

The UBS Race Strategy Briefing is written by James Allen with input and data from several F1 team strategists and from Pirelli

Now you’ve read the analysis, go to our RACE STRATEGY CALCULATOR and see if you can find the best strategy for the race.

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James, would it be possible to leave access to the race calculator for ALL the tracks up? It can be quite handy when playing F1 2011 however at the moment there is only one track available at a time, which sucks if your not on that race!


Hey James,

If I remember correctly in cold conditions in Malaysia the hard tire required less time to warm up and maintained better performance in a stint. This was how Perez was able to chase Alonso. Do you think that could also happen here in Belgium?


I think they all know more now. Silverstone a better comparison


I love an occasional rant, so I apologise in advance for indulging but there is no progress without complaint.

I absolutely agree with everyone that thinks this race should be DRS free. There is just no need for DRS at Spa, or indeed at Montreal.

I don’t understand why Charlie Whiting, the FIA and FOTA can’t elevate this sport into stratospheric modernity by doing something truly agile and by applying common sense. What is stopping some rational thought for once? These are smart people we’re talking about!

How refreshing would it be to hear an announcement on Thursday, stating that ‘We bothered to watch a re-run of last year’s race and it was ruined by DRS, so we have dropped it for 2012. Teams will have Friday to adjust their gear ratios accordingly.’?

I would literally fall off my chair in admiration. I would Tweet, Blog, Text and possibly wear a sandwich board in the street to promote the majesty of such an act.

However, god and the FIA it seems, move in mysterious ways.

The proposed 50 metre shortening of the DRS zone borders on laughable. The cars will be doing approx 190mph at this point, which is about 85 metres per second. That means they’ll cover those 50 metres in less than 0.6 seconds. That’s out of a total 23.5 seconds they’ll spend at 100% throttle in one go.

This will make absolutely no difference at all! How could it, when the moves last year were over before the end of the DRS zone, never mind afterwards.

I vote we disregard DRS for Spa and Montreal. Two circuits that have proved beyond doubt – for decades – that overtaking is possible, do not need our meddling. DRS blighted Spa last year and it was embarrassing at Montreal this year and last.

How many more races await the same fate before someone with some power does something really progressive and… er… notice?


If ever a track didn’t need DRS……..


After a rather long break, Spa is the perfect race to get back into the groove.

I would like very much to see a Kimi or Schumi win but in a case of Schumi, short of rain and a bit of luck, it might be too much to ask for.

As the season restarts, I hope that the second half of it will be as exciting as the first one and that we won’t see one team or driver run away with it. To have 3 to 5 contenders for the title battling it out on what looks like an interesting track in Austin, would make for an incredible 2012 season all and all. We can always dream right?



James is the strategy calculator only set for Hungary. I could not see how you load Spa data. I see the 4 pit stop options but thats it.

The medium tyres have been really good this year & I can see them doing 15 laps on worn sets 22+ on a new set with only the last 7 on the hards or some teams swtiching to hards in the middle depending on conditions, safety car. I cant see a three stop under normal conditions if the track temps are pretty low as the mediums and harder compounds need a few laps to get to speed & also given Pirelli have improved the sidewall loading of the tyres since last year.


Sorry, it’s taken a bit longer than expected to update.


Wow thanks James my gut feel was not bad. But lap 13 (new Option) and 32 (new Prim) best !

If forced to You could probably go to 14 on the first but no more. And no more than 34 on the second.

Cheers !


Actually, a one stopper is about five seconds faster (according to the calculator).

There looks to be enough margin in the tyres, and overtaking of slower cars is sufficiently easy, that the calculator might even be right this weekend.


This is Raikkonen’s race for sure. Normally, one would think that such a prediction would be too obvious, but Kimi seems to come, as his Ferrari bosses said, ‘from a different planet.’ He’ll win this one with little fuss — wish we could wager on these things here in the States . . .


I hope your right..!.But this year these damn Tyres and sensitivity to temperature maybe the archilles heal for Lotus. If it weren’t for this-I’d put money on him too.!


5 weeks was perhaps a week too long, but Spa is finally here. Always like checking out the FIA’s preview of the race on Wed. Whoever did it for Hungary mailed it in though, b/c in one paragraph they had Bruce McLaren as an Aussie (not as bad as them using the S.Korean flag for the N.Korean team that one time at the Olympics, but hey), and said that Alonso’s record as youngest-ever winner only lasted two years (it was 5).

In the Thursday drivers’ press conference, the highest-placed driver is Jenson Button (7th)! When was the last time the Thursday presser had such paucity of front-fighting drivers?

Another odd tidbit of this year … after Alonso, which driver has had the biggest DWC standings lead this season? Answer: Jenson Button, with a 7pt lead after the first round! Seb had a 4pt lead once, and Lewis has led by 2pts twice.

Another one … in each of Hamilton’s 3 wins at the Hungaroring, who was following him home each time? That’s right, the Kimster! Kimi pushed him over the line in ’07 and ’12, while Lewis led by 11 sec’s in ’09.


Are we talking about Alonso’s record of youngest ever race winner? Or Championship winner?

I make his youngest Championship record 3 years (He got his first Championship in 2005, Lewis took it over in 2008). Youngest double Championship winner would be 5 years (2005 to 2011 when Vettel took over).

Youngest race winner? I have no idea!


Yeah, race winner. They had it as Bruce McLaren (Wiki has it as an American who only ran in the Indy 500 each year, but most F1 stats rule such drivers out), then Alonso (2003 HUN), then Vettel (2008 ITA).

2006-2011 y’meant.


I think this will be the race of the season if we get a sprinkle of rain durning the race.

1. Vettel

2. Hamilton

3. Schumacher


Funny how your top 3 didn’t include the driver that got the most of the wet weather this year…


I know, but it’s Spa and anything can happen here (weather/safety car). I’m not a fan of Vettel but feel he will pull a win out this weekend. Schumacher is at home here and might get a podium, with some rain.


Kimi to deliver Lotus’ first win at Spa. Its destiny.


suit williams? i would love that to be true but i didnt think williams had great straight line speed compared to say mercedes and mclaren. or have i missed something here?


Either gaining places at the start of a race is actually not that critical or the stats are totally misleading, why else would Massa be leading them or does he just give up once he gets into the race?!


The stats actually demonstrate how far behind Alonso Massa is.

He made the most gains because he qualified the car way below where is should be on the grid.

Put a good car near the back and any reasonable driver will gain places more easily than almost anyone else.

Having said that, Massa is a victim of the closeness of the grid this year. He may be way off the pace Alonso achieves in terms of grid position but his actual times are often not that bad.

Then, of course, he makes the odd mistakes and has some bad luck in the races, getting involved amongst the less experienced drivers around him.


I understand that the DRS-plus on the Lotus runs passively (i.e. opens up at a certain pressure differential and therefore at a certain speed).

If teams can’t use DRS through Eau Rouge, how can Lotus run its system through the entire lap? Surely if there is some sort of driver operated ‘stop’ to prevent it from opening through Eau Rouge then it becomes a ‘moveable aerodynamic device’ more akin to an F-duct than a DRS, which is banned, no?


I’ve never doubted his ability or tenacity. But the only thing I would find poetic is if he gets driven off the track by someone like Maldonado because that is the sort of drivers they both are.


Referring to Schumacher – someone earlier comment got wiped. Kimi deserves nothing but the best.


You mean like Pastor has done to Kimi several times this year already?


Sorry, Kimi is like Maldonado? I don’t see that.

Kimi buries his sorrows in a bowl of ice cream; Pastor buries his car in the side-pods of competitors.


Though there is no problem with the regulations, that is still an interesting question.

Will Raikkonen have to lift through Eau Rouge ?


Given that even HRT should be taking Eau Rouge flat, then if Kimi is lifting he shouldn’t even be in F1.


@KGBVD, he’ll probably be doing that anyway. Given the amount of downforce these cars have now, Eea Rouge is easy flat for all of them. I bet McLaren and Red Bull could probably take it flat with the wing open easily as well, but I wouldnt be too sure about any one else.


He may have to lift if he’s going in 20kph faster than the HRT.

Warren Groenewald

How about we seperate the men from the boys and put the DRS zone only through Eau Rouge? Hey? Go back to the old days of some drivers flat out and the rest lifting off


Agreed, it wasn’t that long ago that taking it flat was a sign of a driver with huge balls and little brains (which explains why Jacques crashed there so often).


You answered your own question KGBVD the system works at certain pressure /speed so in essence it’s always on, requires no driver intervention which is really clever if it works well. I hope it gives Lotus their winning few tenths !


If it’s a fluid switch system that doesnt actually involve the DRS then I doubt it’s subject to the FIA’s eddict to not use DRS through Eau Rouge, aferall it would be always on but just happens to do the same job as the DRS.


I suppose that’s why they are calling it a “device” rather than a double-DRS (a la Merc).

My worry is that the FIA will deem it a “DRS” and therefore mandate that it needs to be closed through Eau Rouge.


Nice read James – its been too long a wait for the season to restart.

I thought the Redbulls would be no good on a circuit that has long straights?

Listened to ALL your podcasts on the weekend – excellent work James.

Goooo Kimi!!!


Everybody thought Red Bull would be no good here and at Monza last year as well. Didn’t exactly go to plan like that though, did it?


I quite liked last year’s degradation rate with the softs. More pitstops and different strategies made people like Button finish on the podium with a late comeback. The blistering though was due to Red Bull playing with the camber levels , so I don’t know why Pirelli have been so cautious about that issue this year, its as though they’ve admitted it was their fault.

Last year’s Belgian Grand Prix probably showcased what many people were going on about on how the DRS made things too easy. The zone was extremely long and the Kemmel straight is a natural overtaking spot as it is. I had hoped the FIA would change it to Blanchimont or on the pit-straight this year, but they’ve only shortened it a bit , which is a disappointing.

All credits to the FIA for getting all the DRS-zones right this season especially at Valencia but Spa really doesn’t need one , does it? The whole magic of this place till 2010 was that it was one of those few races where we would see wheel-to-wheel battles all throughout the grid.

A Kimi Raikkonen victory is on the cards and a lot of Kimi fans would be gunning for it , but if it rains I cannot see anything more poetically perfect than a Schumacher victory on his 300th grand prix.


Everybody suffered blistering on the Pirelli’s last year at Spa and Monza from the long time spent in the 200mph region at both tracks, it was just that Red Bull got it the worst from running too agressive a camber angle.


Massa never won here, he only got promoted that’s all 😀

Interesting that Alonso never won here, but I’m not banking on him winning it this time round either. If anyone then my money is on Raikkonen, then Hamilton.


Good to have the show back on the road for what promises to be an intense, fast and furious second half to the season.

And yes, no better place to start the festivities than in Michael Schumacher’s living room.

Now considering the ease with which cars overtook each other in the DRS zone last year, I hope the FIA disable the system for at this race, the speed boost a chasing driver gets through Eau Rouge is significant.

Also for some reason am glad the Pirelli have decided to bring their hard & medium boots for we want to see flat out racing at Spa.

Anyway, me, am predicting a classic wet race for looking at the data, we have been having alternating wet and dry years at Spa since 2005 for maybe we won’t need the dry tyres after all.

Alright, here are some stats to help the fans pick a winner for this weekend however these stats are strictly for when the Belgian Grand Prix has been held at Spa and in particular since 1983 when the modern track was opened;

i) Spa is the one track where Ferrari & Mclaren are virtually equally strong for in the last 26 years Mclaren have won it 10 times to Ferrari 8 times

whereas in the last 10 years, it’s 4 wins Mclaren to Ferrari’s 5, so this means Vettel’s win in 2011 was the only none Ferrari/Mclaren win in 10 years.

ii) Senna (and Jim Clark) are the only drivers ever to win 4 back to back races at Spa (however one of Clark’s wins at Spa was under the European Gp) and more impressively, they both did this whilst driving for one team

iii) On the other hand, Schumi & Kimi are the only drivers to win 3 back to back wins at Spa however both did this with two different teams.

iv) In the history of Spa, no driver has won the race in 3 different teams

v) Spa doesn’t favour Newey cars for in his entire career, Newey cars have only had 3 wins.

vi) Mclaren have had a spell of 5 back to back wins at Spa whereas the best Ferrari has done has been 3 back to back wins i.e. From 2007 – 2009

vii) Spa doesn’t favour the pole guy but get this, in the history of Spa (since 1952) Senna is the only driver ever to win more than one race from pole & he did this in 4 consecutive seasons.

vii) Kimi has either won or retired from the races he has taken part in at Spa & currently it’s 4 wins to 3 retirements

viii) Rubens & his long time frenemy Schumi both celebrated their 300th Grand Prix at Spa & as a reminder, Rubens’ race in 2010, ended in a DNF

ix) In the past couple of years, Lewis has won the wet races at Spa e.g. 2008 (before penalty) and 2010.

So, if one where to ask me who my money is on for the win this weekend, I would say Lewis more so because of all the top teams he’s the only one that DNF’ed last year

*Fun Fact*

At one stage of it’s history, it rained for 20 consecutive years at Spa.


Your point about Kimi either won or retired from the Spa circuit matches that of Hamilton in Canada where he won 3 times and 2 dnfs.


“At one stage of it’s history, it rained for 20 consecutive years at Spa.”

And Noah thought he had it tough….

Facts & Stats aside, this is going to be another RBR win at Spa 😉


Hey James, do you happen to know where the DRS zone will be? It was massive last year and made overtaking incredibly easy (which ruined the show slightly imo). Have any changes been made to it?


The DRS zone is in the same place (Kemmel straight) but will be shortened by 50m this year.


James you know Kimi won this 4 times not 3 (Kimi fans will be piping up with “Hey! James…!)

will it be easy to tell the silver marked tyre from the white marked tyre in the race, I wonder?

Also I presume the harder compounds were track-tested by Pirelli, and would that be your co-broadcaster Jaime who tested them, James?


The trick to Identifying the tyre… If you can can actually SEE the white logo, it’s the medium. : ) That’s how I do it anyway…


And Hamilton has won twice but was demoted once, while Massa has not won at all but was promoted once…


So that means Hamilton has won once and Massa on the one occasion too 🙂


I don’t rememeber having any problems telling them appart in Malaysia.

As for the hards, they’ve been run several times this year, most recently at Silverstone if I remember correctly. The ones they’ve been trying to test in the practice sessions are meant for next year so Jaime has almost certainly run on them, or at least will do in their private tests. I think Pirelli said the next time they’ll try to use them in a practice session would be in Japan.


Hards have been run only in Malaysia, Spain, and Britain to date.

The full rundown of tires used this season:


Thanks, fixed that


Kimi has won here 4 times. 04 05 07 09. And I reckon he has a chance this weekend if it’s dry. Tho because of the hard and medium tyre at a place were its cold I think Lewis Hamilton is going to win if it’s dry and Fernando if it’s wet.


Yeah I’m leaning slightly toward Hamilton on this. Mainly track temperatures being likely below 25 .Sector 3 at Hungary showed how much extra poke that Mp4-27 now has.Red Bull will be more of a threat here having come 1,2 last year. I think outright pace Lewis followed by Kimi , Seb and Fernando, but if it’s wet I would agree Fernando, Lewis, Sebastian and Kimi- I hope I’m wrong and Kimi wins easily lol.. want that elusive win for him and Lotus !.


Interesting report, James I guess you have covered Lotus’s double DRS, are they really worth it? Why kimi always had the best chances to win and he has delayed to commit himself to Lotus now for next year, is he talking to other teams?. Is McLaren is also coming up with DDRS? and what has happened to Mercedes?

Tornillo Amarillo

Nice report.

My guess:

Pole: Hamilton

1. Hamilton

2. Vettel

3. Webber

and maybe:

4. Grosjean

5. Kimi

6. Alonso


I think Ferrari AND McLaren are taking with Kimi about next year. For McLaren, its a good Plan B if Hamilton is playing hard to get. As for Ferrari, he would surely do better than Massa.


He’ll likely end up staying. Likewise Hamilton where he is. Surely Alonso won’t allow Raikkonen back in?


Why not? Fernando respect Kimi. When he signed his contract with Ferrari back in 09, He was expecting to replace Massa.

I douth it will happen but stranger thing have happen


Funnily enough for some reason when you mentioned “Lotus”, my mind somehow still first thought of Tony Fernande’s outfit before correcting myself to Eric Boullier’s lol.

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