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Teams head to Spa: Close fight for victory expected
Posted By: James Allen  |  20 Aug 2013   |  8:25 am GMT  |  109 comments

The Summer Shutdown has ended and F1 is going racing again!

The Spa Francorchamps circuit, home of the Belgian GP, has a very strong history in F1, going right back to the first year of competition in 1950 and is one of the drivers’ and engineers’ favourite tracks. It has the longest lap of any modern F1 track at over seven kilometers.

Last year one of the key issues for teams to decide in their strategy planning was whether to go for a low down force set up, with less wing, to help straight line speed in sectors one and three, or whether to go for more down force to help with sector 2. Gearing was also important and several drivers found themselves with a less than ideal combination of gearing and down force, with the result that they were hitting the rev limiter on the Kemmel Straight and losing speed.

All of this led to a mixed up grid with two Saubers and a Williams at the front, Red Bull struggling for pace, with Sebastian Vettel in 10th place on the grid and Lewis Hamilton down in seventh with the wrong set up, tweeting his team mate’s (correct) set up sheet in frustration.

Spa 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.

Spa these days, with high downforce cars and DRS wings, is flat out for most of the lap.

Qualifying is not hugely significant to final race result; the pole sitter has only won the race four times in the last 12 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, which will be very durable. After the dramas of Silverstone and the tyre failures, Pirelli will want a quiet, conservative weekend in Spa.

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 – 6. 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)

Form Guide

The Belgian Grand Prix is the eleventh round of the 2013 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.

However many teams will have been planning a significant Spa upgrade in the weeks prior to the shutdown.

The Mercedes was the car to beat before the break and this race will be an important test of whether it has overcome its tyre management issues. Hungary indicated that it has, but the high loadings on the tyres at Spa will really show it. The Mercedes will be very fast in Sectors 1 and 3 on the lap, with the long straights and a couple of low speed corners, while the Red Bull is always fast on the middle sector, where downforce is key.

The Lotus is good everywhere and may well be able to benefit from its Double DRS device, to gain extra speed on the straights. However if it is not switching properly, the potential loss is greater than the gain. Last year Lotus struggled with tyre warm up on race day and was not able to challenge for the win.

It is a circuit on which Force India has always gone well.

As far as drivers’ form is concerned, Kimi Raikkonen has always been outstanding here, winning four times. Sebastian Vettel won in 2011 while Lewis Hamilton, Jenson Button and Felipe Massa have all won here. 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 25 degrees one day and 15 degrees the next. This can have a significant effect on the cars. The forecast for this weekend is for unusually warm and sunny weather, with temperatures around 22 degrees.

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

Likely tyre performance and other considerations

Pirelli tyre choice for Spa: Medium (while markings) and hard (orange markings). This is the first time this combination has been seen with the updated specification of tyres, post Silverstone.

In 2011 Pirelli brought the soft and medium tyre to Spa, last year they went to medium and hard and the result was a win for Jenson Button in the McLaren on a one-stop strategy.

Button was able to comfortably do the race with only one stop. His second stint, on the hard compound Pirelli tyre, was almost 170km. Sebastian Vettel finished second also on a one-stop strategy. They were helped by four early laps under the safety car after the start-line pile up triggered by Romain Grosjean, which took less out of the tyres than normal when they were heavy with fuel. This led a number of teams to switch strategy from a two to a one-stop, but not everyone pulled it off. If we see a safety car again this year, teams will clearly think of gambling along similar lines.

As Pirelli has now moved back to the 2012 tyre constructions, albeit with slightly softer compounds, the trend for the second half of the season is again towards fewer stops. This race will be something of an acid test, given Spa’s high loadings on the tyres.

The medium tyre will be easier to warm up and will be the main qualifying tyre. The hard will be more difficult to warm up, but is more durable. Last year, after the opening stint on mediums, most teams defaulted to longer stints on the hard tyre for the rest of the race. One of the key things for teams to establish in Friday practice is whether there is a faster way than this.

Two years ago, Pirelli had problems with blistering on some cars, most notably the Red Bulls, when they ran extreme camber angles. This led to very early first pit stops in the race, which dictated strategy.

Last year’s work on blister resistance helped to avoid a repeat of the problem and after Silverstone this year, Pirelli has successfully brokered with the FIA the right to dictate how its tyres are used by teams to a certain extent.

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.

Based on the tyre considerations listed above, the majority will probably go for two stops, around laps 13 and 28, but there is a possibility of a one stop strategy, pitting around lap 20. A safety car could push teams to switch from two stops to one.

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 after the pile up at the start triggered by Romain Grosjean, for which he received a one race ban.

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.

As far as 2013 start performance is concerned drivers have gained (+) or lost (-) places off the start line this season on aggregate as follows:


+17 Van der Garde*****

+16 Massa

+14 Di Resta

+13 Maldonado

+13 Perez

+10 Gutierrez

+9 Sutil***

+8 Button

+3 Chilton

+3 Vettel

+2 Alonso

+1 Pic



-2 Raikkonen

-2 Hulkenberg**

-3 Bottas

-4 Bianchi******

-7 Hamilton

-8 Grosjean
-10 Ricciardo

-11 Rosberg

-12 Webber*

-17 Vergne ****

*Webber dropped from second to seventh after a clutch problem in Australia
** Hulkenberg did not start in Australia *** Sutil suffered puncture from contact with Massa in Bahrain ****Vergne retired following collision. *****Van der Garde and Maldonado made contact in Monaco. ******Bianchi started from pit lane in Monaco after stalling

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 just over two seconds by F1 teams.
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.

1. Red Bull 21.343s
2. Mercedes 21.454s
3. Ferrari 21.597s
4. Lotus 21.643s
5. Williams 21.880s
6. Toro Rosso 21.996s
7. McLaren 22.107s
8. Marussia 22.159s
9. Sauber 22.303s
10. Caterham 22.384s
11. Force India 22.723s

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

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James, I read here:

“Loss time for a Pit stop = 18 seconds (average)

Total time needed for pit stop: 21 seconds”

Exactly the same figures that were included in the 2012 Belgian GP Strategy Briefing

I understood that speed limits on the pitlane have been reduced from 100km/h to 80km/h on the race day, therefore I expected that to be especially relevant in this track, with it’s long pit lane.

Could you please clarify?


So if they used to need 18s to cover all the pit lane at 100km/h, they should need around 22.5 secs with the new speed limit at 80km/h. This means that pit stops became 4.5s longer.

Probably this should somehow influence the strategy.


I expect a one stop from Lotus and Force India. Kimi will be in the mix late, as usual. I see Mclaren ruining the race for a few teams. Button will be good here, maybe 4th or 5th. I’m pegging him for a one stopper as well. If Mercedes has sorted the tires, they should be the favorites. Red Bull should be up towards the top but they could have their hands full with a few teams. I’m curious how Sauber will do. I’m expecting a very similar podium to Hungary.


So F1 summer break is finally over. This is great!


James: Regarding the annual factory shutdown, do the teams place manufacturing orders with external companies for parts or designs to bridge the shutdown or would that be illegal?


Parts which are externally sourced? Everyday life goes on, developments have lead times. The idea is to close for two weeks which

a) saves money
b) gives the hard workers a bit of a rest


James, may I ask are you commentating on all the practice sessions, quali, and race?


At most races I do FP2,3 Quali and race for BBC Radio 5 Live

This weekend, as BBC 2 TV is showing the practices, Ben Edwards will do FP1 and FP3


I was rather thinking of something like having an external company revise a part’s design via FEM software, mold and bake carbon parts (if a mold already exists), mill molds (when a drawing already exists), while the own factory is closed, just to save time.


OMG Spa already.

This holiday went quick as lightening. I was sure there’s another week or two….

Hot weather .. dry .. Kimi present!

No need for guessing who might just on this occassion deny the mighty Kimster another famous Spa trophy.

Yes, it will be his team mate next year: Fernando Alonso !!

drinks on yours trulli.


“It is a circuit on which Force India has always gone well.”

Spa has always been a track which produced a string of good performances for the team that became Force India: Jordan.

Consider these:

Schumi’s 7th on grid in his first race in 1991

Barrichello’s pole in 1994

Fisichella finishing 2nd in 1997

Damon Hill winning Jordan’s first race in 1998

Frentzen 3rd in 1999

Trulli 2nd on the grid 2000

Mike from Colombia

“…..and the DRS wing makes it very straighforward anyway”.

How sad and angry it makes me feel to read this.

Tornillo Amarillo

Grandioso report as usual James, thanks!

Now, everybody (Alonso, Grosjean, Rosberg, Massa, Perez…) has to stop Vettel, BE HARD ON VETTEL! Sebastian has just to back off if someone put pressure on him!!!

KIMI and HAMILTON have to try 1 stop. If it doesn’t work, well adopt at the end plan B of 2 stops.

I’d like KIMI winning SPA!


I did think James would say again: “Alonso and Kimi are favorites, because ferrari and Lotus are easy on tyres.. Merceds will have problems…”.

I bet Massa and Grosjean will beat their team mates…

Last year there was a SPA f1 race? Alonso and Hamilton out in the first corner is no F1.

If nobody take LH out (Button did this once, KK in other occasion, and Grosjean last year), he will run away with this one!

P.s.: if he does not do a bold, fascinating move in a wet track to pass someone, and FIA do not decide AFTER race that overtake a Ferrari is ilegal.


SPA,a place where Fisichella had a golory?,

well almost, he truly gave Kimi a hard time,

what save Kimi his Ferrari was equip with

KERS,Fitsi did not have that luxury.

For my money Alonso is odd/on to win this weekend F1 at SPA.

A)To prove the point to so many but in particular to Luca d M, that he’s a still the

ONE,and the bench mark for everyone else on

the F1 grid.

My gripe in passing to those would-be’s who

subscribe to J.A,which is truly second to

none site on the Net,who quote how Ferrari

Engines are not in the same league as Renault

or Merceedes in the power plants,and they do

not have the resources of the said.

Fact:Renault full year profit for 2013 €92,m

Ferrari for the same year €136.m

For those of that opinion is time to switch

of from the funny tabacky and be real.


And how many times has Fernando won Spa ?

Ferraris engine performance is not the problem it is easily a match for Renault engines cars and one would think the same or not far off Mercedes. The proof is acceleration down the long straights how many times have we seen Felipe and in deed Fernando pass people in these situations.

Also the Ferrari top speed on big circuits is good- at the same time there engines are not on the rev limiter like Lotus and Red Bull- meaning they can run taller gearing.. So you are very wrong on engine performance.

Your comments make no sense – Renault are only an engine supplier not a Full factory team like Ferrari. What has profit got to do with it.? Edpecially when younsay Ferrari is more profitable.! Ferrari spend around €300million a year on the team. Only Red Bull spend that same sort of money – no one else!

I think you should stop smoking the funny tabacky!

Alexander Supertramp

First time I’ll be attending a live race, can’t wait to hear the sound/see the cars!Hope everyone enjoys the end of the F1 break ;)!


James minor thing 44x 7.004= 308.0176

Can’t wait to see Kimi at Spa again it’s one of the greatest spectacles in modern motor racing!. But I gotta say those Mercs are specials for Spa that Mercedes engine and harder tyres with. fired up Lewis Hamilton. As James rightly mentioned – Force India are always strong- will they make that revival- I see Sutil going well there.Although Im sure the Bulls will have found another gain with a new aero package. Very interesting tussle, lets just hope that Lotus double DRS switches nicely to keep them in the game.

Early prediction Hamilton fighting out with Raikkonen right down to the wire, Sebastian fighting it with Fernando very close behind.


There’s a 124m offset between the start and finish lines, that explains the difference. 🙂


The diff is less than 4m. Hang on !-is it when lights out whole car crosses start line-when chequered flag – when front wing tip crosses ??


Let the action begin.

4 teams closely matched for pace will make the 2nd part of season exciting.


Can’t wait!


Really looking forwards to this one, just hoping the the title chase closes up to be honest so Seb does not get things all his own way. Despite his impressive drives this year I hope someone gets to make things interesting and a DNF for Vettel would not hurt the season’s tension build a little.


That moment of the year when I start thinking about F1 and nothing else in my mind… Bring on Spa! Yeah! 😉 Where will Kimi be heading to? Ricciardo to get the Bulls seat? Alonso & the Scuderia temporarily separated in the house? And will Mercedes AMG+ Nico/Lewis show the same developement rate, speed and promise of the first part of season? Hope so… Come on! 😉


A classic track. Wish there were more like it. Is DRS even required at this track?


Mercedes will be very fast, but Kimi is just very hard to beat in Spa. Its going to be an interesting race. Best circuit in the world in my opinion.


Should be a great race and hopefully a great one for the championship! Mercedes will be strong and the track should suit the Ferrari too. I expect Force India and Mclaren to be very strong too and I suspect Vettel may have a fight on his hands to pick up points.


isnt that what james has said above?


No there was a mistake – fixed now. Thanks to readers for pointing it out


Force India has a pretty good chance to win


Sure, if FI choosen Bianchi instead of Sutil…


If they had better drivers, I’d say they would have a chance.


Vettel DNF please. If possible, taken out by Webber. Maybe throw in a post-crash punch-up too. And a pie in Helmut’s face would be the icing on the metaphorical cake.


Or better yet, maybe the driver you support should have a DNF.

James, thanks for the great article, as always. I think you’re being too soft by allowing silly, spiteful comments like the one above on your site.

Thomas in Adelaide

Lighten up fella, it’s called a joke. I don’t support any driver or team in particular, I like competitive racing. The fact is Vettel is two wins ahead of the pack. A few DNF’s will spice up the rest of the season.



Crikey, you’ve made a comment I agree with.

Who do I complain to?


But he earned those points. No?

Let the others earn theirs.


That’s *4* wishes Tom. Everyone knows you can only have 3 😉 Maybe drop the Marco pie thing mate 🙂


If that happened, it would be worth the sky and TV licence fee combined – fingers crossed 😉


Brilliant analysis as always! I’m sure Romain will be somewhat cautious on the run into T1 this time.

Kimi for the win!!


got a bronze weekend pass to the elgian gp. my first trip and a kimi win will make it extra special


“The track presents one of the highest possible usages of the DRS with over 60% of the lap.”

Isn’t DRS limited in all sessions just to the activation zones this season?

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