The Sauber F1 Team arrive at Spa-Francorchamps for this weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix hoping that the mid-season break revitalises a team that are still awaiting their first point of a terrible 2014 Formula 1 season.
Adrian Sutil came closest last time out in Hungary with eleventh place, less than a second away from the McLaren of Jenson Button in tenth. Team-mate Esteban Gutierrez was running in close proximity to his team-mate at the Hungaroring before being forced to retire. A Sauber has failed to see the chequered flag on no less than ten occasions in 2014.
For Sutil, it has been a disappointing year, and the German is hoping the last eight races are a vast improvement than the first eleven. He admits to enjoying driving at Spa, and has had good results there in the past, his best being fifth for the Force India team back in 2010. He is unsure that with the new cars, with their extra speed and reduced downforce, that Eau Rouge, quite possibly the most well known corner of the track, will be able to be taken flat out. In recent years it has been easily flat for all F1 cars.
“As Spa-Francorchamps is my favourite track, I am really looking forward to the race weekend,” said Sutil. “With the new cars we will have more top speed and less grip, so it will be interesting to see how it will be to drive under these conditions. I have always achieved good results on this track and have some nice racing memories.
“Regarding the set-up, there are two variations: Either you are fast in sector two and relatively slow on the straights or vice versa. Both set-ups can result in the same lap time. I would rather tend to go more for top speed.
“Eau Rouge is one of my favourite corners, and this year it will be difficult to go flat out due to less downforce. Generally, there are several high-speed corners I like in Spa. The double-lefthander (Pouhon), for example, is one of them. Every corner is nice to drive as they all have a nice “flow” to them.”
Team-mate Gutierrez is also looking forward to the weekend in Belgium, but feels the long straights could prove difficult for the team as they continue with the still overweight Ferrari power unit. He knows the weather can make the weekend at the circuit more exciting as the threat of rain is never far away.
“I am really looking forward to driving at Spa-Francorchamps,” insists Gutierrez. “The event is purely about racing, and the fans are really into our sport and passionate about it.
“In comparison to other circuits, the track is quite long with some interesting corners and long straights. It is one of those tracks which is like an adventure, it goes up and downhill. One of my favourite corners is Pouhon, which is very nice. As the straights are quite long, engine power is crucial, which could be a challenge for us. The weather also plays a huge role at Spa-Francorchamps, as the mixed conditions can add excitement to the race weekend.”
For the sixth time in 2014, the team will hand third driver Giedo van der Garde some seat time in the opening free practice, and will drive in place of Gutierrez in what is effectively a home grand prix for the Dutchman. He returns to the track where he had his best qualifying session during his time with the Caterham F1 Team in 2013.
“For me, Spa-Francorchamps is one of the nicest tracks in the world,” said van der Garde. “As it is close to the Netherlands, it is my home circuit. I like the track a lot because it is a quick one with many medium to high-speed corners. It is not easy to set-up the car there; you need to have a stable car, especially for the high-speed corners. It is a technical circuit because some sectors have several consecutive corners.
“With this year’s new Formula One cars I believe we will have more top speed on the straights, but less downforce in comparison to 2013. I think Eau Rouge and Blanchimont will still be flat out. My favourite corners are turns 5,6 and 7 after the Kemmel straight. The right-left-right combination is quite technical; you can use different lines there.
“Another important aspect in Spa is the weather. You never know what is going to happen, one part of the track can be wet and the other one can be dry. Last year in Q1 it was raining, and I ended up in P3, which was quite entertaining. This is what makes Spa so special.”
Head of Track Engineering at Sauber Giampaolo Dall’Ara knows the team will have to give their drivers a stable car for the high-speed corners at the Spa circuit, which he admits will be a challenge for the engineers. He praised Pirelli for bringing the Soft and Medium compound tyres to the circuit, especially with the unpredictable weather around Spa.
“Back from the break we are heading to a couple of classic events, beginning with the Belgian GP at Spa-Francorchamps,” said Dall’Ara. “The amount of downforce to give away in exchange for speed is going to challenge the engineers again. On the set-up side of things, they will have to make sure to provide the drivers with a stable and reactive car through several high-speed corners on the circuit.
“The variations in gradient at places are such that specific settings are needed to keep the car clear of the ground. New for this year, such a long lap distance is going to impact the energy management of the hybrid power unit.
“The weather is frequently rainy, and generally cool. We, therefore, appreciate the decision of Pirelli to not be extra-conservative by choosing the medium and soft compounds. Last, but not least, the circuit is one of those where brave driving can still shave a few tenths off the lap times.”