There are many words that can be used to describe the Spa-Francorchamps circuit in Belgium, the track that hosts round 12 of the 2012 Formula 1 season this weekend.
Iconic, immense and incredible are suitable adjectives that could accurately be applied to this historic venue, but perhaps ‘majestic’ is the best single-word that can be used to describe Spa.
This 4.352 mile-track sweeps through the breath-taking Ardennes forest, slicing between the trees, and beautifully following the undulations of the land. It is a monument to motor racing, nestled in an unassuming corner of Belgium, that should be on the to-do list of every motor-racing fan.
To sit by the side of this great track feels almost magical, as the quiet of the forest is punctuated by the thousands of fans who have made the pilgrimage to this fantastic venue, and with the piercing noise of racing engines.
And what awaits those lucky enough to be heading to Spa this weekend? Only the resumption of one of the most exciting and unpredictable Formula 1 seasons in living memory…
Nearly a month ago, F1 departed Hungary for its summer break with the title race finely balanced. Fernando Alonso may have a 40 point lead in the drivers’ championship, but each team will emerge from the summer break with its own selection of updates to help them challenge their rivals and ultimately close the gap to theFerraridriver. With nine races remaining, Alonso’s third title is far from assured.
In particular, McLaren found their feet again before the break, with that dominant weekend and victory for Lewis Hamilton in Budapest. The team are notorious for developing their car well over the course of the season. and must be one of the favourites to finish 2012 strongly.
The threat from Lotus is still there too. The Enstone-based team are trialling their own version of the Mercedes double-DRS system when they return to the track and are optimistic of seeing a significant performance boost in Spa and the next race in Monza. Some would argue that the team are due a win, and with Kimi Räikkönen being something of a Spa specialist, this weekend could be it. The Finn has taken part in seven Belgian Grand Prix over the course of his F1 career, and with four wins in that time – 2004, 2005, 2007, and his most recent F1 victory in 2009 – that is an impressive record.
Red Bull, of course, can not be discounted either. Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel are currently Alonso’s closest challengers in the championship race. The RB8 may not be the fastest car on the grid, but they have two excellent drivers capable of consistently collecting points. It was Vettel who came back from the summer break last year to take victory at this circuit, and if he does the same in 2012, it will do no harm to his hopes of a third championship.
In summary then, there are lot of unknowns going into the post-summer part of the season. A lot of results will depend on the quality of the updates the different teams bring to their cars in the next two races, the final two in Europe.
The Belgian Grand Prix this weekend will clearly give us the best indication so far of what is going to happen towards the close of the season. Will Alonso continue to build his lead? Will a challenger emerge to peg him back? Will the rest of the season be as unpredictable as the first seven races?
Finally, the anticipation that has been building over the summer break can give way to some more racing. The title races will begin to take shape, a representable pecking order of both teams and drivers – something that has been lacking so far in 2012 – will finally emerge.
What better place could this happen than at Spa-Francorchamps? It is a circuit that drivers will not hesitate to name as their favourite, and one to which fans flock in huge numbers despite its relative remoteness and occasionally shocking weather.
And now it is time for the speculation and discussion to stop – let the racing re-commence!
- Qualifying for the Belgian Grand Prix begins at 13:00 BST on Saturday and the race starts at the same time on Sunday.
- Live coverage is available in the UK on Sky Sports F1 HD, BBC One (HD) and BBC Radio 5 Live.
- There will be reports and reaction throughout the weekend here on thecheckeredflag.co.uk