Formula 1

PREVIEW: 2020 Formula 1 Belgian Grand Prix – Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps

6 Mins read
Credit: Octane Photographic Ltd.

The seventh round of the 2020 FIA Formula 1 World Championship will take place this weekend at the Spa-Francorchamps circuit.This is the first race of the third triple-header this season.

The Belgian Grand Prix takes place on the same weekend as scheduled in the original twenty-two race Formula 1 calendar. Before the Covid-19 pandemic disrupted the original calendar, this race was the fourteenth race after the summer break.

The race takes place at the classic Spa-Francorchamps circuit amidst the rustic surroundings of the Belgian Ardennes countryside. This historical circuit is one of the most challenging high-speed, technically demanding circuits on the calendar.

The original track was built using the public roads around the towns of Spa, Malmedy and Stavelot in the 1920s. In 1950, the fifth race of the first Formula 1 World Championship was held at this narrow winding track.

The hilly 14-kilometer route was a high-speed track with quick directional and elevation changes around the fast corners. In the 1960s, major crashes causing fatalities were common.

In 1966, Jackie Stewart (racing for the BRM team) suffered a high-speed crash that caused him to start a crusade for better safety at all tracks. The lack of safety at the Spa-Francorchamps circuit finally led to the boycott of the Belgian Grand Prix by the drivers in 1969.

After one final race in 1970 at Spa-Francorchamps, the Grand Prix was hosted at the Zolder and Nivelles tracks in Belgium until 1982. In 1983, Formula 1 returned to the modern seven-kilometer long circuit, the longest circuit on the current Formula 1 calendar. The circuit conforms to contemporary safety standards, but still retains most of the iconic corners of the original circuit.

Alain Prost won the first race on this newly-configured track for the Renault F1 team. From 1985 onward, the Belgian Grand Prix has always been held at the Spa-Francorchamps circuit (except for 2003 and 2006 when the race was not held).

In 2019, the race weekend was overshadowed by the horrific accident that claimed the life of the 22-year-old Frenchman Anthoine Hubert in the F2 race.

What happened at the 2020 Spanish Grand Prix?

Lewis Hamilton scored a commanding victory at the 2020 Spanish Grand Prix from pole position. This was Hamilton’s fourth win of the season and the 88th win of his career.

Max Verstappen claimed second position to split the Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team drivers. Valtteri Bottas completed the podium places in Barcelona as the Finn had to fight back after he lost two places at the start. Bottas took the extra point for the fastest lap of the race.

Lance Stroll and Sergio Pérez finished in fourth and fifth positions for a rich haul of points for the BWT Racing Point Formula One Team.

Carlos Sainz finished in sixth position after a well-crafted race. Sebastian Vettel had his best race of the season to clinch seventh position. The German was voted as “Driver Of The Day” for his gritty drive.

Alexander Albon had to be content with eighth position. Pierre Gasly continued his rich vein of form to take ninth position for the Scuderia AlphaTauri Honda team. Lando Norris completed the top 10 positions as he clinched the final point in the race.

What happened at the 2019 Belgian Grand Prix?

Charles Leclerc scored his maiden Formula 1 Grand Prix victory at the 2019 Belgian Grand Prix. Leclerc won from pole position and he dominated the whole weekend.

Leclerc made a perfect start to lead Vettel into Turn 1. Hamilton briefly overtook Vettel to take second position. But Vettel regained second-place even as Leclerc built a steady lead in front.

Behind them, Kimi Räikkönen and Verstappen came together at La Source that ended the Dutchman’s race. After the first pit stop, Leclerc was more than five seconds behind Vettel but caught up with his team-mate and Vettel was ordered by the Ferrari pitwall to let Leclerc pass him.

Hamilton on his second stint on the medium compound tyres put Vettel under constant pressure but Vettel held him up for a few laps. Vettel had to pit for a second time and rejoined in fourth position.

In the penultimate lap, Hamilton was just 1.5 seconds behind Leclerc. But Leclerc held firm to take the first win of his career. Bottas took the final podium place ahead of Vettel.

Albon started at the back of the grid and finished in a creditable fifth position in his first race for Aston Martin Red Bull Racing. Pérez finished in sixth position to be “best of the rest”. Daniil Kvyat, Nico Hulkenberg, Gasly and Stroll rounded off the top 10 positions.

The Circuit

The 7.004 km Spa-Francorchamps circuit with 19 corners (medium and high-speed corners) and several long straights is one of the fastest tracks on the Formula 1 calendar with an average speed of 240 km/h. The race is run over only 44 laps on the longest circuit in the sport.

The first and second sectors require a low downforce setup with the long straights taken flat out, but the twisting middle sector with ten corners requires a higher downforce setup.

So a medium downforce setup is a compromise to balance the requirements of the different sectors. The long laps are done at full throttle 70% of the time and the fuel consumption is high. The brake-wear is low, but high loads are placed on the engine and tyres.

Sectors, Corners, and DRS Zones

Sector 1 from Turn 1 to Turn 4 starts with the tight right-hand hairpin at La Source (Turn 1) leading to the steep downhill run to one of the most iconic corners in Formula 1 – Eau Rouge (Turn 3). The track crosses the Eau Rouge stream and the left-right hand combination of corners of Eau Rouge and Raidillon (Turn 4) at the bottom of the hill leads to the uphill Kemmel Straight.

This fast straight takes the drivers to the crest of the hill and then a blind exit. The drivers can take the entire stretch from La Source to the exit of Kemmel Straight at full throttle for over twenty seconds, placing high stresses on the engines.

Sector 2 from Turn 5 to Turn 14 is the twisty middle sector that requires much higher downforce. Exiting out from the Kemmel straight the drivers brake hard into the right hander at Les Combes (Turn 5). This corner presents one of the best overtaking spots on the track.

The downhill run to Rivage (Turn 8) is followed by the left-hand corner at Turn 9 which plummets downhill to the sweeping corner at Pouhon (Turn 10). A set of twisting corners leads to the last corner at Turn 14.

Sector 3 from Turn 15 to Turn 19 starts with the sweeping right-hander at Turn 15 leading to the long back straight that ends with Blanchimont (Turn 17). This high-speed corner leads to the Bus Stop Chicane leading to the final start-finish straight.

There are two DRS zones this year at this circuit with many overtaking opportunities. The first DRS detection point will be before Turn 2, with the first DRS activation point after Turn 4. The second DRS detection point will be before Turn 18, with the second DRS activation point after Turn 19.

Credit: Pirelli Media

Tyre Strategy

The white-striped hard tyres (C2), the yellow-striped medium tyres (C3) and the red-striped soft tyres (C4) nominated for this race is in the middle range of Pirelli tyres. This year’s tyres are one step softer than the tyres used at the previous race in Spain and last year at this race.

All the drivers have eight sets of the soft compound tyres (C4), three sets of the medium compound tyres (C3) and two sets of the hard compound tyres (C2) in the thirteen sets allocated to them. 

The changeable weather at Spa leads to a mix of strategies. The midfield teams will resort to aggressive strategies to roll the dice and maximize their results.

What should we look out for this year?

The ban on ‘Quali Mode’ has been postponed to the Italian Grand Prix at Monza. This change in rules would have injected a brand new variable into the competitive equation. Mercedes has been dominant in qualification this season and since the hybrid-era started in 2014.

Hamilton will start as the favourite at this race as Leclerc and Ferrari have taken a backward step in performance this season. Bottas will be looking to recover lost ground after the third-place finish in Barcelona.

Verstappen as usual will be ultra-competitive and ready to seize on any missteps by the Mercedes drivers. The midfield battle will be tight between the Racing Point team and the McLaren F1 Team, with the Scuderia Ferrari team surprisingly part of this fight.

Hamilton (132 points) is now leading Verstappen (95 pts) by thirth-seven points in the drivers’ championship. Bottas (89 points) in third position is in a tough fight with Verstappen for second position.

Leclerc (45 points) in fourth position is well-behind the leading trio. Stroll and Albon are tied at 40 points and are in fifth and sixth positions respectively.

Mercedes (221 points) lead the constructors’ championship by 86 points over Red Bull Racing Honda (135 points). Racing Point (63 points) is just ahead of McLaren ( 62 points) and Ferrari ( 61 points).

What’s the schedule?

Friday 28 August

09:00 GMT / 11:00 Local Time – Free Practice One
13:00 GMT / 15:00 Local Time – Free Practice Two

Saturday 29 August

10:00 GMT / 12:00 Local Time – Free Practice Three
13:00 GMT / 15:00 Local Time – Qualifying

Sunday 30 August

13:10 GMT / 15:10 Local Time – Race

How can I keep up with the action?

Follow all the action at the Checkered Flag with our extensive coverage, quotes and analysis of every session of the 2020 Belgian Grand Prix.

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