Spa, unparalleled greatness awaits

2016-08-24 06:00

IT is almost as if it’s scripted that Formula 1 returns after its summer break to the greatest circuit in the world. Belgium’s majestic Spa-Francorchamps is set in all of its famed glory to host the 13th round of the 2016 season.

It doesn’t come as a surprise that Spa is often rated as one of the most popular races by fans.

The circuit, 7.004 km in length, boasts several overtaking opportunities, significant elevations changes, and a bevy of challenging corners. It provides an equally stern test to the cars as it demands an efficient aero package through its high-speed corners, and good power output and delivery for its long straights and climbs.

It’s not just a great circuit on paper either. Since its first race in 1950, Spa has delivered victors, moments, and memories that will last forever: from Mika Hakkinen’s stunning pass, for the lead, on Michael Schumacher and backmarker Ricardo Zonta in 2000, to Kimi Raikkonen’s 2004 win from tenth on the grid, to Mark Webber’s spine-tingling 2011 overtake of Fernando Alonso around the outside into Eau Rouge.

In 2016 another chapter is ready to be written into the glorious history of this mythical circuit. Mercedes start the weekend as favourites but it’s not a given that they’ll dominate the 44 laps on Sunday.

The tyres selected by the sharp end of the grid have revealed quite a big disparity between the front running teams. Mercedes have chosen the conservative route on tyre selection, as each of their drivers will have only four sets of the red-walled supersoft tyre.

Meanwhile, Ferrari’s Vettel and Raikkonen have opted for seven sets a piece of the supersoft tyre. Ferrari has shown a preference for the supersoft tyre throughout the first half of the season, which could have factored into their decision making.

The cooler temperatures and difficulty in heating the tyre to their operating temperatures would have been another consideration for Ferrari.

As fascinating as the tyre strategy could turn out this weekend, it may not play out at all. This circuit, situated in the foothills of the Ardennes Mountains, is notorious for its changeable and unpredictable weather. Add to this the vastness of the Spa-Francorchamps circuit, it often results in rain at one end of the track while sunshine dominates the other half.

There is also the possibility that Hamilton could be out of the equation, at least in the first part of the race. The unreliability that dogged his early season means that Hamilton, already on his fifth engine element, is close to incurring a grid penalty.

A sixth engine would mean a painful ten place grid penalty. However, it would make sense to take it at this circuit as overtaking opportunities are plenty.

Ferrari hasn’t had the season that they and most expected them to have. Nevertheless, team principal Maurizio Arrivebene has confirmed that there will be another engine upgrade but has not confirmed whether it will be forthcoming in Belgium or Italy.

They do have Raikkonen in their arsenal who has been dubbed The King of Spa. But before the summer break they had clearly fallen behind Red Bull.

This next round of the 2016 F1 season has everything going for it. The best drivers in the world sweeping through Eau Rouge, Pouhon, and Blanchimont on the greatest circuit ever built will be surely a match made in Formula 1 heaven.

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