After recharging its collective batteries over the FIA's obligatory two week break in the calendar, Scuderia Ferrari is ready to tackle the season's only triple-header at three historic circuits: Spa-Francorchamps, Zandvoort and Monza. It starts in Belgium, held as always at the wonderful track in the Ardennes.
This year, the circuit has undergone various modifications: the track layout itself is almost identical to the previous one, apart from a change to turn 9 – Les Combes – which features new kerbs that should allow the corner to be taken at greater speed. The famous Eau Rouge-Raidillon section of track, the uphill esses, remains unchanged, although the run-off area on the left hand side at the top of the climb has been substantially altered and increased in size. The historic chalet has disappeared, now replaced by a large grandstand. Going against the trend seen at other venues, the tarmac run-off areas on the outside of most of the corners, with the exception of Eau Rouge-Raidillon and Blanchimont corner, have been replaced with gravel, to eliminate the "track limits" problem, as going wide now involves losing time or getting stuck off track. This is a circuit where the driver can still make a real difference. The first braking point at the La Source hairpin requires the car to slow from 285 to 80 km/h, before accelerating down the hill and onto the uphill esses and the long Kemmel straight. Pouhon is another tricky corner, a left hander which puts a big strain on a driver's neck muscles. Stavelot is the penultimate braking point on the lap, before accelerating through Blanchimont, before slowing on the approach to the Bus Stop chicane which leads onto the start-finish straight.
The main challenge for the teams is finding the right balance for the car, as the various sections of track are very different the one from the other. The power unit is used flat out for 60 of the 105 seconds required to complete a lap, but it's also important to have a car that is easy to drive, particularly in the second sector and at the first and final corners, as well as being kind on tyres. Therefore car efficiency is the key in Belgium. The last and very important variable could be the weather. Late summer in the Ardennes can be very hot, but rain is always lurking, which was very much the case last year, when conditions were bad enough for the race to effectively be washed out.
Three questions to Luigi Fraboni, Head of PU Operation and Electronics
Explain your role at Ferrari, your career path and where your passion for motorsport comes from?
LF: "I'm the Head of Power Unit Operations and Electronics. The group I run looks after assembly of the internal combustion engine, the turbo, batteries, electric motors and electronic components. I also oversee the test areas where the various components of the power unit are checked for their performance and reliability over long runs. This is where the various units that will be used on track are run in. Then there's the track group, working with the customer teams, that prepare and run the power units for the race. My love of racing and of Ferrari stems from when I was a little kid and I was lucky enough to visit the old Scuderia Ferrari headquarters during the 1979 season. It was an incredible experience and I remember it as though it was yesterday. When I was reading engineering at university, I was able to do my thesis within the engine department of the Gestione Sportiva at Ferrari and, after working briefly for another company, I got a call from Maranello and I didn't have to think about it for a moment. I accepted enthusiastically".
What can you tell us about the characteristics of the Spa-Francorchamps circuit?
LF: "It's a classic for Formula 1 and definitely one of the most popular with the drivers and the fans. It is unique in having very long straights combined with both medium and low speed corners. It's always very difficult to find the right balance and the best aerodynamic downforce level to run. It will be very important to do all the necessary tests during the Friday sessions so as to find the right compromise between having maximum speed down the straights, which penalises you in the corners or vice versa. Another important consideration is the chance of rain, which is often a factor and hard to predict. It has an influence on the set-up choices made by the teams and can also make for unpredictability in qualifying and the race. The most fascinating corner is definitely Eau Rouge-Raidillon, the high speed uphill esses with a blind exit and it will be interesting to see how this new generation of cars performs through it".
What can you tell us about the characteristics of the Spa-Francorchamps circuit?
LF: "Spa-Francorchamps is very tough on the power unit in terms of reliability. It's the longest track on the calendar and usually, the distances covered over the course of the weekend are among the highest. There are very long straights that stress all the components and therefore require a specific assessment on the test bench. In terms of performance, along with Monza, this is the track where engine power has the greatest effect on lap time and energy management also has a major impact on the final result, especially in qualifying. The various climbs and drops, particularly Eau Rouge-Raidillon can have a critical effect on the various power unit cooling and lubrication systems and so some specific calibrations are likely to be evaluated during the Friday sessions".
Ferrari at the Belgian GP
GP entered 65
Debut 1950 (A. Ascari 5th; L. Villoresi 6th)
Wins 18 (27.69%)
Pole positions 14 (21.54%)
Fastest laps 19 (29.23%)
Total podiums 48 (24.61%)
Belgian GP: facts & figures
2. Spa-Francorchamps' position on a list of the most popular tracks for Formula 1 drivers and fans, according to a survey conducted by Formula 1 in October last year. Monza is still at Number One, with Silverstone in third place.
28. The average number of overtaking moves in the Belgian Grand Prix. The record was set in 2011, the year Sebastian Vettel won, when there were 60 passes, while the least was five in 2002, when Michael Schumacher was first past the flag in a Ferrari F2002. Last year there was not one change of position, hardly surprising as the only lap to count took place behind the Safety Car when overtaking is not allowed.
55. The percentage of Belgium's surface area in the Wallonia region, whose capital is Namur and in which the Spa-Francorchamps circuit is located. Belgium is divided into three regions and apart from Wallonia where 99% of the population speaks French, there is the Flemish region where Dutch is the mother tongue and the Brussels region, with both languages spoken in the nation's capital.
534. The number of points scored by Ferrari in the Belgian Grand Prix. Next up is Mercedes on 329.5, while McLaren is on 312. Apart from its 18 wins, the Scuderia secured a historic clean sweep of the top four places in the 1961 race at Spa. It was won by American Phil Hill ahead of Germany's Wolfgang von Trips, another American, Richie Ginther and the Belgian Olivier Gendebien, at the wheel of an all-yellow factory Ferrari, Belgium's racing colour, as Jacques Swaters, the Belgian Ferrari importer had paid for the entry of this fourth car.
4500. The number of stalls selling frites, the world famous Belgian chips, which means there is an average of one for every 2500 inhabitants. According to the FAO, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, the amount of chips consumed per capita per year is 87.8 kilos.
At Ferrari 75 years ago
At the end of August, Ferrari entered the Coppa del Montenero, near Livorno with a pair of 125 S cars. The race was scheduled for Sunday 24th, but preparations were not going well for Ferrari. Luigi Bazzi destroyed Franco Cortese's race car in testing and suffered serious injuries, which meant Cortese could not race, leaving just Tazio Nuvolari to drive the other 125 S. Unfortunately, the great champion's race was over after just three laps, as he had to retire. The win went to Franco Cornacchia in a Cistalia. Back in Maranello, a disappointed Enzo Ferrari worked on coming up with a plan to strengthen his structure to avoid other days like this. Meanwhile, customers interested in racing the Modenese cars were beginning to knock on the door.