Length: 7.004 kilometres
There are few racetracks around the world that get the heart rate up like Belgium’s Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps, one of the all-time driver favourites and a key pillar of Formula 1 history. Fast, dynamic and technically challenging thanks to its three distinct sectors, it’s a test not just of driver and machine but of their combination to get the car in the right compromise window to perform through all 7 kilometres of the picturesque forested circuit.
Winner: Max Verstappen (Red Bull Racing)
Max Verstappen embarrassed his rivals and put one hand on the title trophy when he thundered to pole by 0.632, was demoted to 14th with a power unit and gearbox penalty and then won the race at a canter anyway ahead of front-row starters Sergio Pérez and Carlos Sainz.
The Hungarian Grand Prix was minor wrinkle — very, very minor — in the form guide for this season, with Lewis Hamilton snatching pole ahead of Max Verstappen by just 0.003 seconds. It’s the second time Red Bull Racing hasn’t taken pole for a grand prix this season.
But Verstappen’s almost mortal one-lap pace bore little resemblance to his race pace. After taking the lead at the first corner, he charged to a 33-second victory, the largest margin in almost two years.
Clearly Red Bull Racing’s major update package is doing the job.
More interesting is the forum guide directly behind Verstappen, with McLaren making a strong argument to be considered best of the rest after swingeing upgrades this month. Since the Austrian Grand Prix the team has been at least a match for Mercedes and has more recently comfortably had the measure of Ferrari and Aston Martin as Red Bull Racing’s closest challenger.
The Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps elicits thoughts of long straights and rapid sweeping corners, giving the impression it’s all about high-speed performance, but that’s an oversimplification.
The track has three distinct sectors, and a car must be either compromised around all three or geared towards one strength at the expense of other qualities.
The first sector compromises one super-slow hairpin and a long straight. The second split is mostly medium-speed bends. The final sector features super-fast sweeps terminated by a slow chicane.
The most efficient car will be able to find a sweet spot between all three sectors by adding downforce without compromising straight-line speed.
This isn’t the first time you’ll have read the phrase ‘Red Bull Racing is expected to be very strong this weekend’.
Victory would mean a record-extending 13th consecutive win, 12 of which would have come in this season alone, definitively moving the team past McLaren’s 1988 benchmark of 11 in a row in a single year.
Based on recent form McLaren will also have a chance to cement its status as second-best team, and certainly much of this track will suit the MCL60 in the same was Silverstone did, but Woking is cautious about the car’s persistent weakness in slow-speed corners.
There are three key slow-speed parts to Spa: the La Source hairpin, the Les Combes chicane and the final chicane. All are taken at 100 kilometres per hour or slower and have an outsized impact on lap time. La Source in particular sets the tone for the entire first sector, preceding the long Kemmel straight. Getting them right is crucial.
Factoring into the set-up equation is that overtaking is relatively accessible with DRS and reasonable straight-line speed, which has a habit of pushing most towards lower downforce set-ups. This can come at the expense of tyre wear around the lap — a particular conundrum for teams like Ferrari, which has struggled all year with the Pirelli rubber.’
Finally, the long-range forecast suggests all three days will be affected by rain, adding to the challenge of finding the right set-up. Heavy rain will also force sessions to be delayed or potentially cancelled given the high-risk nature of parts of this circuit in low-grip and low-visibility conditions.