Distance: 7.004 kilometres
Few Formula 1 circuits are as iconic or revered as Belgium’s Spa-Francorchamps, and it’s easy to see why: it’s seven kilometres of roller-coaster-like sweeping and undulating stitched together with long blasts of pure speed. And it’s a technical conundrum too, with three distinct sectors challenging teams and drivers on set-up and threatening to upend the weekend.
Winner: Max Verstappen (Red Bull Racing)
The 2021 Belgian Grand Prix was infamously declared after three laps behind the safety car in torrential rain. The top 10 were classified in qualifying order except for Sergio Perez, who qualified seventh but crashed on the formation lap, relegating him to a pit-lane start and 19th.
Despite two wins from the last four races, Ferrari has lost ground to Red Bull Racing and is facing a whitewash. Verstappen’s victory in Hungary blew out his lead over Charles Leclerc to 80 points, while RBR enjoys a 97-point lead over Ferrari.
Verstappen can finish second to Leclerc in all nine remaining grands prix and not lose his advantage.
Ferrari and Leclerc are also now fighting on two fronts, with Mercedes having found form through July. Lewis Hamilton is on a five-race podium streak, and in the last two races George Russell combined with him for a set of double podiums, putting the Silver Arrows just 30 points behind the Scuderia in the battle for second.
The Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps is one of Formula 1’s most difficult engineering challenges owing to those three distinct sectors: flat out in the first, twisty in the second and super-fast in the third.
The question is: do you try to compromise between all three or pick a strength and play to that?
On paper this track has a little bit for both leading teams. Red Bull Racing will be happy with the long straights to stretch the legs of its Honda motor, while Ferrari will enjoy the fast bends. The slow corners that lead onto some of the straights will also help to ameliorate its top-speed disadvantage.
On paper the Scuderia will likely have the superior one-lap pace, especially given Leclerc’s seven poles from 13 races to date, making him the season’s best qualifier by far.
But in the race top speed is critical. The Kemmel Straight, enabled by DRS, is extremely long given cars are flat out from the first hairpin. Power always wins a battle through here, meaning track position rarely means much come Sunday. RBR will feel confident the grand prix will come to it.
And that’s without considering what role Mercedes will play. The team said it tried some dramatically different set-up approaches in Hungary that led to George Russell’s pole and subsequent two-three finish.
The demanding Spa-Francorchamps will be a stern test of how sustainable that progress really is — and it’ll also give the team a chance to play to the strengths of the W13, particularly its occasionally impressive straight-line speed performances.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author. Quotes have been obtained from team press conferences and issued press releases.