It has been four agonising weeks since we’ve had a Formula 1 race. But, finally, the summer break is over and this weekend’s grand prix at the legendary Spa-Francorchamps circuit is gonna be good ’un. By OSIAME MOLEFE.
The four-week break means that the teams arrived at Spa on Thursday with bags full of enhancements to bolt onto their cars in the never-ending search for that extra tenth. But with eight races to go and given Red Bull’s early season dominance, only teams with something left to race for will be investing heavily in their 2011 car.
Mclaren, who are 103 points behind constructor’s championship leader Red Bull, arrive at this weekend’s race on a hot streak. Their drivers have won the previous two races and the team says it will remain aggressive for the rest of the season. They have tweaked the car’s rear wing – which they say was designed for race performance – to now provide more one-lap pace. This should improve qualifying performance, but with testing banned, you never know with these things until Friday’s free practice.
Ferrari says they’re still in it to win it, but their actions tell us they’re hedging their bets. The team has started work on their 2012 car hoping to be competitive from the word go compared to their 2011 campaign, which hasn’t really got going. For some perspective, at this stage last year, Fernando Alonso was only ten points behind eventual driver’s championship winner Sebastian Vettel. This year, he is 89 points behind and the team is, at best, driving for second position as their current third place in the constructors’ championship is not under any threat.
Neither championship is won yet for Red Bull, but if comments from Vettel and team principal Christian Horner are anything to go by, the team will be looking at victories as bonuses because, save for major cock-ups in multiple races, the 2011 season is theirs to lose.
In driver news, Bruno Senna has replaced Nick Heidfeld at Renault for the next two races. Speculation is that the team is trying to make this more of a permanent arrangement. Heidfeld only got the seat because Robert Kubica was sidelined by the life-threatening injuries he sustained in crash during a rally. Kubica has been undergoing rehabilitation and is expected to have one more surgery on his elbow.
Other Spa news is that Charlie Whiting, the race control guy, has barred the use of the drag reduction system at Eau Rouge complex – the breathtaking series of left-right-left corners where, in 2000, Mika Häkkinen pulled off what is arguably one of the greatest passes in grand prix history. The guy he made the move on was seven-times world champion Michael Schumacher, who this weekend is celebrating 20 years since his Formula 1 debut. A special celebration was held for him at the circuit on Thursday where everyone wished him many more races. Hip, hip, old guy.
Weather and tyres have made or broken races this year, so with sunny skies predicted for Sunday, we’ll have to rely a jumbled grid from a potentially wet qualifying and tires to bring the drama. Pirelli have said there will be a big performance difference between the medium and soft tyre compounds that will be in use this weekend. Big as in more than a second, mainly because of the length of the track, so expect to see overtaking moves as drivers on different strategies find themselves on the same parts of the track.
Prediction: Should it remain dry through qualifying and if Hamilton can do a better job of making the soft compound last, he will take Belgium again with Vettel shadowing him home. As always, Alonso remains the joker in the pack, so third place is between him and Mark Webber. DM
"A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong gives it a superficial appearance of being right and raises at first a formidable outcry in defence of custom. But the tumult soon subsides. Time makes more converts than reason." ~ Thomas Paine