The 2001 Belgian Grand Prix Preview

By Ewan Tytler, U.S.A.
Atlas F1 Magazine Writer

At 6.968 km, Spa-Francorchamps is the longest active Grand Prix circuit and the third fastest. Spa-Francorchamps represents the ultimate test of driving ability and it is the most prestigious Grand Prix to win. The list of drivers who have succeeded at the modern Spa-Francorchamps is a short one: Alain Prost, Nigel Mansell, Ayrton Senna, Michael Schumacher, Damon Hill, David Coulthard and Mika Hakkinen. Will a new name from the Williams team be added to this list on Sunday?

Spa-Francorchamps is synonymous with rain. The heavens can open with little warning and the track takes a long time to dry due to the shade provided by the trees of the Ardennes Forest.

Sauber's Technical Director Willy Rampf explains the technical challenges presented by the track: "Spa-Francorchamps is a great race track, with many high-speed corners. But there is also a disparity in between Blanchimont, which is taken at 300 km/h, and the La Source hairpin, which is taken at only 60. Despite this the average lap speed is around 230 km/h in qualifying, so the car's set-up must reflect the need to perform with complete stability in the very fast and medium-speed corners, while also having the mechanical traction to deal with the Bus Stop chicane and La Source.

"Eau Rouge, which follows the plunge downhill from the hairpin, is racing's most demanding corner. It requires complete commitment from the driver, and perfect behaviour from the car as it bottoms out prior to the steep climb up to Raidillion. It is a very special corner that presents a tremendous challenge for drivers and engineers. The lap here is quite long, which poses further problems in setting up the cars, and the weather is often hard to predict. Well prepared teams will have both good dry and wet setups just in case."

Williams's Chief Operations Engineer Sam Michael added: "Spa is an undulating, medium downforce circuit with slow, medium and fast corners. The set up usually requires something stiffer than normal to allow for the large loads on the car through Eau Rouge. This set up also gives stability through the high speed sections but can be a compromise at places like the bus-stop and the Turn 1 hairpin. We are taking some chassis development parts that should help us against the opposition. The tyre choice should not be so difficult because we have experience of the two tyres that Michelin are taking. Race strategy is important here, especially if it looks like it will rain."

Pitstop and tyre strategies

Attrition can be moderate to high at Spa-Francorchamps, so finishing is everything. Seventeen cars finished in 2000, 16 cars finished in 1999, 15 cars were running at the end of the 1997 race, 14 cars finished the 1995 and 1994 races, 10 finished in 1996, while only 8 cars finished in 1998.

Pitstop strategy depends critically on the weather conditions. Jaguar's Eddie Irvine pointed out that, "everything can be going perfectly and then the rain throws you a curved ball. Quick decisions over pit stops and tyre changes can easily win or lose you the race if there are changing conditions, which is often the case at Spa."

In last year's race, most finishers made two stops principally because of the weather. In the dry 1999 race, most teams used a two-stop strategy while the Benetton team, Williams's Ralf Schumacher, and BAR's Jacques Villeneuve opted for a one-stop strategy.

Past Experience

This is how well (or bad) the current drivers have qualified in the past at Spa-Francorchamps:

* F3000 Result

Down the Pitlane

Ferrari have won the 2001 Constructors' Championship at Hungary and are now concentrating on getting Rubens Barrichello to second place in the World Drivers' Championship. Ferrari won the Belgian Grand Prix in 1996 and 1997, scoring 35 points at Spa-Francorchamps in the period of 1990-2000. However, the last time a Ferrari was on the front row of the grid at the Belgian Grand Prix was 1995. Once again, their reliability may prove to be crucial in Sunday's race.

Along with the Constructors' Championship, the team also clinched the prestigious Drivers' title, with Michael Schumacher the World Champion for the second successive year. Schumacher started his Formula One career at Spa exactly a decade ago, in the 1991 Belgian Grand Prix. Michael also won his first Grand Prix at Belgium, in 1992, and followed this by victories in 1995 for Benetton and in 1996 and 1997 for Ferrari. He also finished there first in 1994 but was disqualified due to an illegal skid-plate.

Needless to say, Schumacher has been the most successful driver at Spa of the current crop, and the German also finished 2nd in 1993 and 2000 and set fastest lap in 1998 and 1992. However, Schumacher has never been on pole position at Spa - his highest grid position was second, in 1994.

Rubens Barrichello has climbed to 3rd in the Drivers' Championship. Barrichello set pole position in 1994 and fastest lap in 2000 but his only finish in the points at Belgium was a 6th in 1995 for Jordan.

McLaren remain 2nd in the Constructors' Championship. McLaren have won the Belgian Grand Prix seven times at the modern Spa-Francorchamps and scored 75 points in Belgium in the period of 1990-2000. Their horsepower and aerodynamic advantages are very important at this circuit.

Mika Hakkinen is still 5th in the Drivers' Championship. Hakkinen won last year's race from pole position, and he has also had several podium finishes in Belgium: 2nd in 1994 and 1999, and 3rd in 1996 - after briefly leading - for McLaren. He also finished 3rd in 1997 but was disqualified for using illegal fuel during qualifying. Hakkinen finished as well in 6th for Lotus, in 1992. He set pole position in the last three Belgian Grands Prix and he set the fastest race lap in 1999.

David Coulthard is still second in the Drivers' Championship. Coulthard is very experienced at Spa, having competed in six Grands Prix and two F3000 races. Coulthard has had his greatest highs and lows at Spa-Francorchamps. He won the 1999 race and was classified 4th for Williams in 1994 at his first Belgian Grand Prix. He set the fastest lap in 1995 and his highest grid position was 2nd - in 1998 and 1999. The 1998 race, with his involvement in three accidents, was - according to himself - the worst day of his racing career.

Williams are a close third in the Constructors' Championship. BMW Motorsport Director Gerhard Berger stated: "Spa Francorchamps is one of the last great natural race tracks and a wonderful challenge for a driver. It offers everything, uphill and downhill, slow and fast corners, and due to its length it is something special. We are very much looking forward to Spa. The circuit should suite our package much better than the Hungaroring, and especially on the long uphill part after Eau Rouge the power of our BMW engine will pay off."

Williams have been very successful at Spa-Francorchamps, winning the Belgian Grand Prix three times - in 1986, 1993 and 1994 - and scoring a total of 64 points in the 1990s. Williams hold the qualifying (1:47.571) and race (1:51.095) lap records which were set in 1993 by Alain Prost. Their horsepower advantage could prove to be very important at this circuit.

Ralf Schumacher has slipped to 4th in the Drivers' Championship by a mere two points. Ralf commented: "the car in Spa should be better than in the last race in Hungary, but there is always a question mark about the weather as it often rains there, which could cause us a problem. Spa, like Monaco, is one of the remaining old circuits where the safety standards are unfortunately not up-to-date."

Schumacher revealed that he will be using an FW23 'B' chassis, saying: "I will have a slightly modified car and a new chassis, which I hope will bring us some good results." Ralf finished 3rd in last year's race for Williams and he finished 2nd in 1998 and 5th in 1999 for Jordan. Ralf's highest grid position was 5th in 1999.

Juan Pablo Montoya is still 6th in the Drivers' Championship. Montoya commented: "I think Spa is a great track and an interesting one. Eau Rouge is really quick and if people could feel what you feel when you are going through there that would be something. It is really, really special but it doesn’t look that quick on TV. The track is a pretty critical one and obviously very quick. I think for the set-up of the car you have to have a good balance because of the quick corners." Montoya finished 2nd in the 1998 F3000 race after setting pole position, while he was disqualified from the 1997 F3000 race for holding up the field with his damaged car, after qualifying 4th. Montoya will be using the older specification FW23 chassis.

Sauber have consolidated their 4th position in the Constructors' Championship. They scored 10 points at Spa-Francorchamps, finishing 3rd in 1998, 4th in 1997 and 1995.

Nick Heidfeld has climbed to 7th equal in the Drivers' Championship. Heidfeld stated: "Spa-Francorchamps is every driver's favourite circuit, because of its high-speed nature and the challenge it represents. The Red Bull Sauber Petronas C20 has been very good on such tracks all season, so naturally I am really looking forward to the race and to scoring more points." In last year's Belgian Brand Prix, Heidfeld did not finish after qualifying 14th for Prost. Heidfeld has completed two F3000 races at Spa-Francorchamps, and he finished 4th in both the 1998 and 1999 races. Heidfeld was not as successful at Spa as he was at other circuits in F3000.

Kimi Raikkonen is still 9th equal in the Drivers' Championship. Raikkonen revealed: "The last Formula Renault race I did last year was at Spa, so it's a circuit that I know. In the small formula cars it gets boring because you run out of power on all those long straights, but I'm really looking forward to driving a Formula One car there. It's a great circuit and should suit us well."

BAR are still 5th in the Constructors' Championship. The team has yet to score a point at Spa-Francorchamps and during qualifying for the 1999 race, both BAR drivers destroyed their cars in spectacular accidents at Eau Rouge and both miraculously walked away unharmed.

Jacques Villeneuve is 7th equal in the Drivers' Championship. Villeneuve finished second in 1996 and 5th in 1997 for Williams. He also set pole position in 1996 and 1997 and set fastest lap in 1997. Villeneuve also escaped injury following a high-speed accident at the Raidillon in 1998.

Olivier Panis is still 12th in the Drivers' Championship. Panis has yet to score a point at Spa-Francorchamps - his best performance was in 1995, when he qualified and finished 9th. Previously, Panis won the 1993 F3000 race at Spa-Francorchamps from pole position.

Jordan are still 6th in the Constructors' Championship. Managing Director Trevor Foster stated: "All the drivers love Spa and gain real satisfaction from racing there. I think the combination of high speed corners and the undulating nature of the track is what makes it so special. We hope to find the perfect set-up for the car so that Jarno and Jean will get a real thrill." Jordan have scored 29 points at the Spa-Francorchamps, finishing 1st and 2nd in 1998, 2nd in 1997 and 6th in 1995 and 2000.

Jarno Trulli is 9th equal in the Drivers' Championship. Trulli commented: "Spa is a great drivers circuit and the race is often quite exciting there. You have to have a good car that is very well balanced at this circuit as it is very long and quite technical. 1998 was a great race for me at Spa as I worked my way up the field from thirteenth on the grid to finish in the points which felt good." Trulli finished 6th in 1998 for Prost and his highest grid position was 2nd in 2000.

Jean Alesi is still 13th equal in the Drivers' Championship. Alesi stated: "Everybody knows that Spa is one of my favourite circuits - it is so exciting to drive there. The weather can be very unpredictable which can also add some spice to the race. I have started this race twice from the front row of the grid and the last time I raced at Spa in yellow Jordan overalls, I won - although that was in F3000. I also had a great race there in the rain when I was with Sauber in 1998, joining the two Jordans on the podium. The whole circuit has a 'party' atmosphere which adds to the excitement with fans coming from all over Europe to watch the race. This year, it would be great to re-live some of my Spa successes." Alesi has had some success in his 11 starts at Spa-Francorchamps, finishing 3rd in 1998 for Sauber and 4th in 1996 for Benetton. He also twice qualified in 2nd position - in 1995 and 1997.

Benetton are still 7th equal in the Constructors' Championship. Benetton have been quite consistent and successful at Spa-Francorchamps, winning the Belgian Grand Prix in 1995, and have scored 51 points at Spa in the period of 1990-2000.

Giancarlo Fisichella is still 7th equal in the Drivers' Championship. Fisichella finished second in 1997 but narrowly escaped serious injury in 1998 when he rear-ended Shinji Nakano's Minardi at the Bus-Stop chicane. Fisichella's highest grid position was 4th in 1997. Jenson Button is still 16th in the Drivers' Championship. In last year's race, Button finished 5th after qualifying an amazing 3rd place for Williams.

Jaguar are still 7th equal in the Constructors' Championship. Team founder, Jackie Stewart, holds the qualifying record for the 14.1 Km Spa circuit. But the Stewart team never scored a point at Spa-Francorchamps - their best result was Barrichello's 10th position in the 1999 Belgian Grand Prix.

Eddie Irvine is still 13th equal in the Drivers' Championship. Irvine's thoughts on Sunday's race: "After Hungary it will make a nice change to be on a track with more than one overtaking opportunity. However, making up places at the start is always a risky business as the first corner is very tight." Irvine added: "While I appreciate the great setting and its place in the history books, I am not a big fan of Spa."

Irvine had a frightening moment in 1995, when his Jordan caught fire in the pitlane. He finished 4th in last year's race and his highest grid position was 4th in 1994 for Jordan.

Pedro de la Rosa is still 17th equal in the Drivers' Championship. In last year's race, de la Rosa qualified and finished 16th while in 1999, he did not finish after qualifying last for Arrows.

Prost are currently 9th in the Constructors' Championship. Team Principal Alain Prost won twice at Spa-Francorchamps and he holds the qualifying and race lap records. The Prost team have scored one point at Spa-Francorchamps.

Heinz-Harald Frentzen is still 11th in the Drivers' Championship. Frentzen revealed: "This circuit is in fact the closest circuit to my home town of Munchengladbach many of my fans visit the circuit so you could say this is my home Grand Prix." Frentzen has been a consistent points' scorer at Spa, finishing 3rd in 1999 for Jordan, 3rd in 1997 and 4th in 1998 for Williams, 4th in 1995 for Sauber, and 6th in 2000 for Jordan. Frentzen's highest grid position was 3rd in 1999. Luciano Burti has yet to compete at Spa in a premier Formula.

Arrows are still 10th in the Constructors' Championship. Technical Director Mike Coughlan revealed: "This is a medium downforce track where car set_up is critical. As well as the usual corners there are two very special ones - Blanchimont, a very fast left-hander, and of course Eau Rouge. This corner is pretty intimidating as it has a depression with a high vertical g-loading but it is also a great challenge. It's actually the Bus Stop chicane where you can make a good (or bad) lap time as it is possible to lose a lot of time there. Expect to see the teams working very hard during the practice sessions to get the best possible setup for qualifying and the race."

Arrows have scored 3 points at Spa in the 1990s, and both Arrows finished last year's race.

Jos Verstappen is still 17th equal in the Drivers' Championship. Verstappen commented: "I love Spa as it is the best racing circuit in the world - a real driver's circuit. It's pretty much my home race and all the Dutch fans come to Spa, which makes for a terrific atmosphere. It's a very difficult track but very rewarding when you get it right. Hopefully we will be stronger there than we were in the last couple of races. We have put a lot of work in so I hope it pays off."

Verstappen was classified 3rd in 1994 for Benetton and his highest grid position was 6th, also in 1994. His teammate Enrique Bernoldi added: "Spa is the best, it's my favourite circuit. It really does have a bit of everything - fast corners, slow corners, gradients, and the fantastic Eau Rouge. It's a very traditional track and one of a very few that hasn't been modified extensively. It will be a great experience to race in Formula One there and I am very much looking forward to the weekend." Bernoldi failed to qualify for the 1999 F3000 race and he qualified and finished 10th in last year's F3000 race.

Minardi have a reasonable record of finishing at Spa, but have yet to score a point there - Shinji Nakano's 8th place finish in 1998 was their best result. In last year's race both Minardis finished. Fernando Alonso had a hat-trick at last year's F3000 race at Spa, winning from pole position and setting fastest race lap. Tarso Marques did not finish the 1997 Belgian Grand Prix after qualifying in his usual 22nd position. Marques finished in the both the 1994 and 1995 F3000 events at Spa, his best performance was in 1995 when he qualified and finished 5th.

The Belgian Grand Prix Preview in a Nutshell:

  • Spa-Francorchamps is the ultimate test of driving ability. A Grand Prix victory at Spa is the most prestigious achievement in Formula One. With the Drivers' and Constructors' Championship won, most teams and drivers are competing only for the prestige of this event.

  • McLaren-Mercedes will want to bounce back from the mid-season disappointments. Can Hakkinen or Coulthard make it three in a row for McLaren?

  • Can Ferrari continue their mid-season run of success? Can Schumacher beat Alain Prost's record of 51 Grand Prix victories and match Ayrton Senna's record 5 wins at Spa? Can Barrichello mount a challenge for 2nd place in the Championship?

  • Williams have an outstanding record at Spa-Francorchamps. Can the FW23 'B' propel Ralf Schumacher to victory? Will Montoya finally get to the chequered flag first with the FW23?

  • Sauber are the Best of the Rest; Can BAR or Jordan mount a challenge for 4th place in the Constructors' championship?

  • Always in the points at Spa-Francorchamps since 1991: Williams.

    © 2007 . This service is provided under the Atlas F1 terms and conditions.
    Please Contact Us for permission to republish this or any other material from Atlas F1.
    Email to Friend

    Print Version

    Volume 7, Issue 35
    August 29th 2001


    Interview with Alain Prost
    by Timothy Collings

    Ken Tyrrell: Fallen Titan
    by Karl Ludvigsen

    Belgian GP Preview

    The Belgian GP Preview
    by Ewan Tytler

    Technical Preview: Belgium
    by Will Gray

    Focus: Senna in Belgium
    by Marchel Schot


    Elsewhere in Racing
    by Mark Alan Jones

    The Tyrrell Trivia Quiz
    by Marcel Borsboom

    Bookworm Critique
    by Mark Glendenning

    The Weekly Grapevine
    by the F1 Rumors Team

      Contact the Author
    Contact the Editor

      Find More Articles by this Author

       > Homepage
       > Magazine
       > News Service
       > Grapevine
       > Photo Gallery
       > My Atlas
       > Bulletin Board
       > Chat Room
       > Bet Your Nuts
       > Shop @ Atlas
       > Search Archive
       > FORIX
       > Help