Race starts at 3 pm in Belgium/ 9 pm in Malaysia
Following the mid-season break, the 2021 Formula 1 World Championship resumes its second half of the season with the 2021 Belgian Grand Prix, Round 12 of the championship. It will be the first of three rounds to be over three consecutive weekends, the other two being the Dutch Grand Prix and then the Italian Grand Prix. As reported earlier, the rounds in Japan and Australia have been cancelled due to the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic and quarantine requirements will make it impractical for the teams to travel to those countries. The organizers are looking for alternative circuits to replace them.
The F1 Belgian Grand Prix has been run 65 times (the race was not held on 6 occasions), of which 54 of those times were held at Spa-Francorchamps. The original circuit was designed in 1920 and used public roads. It was a high-speed course with long straights, and drivers could achieve higher average speeds than on other tracks.
The original track was 15 kms long but was gradually shortened. It gained a reputation for being a dangerous track as it used public roads, and in 1969, the F1 drivers refused to take part in the Belgian Grand Prix for that reason. F1 would not return to the track until 1983, and then in the early 2000s, a new financial backer made investments that enabled redevelopment to improve the track, especially safety features.
After the tight, complicated Hungaroring layout, Spa-Francorchamps emphasizes the variety among F1’s permanent tracks. It is characterised by long straights and ultra high-speed corners. This means that the engineers have to do a ‘balancing act’: low drag to attack or defend on the straights but also sufficient downforce to be fast through the intricate Sector 2 where much of the lap times is gained or lost.
Besides having the biggest elevation change in F1 – around 100 metres difference between the highest point and the lowest point – it is also the longest track on the calendar and also has the least number of laps. The long lap distance presents a few unique challenges. For example, if a car suffers damage early in the lap, it’s a long way back to the pits. The weather is also very changeable, and conditions can vary from corner to corner. A longer lap also means teams can’t fit as many laps into their practice and qualifying run plans, therefore the drivers have fewer opportunities to practice each corner and find the limit.
Despite being the longest track in the xurrent World Championship, the brakes on the racing cars are used just 7 times per lap, an average of once per kilometre. On the other hand, in the Monaco GP, the brakes are applied on average every 300 metres of the street circuit. In fact, at the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps, drivers apply their brakes for 13.3 seconds per lap or just 13% of the total race time.
“The challenges of this track, especially when it comes to the weather, are well-known, as are the loads placed on the tyres. Last year, the top three qualified on the medium tyre, while the soft offered a good step up in grip but required more management, and so was not considered to be an optimal race tyre. The majority of drivers went from medium to hard, with the pit stop dictated by the safety car at lap 11 for most of them. So we could see an interesting mix of strategies this year,” said Mario Isola, Head of F1 and Car Racing at Pirelli. He added that the same tyre selections as last year will be available again.
Hamilton and Mercedes-AMG on top again
The last two races before the break saw both the Drivers and Constructors championships changing complexion. Red Bull Racing and its driver, Max Verstappen, had been pulling away steadily from the Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS team. However, the outcome in Hungary saw the German team overtake and lead by 12 points, while Lewis Hamilton is back at the top again and will certainly want to stay there to defend his title.
Incidentally, Aston Martin did not go ahead with their intention to appeal after Sebastian Vettel lost his second place in Hungary due to a ‘remaining fuel’ issue. The second place would have been the young team’s best result to date. Vettel is known to have said he does not know what happened to the trophy he was given (which should go to Hamilton) during the podium ceremony.