- Belgian Grand Prix
The one you've been waiting for
It's been five long weeks without a grand prix, but the next 12 weeks promise to be some of the best in Formula One history. Four back-to-backs are set to be squeezed in to that time period with only the Singapore Grand Prix standing alone with a two week break either side. And the best thing about the remaining races is that nobody can say with any certainty which driver is going to win them. What's more the final leg of the season kicks off with two of the most evocative grands prix on the calendar at the legendary circuits of Spa-Francorchamps and Monza. What more could you want?
On formLewis Hamilton's victory ahead of the summer break served as confirmation that McLaren is back in the title fight. Before that race Hamilton's chances had taken a severe battering with just four points from three races and a worrying lack of performance at Valencia and Silverstone. The Hungarian Grand Prix was therefore a must-win for Hamilton and he delivered despite Lotus having a faster car over the course of the race. Similar performances will be required for the remaining nine races if Hamilton is to stand a chance of fighting for the championship, but most importantly he must avoid DNFs. The next two races will be crucial.
Out of formIn a season that has featured multiple twists and turns, Mercedes' form has fluctuated more than most. The car seems to be more sensitive to temperature changes and track characteristics than its competitors and that has resulted in the team dropping 83 points off the top four in the constructors' championship. In Hungary the slow 180-degree corners were the issue so the hope will be that Spa-Francorchamps' high-speed sweeping bends and long straights will better suit the W03. Either way a big improvement is needed over the next nine races if Mercedes is still to be considered a member of the 'big four' at the end of the season.
One to watchKamui Kobayashi's record at Spa-Francorchamps isn't spectacular, but on paper it is a circuit that should suit his aggressive style. Last year he was running fourth when a collision with Lewis Hamilton ruined both drivers' races, but this year he isn't deterred. "I'm confident we can be very competitive under all kinds of conditions in Spa because the characteristics of this track with its fast corners should suit our car," he said last week. "I'm really looking forward to this race." He also deserves respect for betting with journalists last year that he would go through Blanchimont with his DRS open on his first practice lap on Friday - just the kind of attitude needed for a fast lap at Spa.
Talking pointsSchumacher's 300th grand prix
Last year at Spa-Francorchamps, Michael Schumacher celebrated 20 years in F1 and this year he is becoming a member of Club 300 (the only other being Rubens Barrichello, who achieved the same milestone two years ago at Spa). As is often the case with F1 statistics, the record is up for debate as Schumacher has only started 297 races, but his presence at 299 grands prix weekends plus his affinity with Spa means no one is likely to argue with him this weekend.
Three more years
News that Spa-Francorchamps will remain on the calendar for another three years is very welcome indeed. A year ago the future of the venue in Formula One was in doubt, then an alternating deal with France was on the cards, but now we are pretty much guaranteed a race until 2015. Part of what makes the deal so encouraging is that the organisers appear to have been given a cut-price deal from Bernie Ecclestone, suggesting circuits like Spa, Monza and Silverstone still have a place in the F1 CEO's heart and a place on the calendar.
The DRS zone has been slightly shortened this year after overtaking proved a little too easy in 2011. The activation zone is now 320m after the exit of Eau Rouge and therefore 50m shorter than it was last year. Nevertheless, the DRS will still be important in qualifying (assuming its dry) and in practice all eyes will be on Lotus to see if it will run its double DRS this weekend.
The weather forecast has changed several times this week, and given that the pit straight can be bone dry at Spa while its pouring down at Les Combes, there's no real way of knowing what the weather will throw up until the first spots of rain hit the ground. With tyre temperature being so important this year, expect the weather to be a major talking point in the build up to each session.
- The Belgian Grand Prix is one of only four events surviving from the original 1950 world championship at the same venue, the others are the Monaco, British and Italian Grands Prix
- No Belgian has ever won the Belgian Grand Prix. Of the 22 Belgians that have raced in Formula One, Jacky Ickx and Thierry Boutsen are the only two that have won grands prix
- The circuit hosted the Belgian Grand Prix on its original 9.3 mile layout until 1970, after which point it was deemed too dangerous. The current specification returned to the calendar in 1983
- Eau Rouge is named after a stream that passes underneath the track at that particular corner. The stream is of geomorphologic interest as it appears to have taken over the old position of the Warche river during the last ice age. However, of greater interest to F1 fans, the cars pass will over it at 185mph while pulling 3G
- Michael Schumacher has won at Spa more times than any other drivers with six victories at the circuit. He also took his maiden win there in 1992
- Kimi Raikkonen holds the lap record with a time of 1:45.108 during the 2004 race. He has also won four of his last five races at the circuit
- The 23.5s spent at full throttle from the exit of La Source until the braking point for Les Combes is the longest of the season
- Only four of the last ten races at Spa have been won from pole position
CircuitEver since Spa hosted its first race in 1922 on closed public roads, the circuit has been both loved and respected by drivers. Its high-speed nature gives the ultimate adrenaline rush but has also seen some horrific accidents. In the 1960 race alone both Chris Bristow and Alan Stacey died in accidents while Stirling Moss broke his legs. After the 1970 race the old 9.3 mile track was considered too dangerous for F1 cars and the Belgian Grand Prix didn't return to the circuit until 1983. The new circuit was cut to around 4 miles and has seen a number of minor changes since. Nowadays it is one of the most exciting tracks on the calendar although the centrepiece Eau Rouge corner is now flatout and relatively easy in the dry. The most challenging corner for the drivers is Pouhon, although mistakes are no longer punished by a gravel trap. Overtaking is possible into Les Combes after the long drag through Eau Rouge and into the DRS zone on the Kemmel Straight. It's also possible to make a pass at the final chicane.
FIA driver stewardChile's Eliseo Salazar is this weekend's driver steward and competed in F1 between 1981-83, driving for March, Ensign, ATS and RAM. He also had an extensive career in IndyCar, sports cars and rallying after F1, but is probably still best known for being punched by Nelson Piquet after he took the Brazilian out of the 1982 Italian Grand Prix. (Watch on YouTube )
WeatherThe forecast at the time of writing was for light rain on Friday but dry weather on Saturday and Sunday. However - as noted above - forecasts mean very little in the Ardennes mountains and teams and fans will have to prepare for every type of weather. Temperatures look set to hover around 20C regardless, but the high-speed nature of the circuit should mean that tyre temperature is not such a big issue.
BettingAfter his victory in Hungary five weeks ago, Lewis Hamilton is the favourite to win this weekend with odds of 13/5. Sebastian Vettel is 7/2 just ahead of Spa master Kimi Raikkonen who is 9/2. Having never won a race at the circuit, Fernando Alonso has tempting odds at 6/1 for the win, while Lotus' recent form sees Romain Grosjean (10/1) with shorter odds than Mark Webber (11/1) and Jenson Button (11/1). And the odds on Michael Schumacher winning at his 300th grand prix? 33/1.