- Sam Bird's track preview
Bird's eye view of SpaSam Bird August 21, 2013
Spa is a track everybody loves to drive and everybody wants to win at; it's one of the great tracks on the F1 and GP2 calendar. I always look forward to it and this year is no exception.
There are two basic directions for setting up at Spa; some people will go for a lower-downforce configuration to maximise sector one and sector three which have two very long straights - we saw it a few years ago in F1 with Giancarlo Fisichella in the Force India when they were very quick in a straight line - or you can for sector two which has more corners and requires a higher downforce level. They work out as a very similar lap time, so it's a case of choosing one of those and what you think is best for a qualifying lap and then for racing. This is something we will settle on with the engineers after free practice.
When you come over the line to start your lap it's only a couple of hundred metres before you're braking into La Source which is quite a tight, right-hand hairpin. You're at quite a high point on the circuit at this stage and then you dip down towards Eau Rouge. We're flat out through Eau Rouge; it's a great corner although it's not quite as challenging in GP2 as it probably is in a GT car because we have so much downforce - it's far more tricky in the rain - but it's still an amazing corner. You don't really realise how steep it is when you see it on TV; when you walk the track it's actually a struggle to get up there!
You feel a bit of compression through Eau Rouge but it's not that intense, you just pick the line of least resistance and make sure you don't lose much time scrubbing off any speed. You can follow pretty closely through there and even if you need to have a little lift you can make up that time with a good slipstream up to Les Combes.
Once you reach Les Combes you're into sector two. You pick a braking point after that long spell at full throttle and you play around with it a bit until you find the perfect zone. The tyres have cooled down a bit so there is a risk of locking up - the brake temperatures are usually a little bit down as well - so you're normally working with a bit of understeer through the right-left section and then you turn right at Malmedy and head downhill.
It's a little bit bumpy under braking for the long, right-hand hairpin, and then you've got to be careful not to run out of road on the exit. There's a nasty kerb on exit and people that get onto it run the risk of spinning into the inside wall. After that the change in direction is key for the left hander which requires a small brake and a downchange before you accelerate towards Pouhon.
For me, Pouhon is the corner where you need the most courage on this circuit. You've got to get the turn-in point absolutely spot on. In qualifying we're going to be pushing the boundaries of hopefully nearly flat out with high downforce levels; that's what makes a corner so challenging. You know that if you can absolutely nail Pouhon then you can make up time on other people there.
After Pouhon you've got the fast, flowing chicane at Fagnes which you really attack. You fire a lot of speed into the right hander and then do your best to keep the speed up through the left. Then it's a very short run to the next 90 degree right hander and once you've done that you've completed 85% of the corners. Out of there you've got a long, fast but sweeping climb up towards the Bus Stop chicane, which is where your lap's final challenge is under braking. You can cement a really good lap there or completely undo the hard work you've done to that point. The best way to approach it mentally is quite analytically and simply brake where you believe it's physically possible to brake. As a driver in qualifying, you avoid getting too emotionally attached to the lap time.
Into the Bus Stop you can overtake on either side as it's a chicane and you'll be on the inside for one part of it. I've done both manoeuvres and both seem to work pretty well. Down the inside is probably the line that's the easiest but if you're good at late braking then it's feasible to do it round the outside as well. After that you get your foot down for the short run to the line.
Although it's a long lap, the tyres get enough of a break on the straights. It's not like Hungary where there's massive thermal degradation because it's corner after corner after corner. Spa produces more general tyre wear. We are going to have to look after the tyres but degradation should be slightly less severe than what we saw in Hungary, so we should see drivers able to push on this great circuit.
Sam Bird writes for ESPNF1 ahead of every GP2 weekend.