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Red Bull could be at the fore

india Updated: Oct 14, 2011 12:47 IST
Steve Slater
Steve Slater
Agencies
Steve Slater

There really couldn't be a greater contrast between the hot, dusty, concrete-lined manmade Valencia street circuit and the cool, possibly damp, tree-lined Spa Francorchamps track, high in the Ardennes forest in Belgium. It is a perfect illustration of the variety of challenges that face the F1 teams each season.

Ever since the arrival of the Grand Prix World Championship in 1950 Formula One, Spa has hosted 40 Belgian Grand Prix events. Of those, Ferrari have won eleven, a phenomenal performance.

That Ferrari tally of course includes Felipe Massa's controversial win last year. If you remember the stewards handed the Brazilian victory after penalising Lewis Hamilton for jumping the chicane in a dramatic final lap melee after one of the seemingly inevitable rain showers drenched the track.

Some still believe the penalty had more to do with the FIA's antipathy with then McLaren boss Ron Dennis, than any on-track indiscretion. Whether true or not, it added more drama to what is always a not-to-be-missed race.

McLaren and Ferrari both have dominated at Spa in recent years, with no other team having won at the track since 1998. Currently, the tally for the last eight races stands at four all. However I wonder this year whether either will win.

One thing might work in their favour is the two team's continuing use of the KERS system. Both McLaren and Ferrari engineers believe that KERS will have more of an impact here than at any other circuit.

Overtaking is possible at Spa because of the slipstreaming effect and this year those cars running KERS will be able to run slightly more aerodynamic downforce than those without, thus having a power advantage on the faster sections and more grip on the slower ones.

I suspect that as on the wide-open spaces of Silverstone, the phenomenal aerodynamic efficiency of the Red Bull Racing cars will again come to the fore. Adrian Newey and his team ignored KERS, concentrating instead on creating a car for Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber which has generated both low drag for good straightline speed while still generating sufficient downforce to shine on the corners.

Ahead of Ferrari and McLaren, I suspect that Red Bull will be the team to watch. And with thousands of German fans streaming across the nearby border, this will almost be a home race for Vettel.

Brawn GP, I suspect once again, will be dependent on the vagaries of the weather. Should Spa Francorchamps experience one of its rare hot, sunny, still days, then the Brawns will generate sufficient heat in their tyres to bid for victory.

If however, it is cool, windy or even rainy, Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello may struggle. A look at the weather reports indicates that it might not be Brawn's weekend.

Two teams could however still surprise. Both Renault and BMW have transformed their rather lacklustre cars by a series of mid-season aerodynamic modifications, which have made them both easier to drive and possible front-runners.

Of course, results apart, simply savouring the action on Spa Francorchamps is a reason to watch this weekend's event. The 7-km lap is a unique throwback to the very earliest days of racing with cars racing on a track which is still partially made up of closed country roads.

The famous La Source hairpin, the spectacular swoop of Eau Rouge corner and the blast through the woods at Blanchimont are all used as highways for much of the year. The purpose-made section of track, linking Les Combes and Stavelot, winds down the valley in a flowing series of curves, the most challenging being the long Pouhon, which is perhaps the toughest corner in F1 today. Taken at over 250km/h it is almost, but not quite full throttle.