Ask your average grand prix driver what his favourite circuit is, and the chances are he will give you a one-word answer: 'Spa'. So it is a safe bet that there will be a few smiling faces in the cockpits of the 20 Formula One cars as they pummel round this circuit in Belgium's Ardennes region next weekend. Spa-Francorchamps is the venue for the Belgian Grand Prix, the last European race of the 2005 F1 season. It's the archetypal drivers' track – hills everywhere and a mixture of sweeping bends and tight corners. It is a test not only for the drivers, but also for the engineers who revel in the challenges this classic circuit provides. A superlative race strategy by the engineering team in Monza resulted in a seven-point haul. Panasonic Toyota Racing heads to Belgium in 4th place in the constructors' championship on 78 points, just eight points behind the top three and looking to end the European season on a high.
GO WITH THE FLOW
According to Jarno Trulli, the secret to being quick around Spa is to find the rhythm of the circuit, joining together all the different corners into a flowing lap.
Jarno Trulli (Car 16): "I always look forward to our trips to Spa, and I think every other driver on the grid has the same feeling. It's one of the most difficult tracks in the world and that makes everything more interesting from the inside of the cockpit. It's a technical circuit and that means it also shows how good a driver really is. Over the course of a lap you face pretty much every kind of corner there is, and there are lots of chances for making up time. It's a much longer lap than most, and it's harder to find the limit than anywhere else. You have to concentrate hard throughout the lap, but it's also all about finding the rhythm of the circuit. So far I've always gone pretty well there, so I will be looking forward to the challenge again this weekend. It's always difficult to know what to expect before you get to a race but things went well in Italy so let's hope for another good result."
DON'T RAIN ON MY SPA RAID
The weather is always a factor at Spa-Francorchamps – and Ralf Schumacher reveals you can even go through a full range of conditions in the course of a single lap.
Ralf Schumacher (Car 17): "For many drivers, Spa is the best circuit on the calendar, and I'm no exception. The dramatic Eau Rouge is one of the most recognisable corners on the calendar, with a compression as you come into it and then a steep climb out. It has been likened to threading a needle and that's not a bad analogy. The high-speed Stavelot and Blanchimont corners are also satisfying to drive. It's a 'real' circuit. The other major factor at Spa is the weather. The Belgian Ardennes seem to have a climate all their own and you are never quite sure what you are going to get. When the weather changes, it can be dry in one part of the circuit and wet in another, so you have to be careful. This year the race is a couple of weeks later than usual, so I'd be very surprised if we get through the weekend without rain. We haven't had a wet race all year, so it could be interesting for the drivers, the teams and the tyre companies."
Spa-Francorchamps provides the ultimate test not only for drivers, but for the engineers, who face unique challenges around the Ardennes hills.
Mike Gascoyne – Technical Director Chassis: "Spa-Francorchamps is the most challenging circuit we go to during the season, both from a driving and an engineering perspective. The track combines some very high speed corners – including the fantastic and legendary Eau Rouge – with low speed corners like La Source and the Bus Stop. There is a mixture of standard track and normal road with significant elevation changes. The biggest challenge comes from finding the most competitive set-up to cope with the varying speeds during the lap. The high speed sections lead to a tendency to reduce wing level, which makes corners like Eau Rouge demanding. But we have to make sure that we have a good top speed on the return to the Bus Stop and the flat-out left-hander Blanchimont. The circuit is also demanding for engines, especially over the long section towards Radillon and back to Blanchimont. We expect our package to suit the Spa-Francorchamps track. This year season our car has suited almost all types of circuit, so I expect this trend to continue."