The magic of Spa is its incongruousness in modern F1. New tracks – Sepang, Istanbul, Shanghai and Bahrain – begin life on Hermann Tilke’s computer screen, but Spa was created by nature. The track follows the natural contours of the Ardennes, taking the drivers on a 4.4-mile journey rather than simply round a racetrack.
‘Spa’s just the best, isn’t it?’ says Nico Rosberg. ‘It has every type of corner; you’re always going uphill or down and it’s damn fast. You need to respect it.’
The corner that requires the most respect is still Eau Rouge, the left-right-left flick at the start of the lap. It’s become ‘easy-flat’ since the advent of V8 engines in 2006, but the cars are still doing a minimum of 188mph without much run-off. It’s big balls stuff and with the rain that’s forecast for Sunday’s 44-lap race, it could become quite scary.
Come rain or shine, expect Kimi Raikkonen to be stronger here than of recent. He’s won here for the last three years and his F2008 will be quick through Spa’s fast, sweeping bends because it’s still the most aerodynamically efficient car on the grid. The pressroom believes that Kimi is washed up psychologically, but I don’t think that’s the case. His problem at the last three races has been his inability to get heat into his front tyres during qualifying and he said yesterday that he made a lot of progress with his one-lap pace at last week’s Monza test.
If the Ferrari is the best car, expect Felipe Massa to push Kimi hard. He’s been brilliant at the last two races and seems to have the majority vote in the Scuderia’s garage, which buoys his confidence further. Spa hasn’t been good to him over the years, however, with only one podium finish in five starts.
McLaren proved at Barcelona and Silverstone earlier this year that their MP4-23 is an improvement on last year’s car at quick tracks, so expect them to challenge the Scuderia closest. And Lewis Hamilton is as brave as a lion through fast corners, so he’ll be in heaven on this racetrack.
And what of Toro Rosso: can Sebastian Vettel shake up the order for the second successive race? He’s got the opposition worried because I overheard Dave Ryan, McLaren’s sporting director, telling him to slow down yesterday. Slow and Spa aren’t words that sit together well.
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