Technical preview of Spa
After a disappointing Italian Grand Prix at Monza, Panasonic Toyota Racing heads to another historic venue for the Belgian Grand Prix this weekend. Spa-Francorchamps is back on the Formula 1 calendar after a one-year absence while improvements were carried out to the track and the infrastructure. Pascal Vasselon gives us a technical preview of the Belgian circuit.
Spa is much loved but what are the major considerations heading there?
"In terms of race preparation, before going to Spa you always spend time on wet race strategies and the transition between wet and dry or dry and wet. Statistics tell us that the likelihood of rain is quite high, especially at this time of the season and notably considering the weather we have seen in the last months in North Europe. That’s not only special to Spa, if we were going to Nürburgring or Silverstone we would handle the race preparation in the same way."
What makes the track itself so special?
"Spa is, at the same time, a track with high average speed but also a lot of corners, fast corners. That’s what makes it special. Every year we hear from the drivers that Spa is one of the best circuits in the world. We should look at the objective criteria behind why circuits are popular with the drivers. What they like about Spa are probably the changes of elevation and the combination of high-speed corners, which is very challenging. The track lay out is natural, guided by the topology of the place, and not artificially created."
Eau Rouge looks mighty but how difficult is it? Do the cars bottom out there?
"It is not difficult to stop cars bottoming there but Eau Rouge does dictate where you have to run in terms of ride height. You have to raise the cars more than if the circuit did not feature Eau Rouge. It’s a demanding circuit from the car design point of view and many of the highest loads that we face during the season come at corners like Eau Rouge and Blanchimont. It actually sets quite a lot of parameters. You can imagine that designing a Formula 1 car, you need some references as to what are the maximum loads you will see for the suspension and chassis. We call them ‘load cases’. You design a car according to load cases and you make sure that your car will resist these load cases. Spa provides most of the demanding load cases. Eau Rouge is very severe because the compression in the middle gives you additional vertical load on the tires which provides some extra lateral grip potential. Then you generate a combination of vertical and lateral force which, at least for steady state conditions excluding curbs, is where you find the highest loadings in the suspension."
How significant are the modifications to the track this year?
"The facilities are more convenient. It is not as luxurious as Shanghai or Bahrain but we now have the facilities that we need – no unnecessary luxuries but what we need to be functional. For me, Spa does not need to have facilities like Shanghai because it is so exceptional. Spa is a unique racing environment. Motorsport culture is deeply ingrained there, the circuit is central to the economical and social life of the area and you can feel the enthusiasm of the fans. It is a really special place - just fantastic. When you stand at the bottom of Eau Rouge and you look up the hill to Raidillon, it is just fabulous. The TV tends to mask the details but when you go there as a spectator it is just stunning."
You talked about preparing for varying conditions, but what can you actually do?
"In most cases you do your set-up for the dry but not always. I remember that in 2005 we got a weather forecast for the race which was 95% rain, so this time we did our set-up for the wet, ran higher downforce and it worked, we were very competitive. Anticipating the set-up for wet conditions is the kind of thing you can do at Spa and you wouldn’t necessarily do anywhere else."
Will you have any car developments on the TF107 at Spa?
"We will have a few upgrades around the package we had in Turkey but obviously with lower downforce, no really big changes. The next aerodynamic package will come for Fuji. Encouragingly, we have already tested at Spa this year and the drivers felt comfortable and competitive. Everyone is looking forward to it."