A lap of Francorchamps with Alex Wurz
Round thirteen of the 2008 FIA Formula One World Championship takes the Honda Racing F1 Team to Spa-Francorchamps for the Belgian Grand Prix. The 44-lap race is one of the oldest on the calendar, having been staged for the first time in the World Championship’s inaugural season in 1950, and the track remains one of the fastest and most challenging in the world. Test driver Alex Wurz takes us along for a lap around the circuit.
Alex Wurz: “Spa-Francorchamps is an old fashioned racetrack which makes it pretty cool. It has everything you want: hills, fast corners and long straights. It is always nice to go there, although the weather can be really unpredictable. In the space of 10 minutes bright sunshine can turn into heavy rain, which makes racing at Spa a little bit more nerve-racking and difficult.
“The lap is incredibly long and on the whole very fast. There is only a short run down to the first corner, La Source, and the exit is the only thing that matters here because you carry your speed all the way up the hill to Les Combes. Eau Rouge is flat-out in the V8-engined cars, but you have to be intelligent in the way you do this. If you steer too much, you’ll kill your speed through too much friction on the tires.
“You’re flat in seventh on the straight to Les Combes and you don’t brake until you get to the end of the kerbing on the left, which is about 60 meters. This is a right-left-right complex and it’s all inter-linked, so you can’t overdo it on the first right-hander, which is taken in third gear because that will ruin your line for the next two corners. If you do, you will lose a minimum of 0.5s.
“On the run down to the Rivage hairpin, Turn 8, we reach fifth gear before slowing down to second gear for the corner. It’s super slippery through here and there’s a monster bump under braking, which makes it difficult to slow the car. Whatever you do with the set-up, you’ll have understeer through here. The exit is slightly off-camber, and without traction control you will see the drivers fighting the rear of the car the whole time.
“Turn 9 is a pretty fast left-hander, taken in fourth gear. You touch the brake only to stabilize the rear, before turning in and using the curbs at the apex and the exit. The limit of the car comes quite abruptly and there’s hardly any run-off, so you have to be very careful not to overdo it.
“Next up is Pouhon, a super-fast double apex left-hander. You arrive in sixth gear and in qualifying you have just a little brake and a half-throttle lift. I think it’s one of the hardest corners on the lap because you’re constantly exploring the limits of the car and although you have a minimum apex speed of about 230kph (143mph), you still think you can carry more speed through it every lap.
“Then there’s a short straight before you arrive at the Fagnes chicane, where there’s a very late apex to the right-hander. The asphalt has a lot of grip and you can use the curbs, so you can carry a lot of speed through here. Another short straight follows before you arrive at Turn 14, which is a slippery corner and it’s very important to have a good exit because you’re flat-out all the way back to the Bus Stop. It’s a third-gear corner and you use every inch of kerbing on the exit.
“You go flat through the left-hander at Blanchimont and arrive at the Bus Stop chicane, which was re-done in 2006 and is now much slower. You go for a late apex on the right-hander and you’re then battling poor traction at the exit. I preferred the old Bus Stop, where the second exit was just flat and you were jumping towards the guardrail. That was cool!”