Belgian Grand Prix Preview Q+A - Pascal Vasselon
Why is Spa so special?
For most of the drivers Spa is probably the best circuit in the world, with only Suzuka coming close. The reason for this is that Spa is one of the last natural circuits left in Formula 1, which means the lay-out is not artificial and it is dictated by the surroundings. Then you have the countryside around Spa, with the hills and forests which create a wonderful atmosphere. The other reason is that it is a fast circuit; drivers and spectators are fascinated by speed. Apart from Monaco, which is an exception to the rule, I have never heard a driver excited about a low-speed circuit. The combination of these factors makes it a really special place.
Is it still magical, even after the recent changes?
The Spa circuit has a long history and you could argue that it lost some of its magic with the big change in the late 1970s, when it went from being a very long circuit a little bit like the Nürburgring Nordschleife to the lay-out we know now. That first lay-out just seems crazy to us now because cars were going flat-out through villages and the safety standards were very far away from what we are used to today. At the time it was a magical place but it had to change. The current generation of Spa lay-out was adjusted recently but that did not really change the nature of the circuit and the attraction of the track has not been diluted at all.
What about Eau Rouge?
It is a fantastic corner because you have changes of curvature in all directions; you go left and right but also down and up at the same time. This combination makes it unique but I have to say it has lost a bit of its magic now that it is easily flat out. We expect it to remain flat out in the dry this season even considering the aerodynamic changes, largely because the slick tires compensate for the loss of downforce with increased grip. But where Eau Rouge regains its magic is in the rain; to watch a Formula 1 car through there on a wet track is just unbelievable. It is especially impressive if you have watched other types of car go through the corner in similar conditions because the Formula 1 cars are massively faster.
How important is Eau Rouge to the whole lap? Is it important or just another corner?
It is no longer a place where you could win or lose a second a lap as could have been the case in the past before it was flat out. It is not a straight, obviously, but considering it is flat out you largely treat it as such. Still, you have to take this corner into account to some extent when you think about set-ups because you want to avoid bottoming, so it has some influence.
What forces does a car experience through Eau Rouge?
We design the car to resist the most extreme loading conditions and Eau Rouge is one of the factors we have to take into account because you combine very high vertical acceleration, because of the compression, with a very high lateral load. These factors are not surpassed anywhere else in the season so our cars, particularly the suspension, are designed to cope specifically with the forces generated through Eau Rouge.
How demanding is Spa on the engines?
It is simply the most important track of the year for engines, even more so than Monza. That is because at Spa you have high-speed engine limited corners as well as long straights, whereas at Monza you only have long straights and slow chicanes. As a result we are planning to use a new engine in both cars for this race.
Is there any part of the car which isn't under severe stress at Spa?
The braking severity is below average and this is really the only system that is not stretched too much.
How much of a factor is the potential for bad weather?
At Spa it is possible to be in a situation where you develop a wet set-up and we did this in 2005 when rain on Sunday was an absolute certainty. Even when the weather seems reasonable at Spa you have to be prepared for anything. But don't think that Spa cannot offer very good weather. I live close to there and the number of nice sunny days is actually very high; its reputation is exaggerated!
Will the team have any upgrades for the Belgian Grand Prix?
This season Spa and Monza are the two circuits which stand out as requiring a lower downforce package so we have taken that into account. As a result we have a special package for these two races, meaning revised front and rear wings as well as other aerodynamic changes.
What is the team doing to address the recent difference between qualifying and race pace?
Timo set the fastest race lap in Valencia and that was not a one-off; if you go through all the lap times he was consistently fast but we clearly have an issue with qualifying pace. We are not happy with this situation and we are looking into every area - tire handling, set-up, how we prepare for qualifying - to get more from the car over one lap. We are studying every factor which could explain why we have more relative pace in the race compared to qualifying and we will take whatever action is necessary.