Belgium GP beckons Ferrari drivers

A Ferrari technician inspects a set of tyres ahead of Sunday's Belgian Formula One Grand Prix in Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium on Thursday.   | Photo Credit: Geert Vanden Wijngaert

Even in other European countries, few people seem to know much about Belgium. A quick look at a map will show you that it nestles between France, the Netherlands and Germany, but those who have visited Belgium will also have discovered it can be a wonderfully confusing place.

It might be the centre of the European Union, but its residents have never agreed on which language to speak.

Half the population speaks French, the other speaks Flemish, with the result that sign posts and even the names of towns change every few kilometres.

If you are lucky, you can navigate your way to the city of Liege (also called Luik), then on into the pine tree-covered Ardennes mountains.

It is an area famous for its dark beers, sweet waffles and pure spring waters, as well as Spa Francorchamps, probably the best Grand Prix circuit in the world.

The Belgian Grand Prix and the Italian Grand Prix at Monza are the two oldest races on the calendar.

The first year Spa hosted a Grand Prix was 1925. The race was won by Antonio Ascari of Italy, driving an Alfa Romeo for the team managed by Enzo Ferrari.

Ever since that day, there has been a special bond between Spa and Ferrari.

Since the arrival of the Grand Prix world championship in 1950, Spa has hosted 43 Belgian Grand Prix events. Of those, Ferrari has won 12.

It was for Ferrari that Michael Schumacher scored four of his six victories at Spa, beating the record of five wins at a single circuit set by the great Ayrton Senna.

In 2004, Schumacher finished second to Kimi Raikonnen’s McLaren at Spa, but the result gave Schumacher his record-breaking seventh World championship title.

Schumacher this weekend celebrates his 300th Formula One race meeting.

It will actually be his 298th race start, as he did not start the 1996 French GP due to an engine failure on the warm up lap and the 1999 British GP when he broke his leg in an accident in qualifying, but rather than Singapore where he’ll make his 300th start, this track is also where he made his F1 debut for the Jordan team in 1991. It is where he wants to mark the milestone, preferably with victory.

Despite a disastrous race in Hungary, where Schumacher hit problems on the starting grid, then limped round at the back before retiring, Mercedes are optimistic about chances of a win at Spa.

The tyre-preserving cooler track temperatures and the need to balance strong aerodynamic down force with minimum drag on the long Kemmel Straight, could play to the team’s advantage.

Equally though, another former Ferrari driver could spoil Schumacher’s day.

Raikkonen has won four

Kimi Raikkonen has already scored four victories at Spa and his last win, when he beat Giancarlo Fisichella’s pole position to win for Ferrari in 2009, was also his last victory before retirement.

This year, Kimi’s return and the performance of the Lotus E20 have both been a revelation, only matched by the pace of Raikkonen’s team-mate Romain Grosjean.

Lotus engineers believe that their race debut of a Mercedes-style ‘double DRS’ system, blowing air onto the front airfoil to stall it and reduce drag, could give them a winning boost at Spa.

Fernando Alonso has yet to win a Belgian GP and has only ever won at Spa in the F3000 category.

However, he is determined to add to Ferrari’s winning reputation. While McLaren and Red Bull have split their three wins each this season between their drivers, Alonso has single-handedly scored all three of the Scuderia’s victories.

Equally impressive though has been his Ferrari’s reliability. Alonso has finished the last 23 races in the points.

If he does so again this weekend, he will match Michael Schumacher’s record of 24 point-scoring finishes in a row in 2001-2002. Set with guess who? Ferrari!

Steve Slater is an F1 commentator on STAR Sports

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Printable version | Jun 23, 2021 11:03:17 PM |

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