Belgian Grand Prix: Raikkonen, Hamilton & Alonso must strike - Mercedes-Benz Forum

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post #1 of 6 (permalink) Old 08-19-2013, 11:16 PM Thread Starter
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Belgian Grand Prix: Raikkonen, Hamilton & Alonso must strike

BBC Sport - Belgian Grand Prix: Raikkonen, Hamilton & Alonso must strike

By Andrew Benson
Chief F1 writer
Friday 23 August: First practice at 08:55 BST on BBC Two & Radio 5 live sports extra plus live text commentary online. Second practice at 12:50 BST on BBC Two plus live text commentary online
Formula 1 reconvenes after its summer break at Spa-Francorchamps this weekend, for the first of nine races in a hectic period that will decide the destiny of the 2013 world title.
This year's champion will be crowned in Brazil on 24 November - or some considerable time before that if Lotus's Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari's Fernando Alonso or Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton cannot halt the seemingly unstoppable momentum of Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel.
The German, riding high on three consecutive world crowns and in the best team in the business, has been extending his advantage at an average of 3.8 points a race over this season's first 10 grands prix. If he continues like that, Vettel will have a fourth title wrapped up in Abu Dhabi on 3 November, with two races still to go.
If Messrs Raikkonen, Alonso and Hamilton want to do anything about that, they need to start in Belgium this weekend.
'As good as it gets'
There could hardly be a better race to kick-start the second half of the season after Formula 1's month-long summer break than the Belgian Grand Prix.

The Spa-Francorchamps circuit is one of the very greatest race tracks in the world - if not the best of them all.

Its 4.3 miles cascade up and down valleys in the Ardennes mountains and add up to the supreme test of a Formula 1 driver and his car.

Almost every corner has its unique challenge, with the rollercoaster ride of Eau Rouge and the ultra-demanding 150mph double-left of Pouhon the best of the lot, and they combine to form a track that racing drivers eulogise more than any other.

Add in that the racing is normally excellent, thanks to the long straights up to Les Combes and round to the Bus Stop chicane, and that the fickle weather adds a delicious element of uncertainty, and it is about as good as motor racing can get.

Other than in their dominant 2011 season, Spa - and the next race at Monza in Italy - have not been especially happy hunting grounds for Vettel and Red Bull. So the two races present an opportunity the German's rivals cannot afford to pass up.
Alonso has been Vettel's main challenger for most of the season, but the Spaniard slipped back to third place, a point behind Raikkonen, in Hungary, the last race before the month-long summer break.
Their swapping of positions was the result of a combination of two factors - Ferrari's slide into uncompetitiveness and two strong races for Lotus.
Raikkonen's only victory this year was in the season opener in Australia, but the Lotus had potentially race-winning pace in both Hungary and the preceding event in Germany.
That they did not win - losing out to Vettel at the Nurburgring and Hamilton in Hungary - owed as much to Raikkonen's grid position as anything else.
Starting sixth in Hungary and fourth in Germany gave him too much work to do in the race, putting him behind too many cars, although whether he had the pace to beat Hamilton at the Hungaroring is debatable.
For Raikkonen, it is the same story as last year. He is remarkably consistent, finishing every race since his comeback to F1 at the start of 2012, but the Lotus has so far lacked the outright pace to win on a regular basis. Given the team lack the resources of their three rivals, this has to be considered unlikely to change.
Ferrari do not lack for resources, but Alonso's problem is nevertheless the same as Raikkonen's.
The Spaniard only narrowly missed out on the title last year, but it was always close to a miracle that he even had a shot at it, the result of a combination of one of the greatest seasons by any driver ever and a unique set of circumstances at the start of 2012.
Ferrari actually started this year on a far stronger footing than they did last year.
Alonso won two of the first five races in impressive style. And had it not been for mistakes by driver and team in Malaysia and Bahrain, he would have been leading the championship after his victory in Spain in early May.
Since then, though, Ferrari's attempts to improve their car have not materialised, and they seem to have been negatively affected more than most by the enforced change of tyre specification in Hungary following the unacceptable series of failures at the British Grand Prix.
From qualifying in the top three on a regular basis in the early races, Alonso has more recently been fighting to scrape into the top five or six.

Mercedes have taken six poles in the last seven races
Alonso remains the best race driver in the field, nearly always fighting up into podium contention even if he starts at the wrong end of the top six, or even lower. But Hungary was a low point, and he could manage only fourth, never close to being in contention. It was an alarming sign for him and the team.
Thirty-nine points behind Vettel with only 225 still available, Ferrari know full well the championship is slipping through their fingers, their long-standing struggles with aerodynamic development coming back to hamper them again and again.
Team insiders are admitting privately that they simply have to claw back Vettel's lead in the next two races and get the car back into a position where Alonso can compete at the front from Singapore at the end of September, when the long-haul 'flyaway' races that end the season start and development becomes harder than ever.
But how realistic is it to expect a giant leap forward from Ferrari when it is nearly three years since Alonso's last dry-weather pole position?
Alonso will fight to the end, but if he cannot make up ground in the next two or three races, his team may find it hard to resist the temptation to switch more of their focus to the demands of 2014 and the new engine rules.
It is the fundamental lack of outright pace of the Lotus and Ferrari so far that mean Hamilton could yet prove to be Vettel's biggest threat over the second half of the season.
Mercedes are on a roll after six poles in the last seven races and three wins in the last five. More than that, Hamilton's victory in Hungary, held in track temperatures that nudged 50C, suggested the team might finally have got on top of the excessive rear tyre use that has hampered their race form since 2011.
Although temperatures at Spa will be nowhere near those of Hungary, the track's demands on tyres are far greater as a result of the high speeds and demanding long-duration corners.
If Mercedes can keep their tyres in good shape there, and match their domination of qualifying with the sort of race form Hamilton showed in Hungary, then the 28-year-old could become a real threat to Vettel, even with a 48-point deficit.
On the balance of probabilities, though, it is hard to see Vettel being beaten. Already immensely impressive, he has driven beautifully this season, matching his blistering qualifying speed with remarkable consistency.

In 10 races, he has won four and failed to finish on the podium only three times. Two of those were close fourths and the other when he retired from the lead at Silverstone - which he inherited from Hamilton - with a broken clutch shaft.
Vettel is not unbeatable, though, and Hungary - where he damaged his front wing in an ill-judged manoeuvre on Jenson Button's McLaren - showed he still has the same vulnerability to costly mistakes under pressure he always has.
But to make them, he has to be under pressure in the first place. And even if the others can start winning more regularly, it is hard to imagine he will not be racking up big chunks of points at almost every race.
If anyone is to beat him over the remainder of this year, it will take a massive effort.
Saturday 24 August : Final practice at 09:55 BST on BBC Two plus live text commentary online. Qualifying at 12:10 BST on BBC One plus live text commentary online.
Sunday 25 August: Race coverage at 12:10 BST on BBC One & BBC Red Button & 13:00 BST, Radio 5 live plus live text commentary online. F1 Forum, 15:15 BBC Red Button (IPTV only). Highlights, 19:00 BBC Three & BBC Red Button
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post #2 of 6 (permalink) Old 08-20-2013, 08:14 AM
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Love to see Hammi give Vettel a run for his money....

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post #3 of 6 (permalink) Old 08-20-2013, 06:06 PM
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Love to see Kimi give Vettel a run for his money...
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post #4 of 6 (permalink) Old 08-23-2013, 01:09 PM Thread Starter
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Gary Anderson: How to handle the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa

BBC Sport - Gary Anderson: How to handle the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa

By Gary Anderson
BBC F1 technical analyst
Formula 1 gets back to business after its summer break this weekend and the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps could hardly be a better place to do so.
Everyone thinks very highly of Spa - it is one of the world's great circuits, and a huge test for both the drivers and the engineers.
Spa-Francorchamps with its challenging 180mph curves and undulating Eau Rouge.
The greatest part of that test used to be the daunting 180mph-plus left-right-left swerves, dip and rise through Eau Rouge.
In the past, taking those corners flat-out was every racing driver's challenge - and the same went for the engineers, trying to set the car up to enable it to do so.
These days, Eau Rouge is not as difficult as it used to be. It's what they call "easy flat" for everyone on a qualifying lap. Although the high speeds involved and the extreme gradients mean it is still very challenging.
The track layout there has not changed, but the safety facilities and the capabilities of the cars have.
The extra run-off area means that, mentally, the drivers do not feel as constricted, and the cars now have greater downforce through there which is also more stable than it used to be.
In the past, the diffusers would stall in the compression at the bottom of the hill, robbing the car of downforce. Then, as the car went light over the crest in the final part of the corner - which is known as Raidillon - they would lose some again.
Now, with the advances in aerodynamic development, the cars hang on to their downforce much better in both those critical areas.

Spa is split into three distinct sections as a circuit, and it is difficult to decide on the best set-up compromise.
The first part of the track from the start-finish line, through Eau Rouge and up the long straight to the chicane at Les Combes, and the final part - the long flat-out section through Blanchimont and back to the pit straight - both require reasonably low downforce, to ensure speed on the straight is not compromised too much.
By contrast, the middle sector, through all the demanding medium and high-speed corners from Les Combes to Stavelot, requires reasonably high downforce.
The key is finding the right compromise - and deciding whether to lean more one way or the other.
Belgium Grand Prix facts
Venue: Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium
Circuit length: 7.004 km (4.3 miles)
Laps: 44
First Grand Prix: 1925
Race distance: 308.052 km (191 miles)
Most wins (drivers): Michael Schumacher (6)
Most wins (constructors): Ferrari (16)
These days, because of the way races have developed with Pirelli tyres, you need to overtake. Even if you qualify on pole, you're very unlikely to be able to stay at the front all the time. So a team are likely to veer towards the low-downforce approach.
The middle sector is now the most demanding part of the track. The corners are all pretty fast and the car needs a very good balance to ensure it does not damage the tyres.
The double-left known as Pouhon is particularly tricky - it's 150mph or so, and you're in it for a long, long time. If the car is not set up just right, it can destroy the tyres very quickly indeed.
And the rest of of the corners through that part of the track, while not as fast as Pouhon, are all long and put a lot of strain on the tyres.
So if you have a car that is quick in a straight line but sliding around too much in that sector, you will eat up the tyres.
All this makes Spa one of the most demanding tracks to get the car set up right for the compromise between one-off lap time and making the tyres stay alive on Sunday.

Red Bull head to Spa leading both the constructors' championship and the drivers' with Sebastian Vettel.
They have in the last few years always tended to set their car up for optimum lap time, rather than worrying too much about straight-line speed, and tried to control the races from the front after Vettel qualified on pole.

It has worked very well, but it is a risk, especially when more cars are competitive.
In the past, particularly in 2011, they had a big speed advantage and were able to quickly build the advantage they needed in races.
That has not always been the case this year. They have not got as far away before the first stops and they can drop into awkward traffic - and a good example was in Hungary last time out, when Vettel's chances of victory evaporated when he got stuck behind Jenson Button's McLaren.
That will make for difficult decisions at Red Bull this weekend, given the qualifying performance of the Mercedes, which has been on pole for six of the last seven races.

I think there is still more to come from Mercedes in terms of absolute pace.
They have been worried by their over-use of the rear tyres, but Lewis Hamilton had a good win in Hungary in demanding conditions and the break will have given them a chance to take stock of that.

From worrying about the tyres, they can concentrate more now on making the car faster. So I think they will be moving forward and competing for wins at most of the races from now on.
Red Bull have done a very good job this season, but from the numbers I work out they are not making the dramatic steps forward in performance they used to.
They have a good car and they are doing a very competent job each weekend and have been benefiting from other teams tripping up, whether it be Mercedes with the tyres, Ferrari slipping back or Lotus not quite being there on absolute pace.
Ferrari needed to spend the break having a real think about the way they are approaching their racing.
They have gone backwards and they need to work out why. I think they are guilty of being too cautious and not making decisions with the car, as I discussed after the last race.
If you don't make decisions, you don't make mistakes, but you don't give yourself the chance to make the right choice and move forwards either.
Sometimes you just have to stand up and make a decision and suffer the consequences if it goes wrong. But the Ferrari guys are clever enough not to be going wrong.

I suspect the Pirelli engineers will be heading to Spa with a few concerns in their minds about the tyres.
This is only the second race since the company introduced a new construction of tyre aimed at preventing the multiple failures experienced at the British Grand Prix - and they did so with Spa and the Japanese GP at Suzuka in mind.
Pirelli tyres
Those are the two tracks that make most demands on the tyres - and Eau Rouge is particularly tough.
In the compression at the bottom of the hill, on top of the aero load, which is already very high because the car is going so fast, there is about 1G of extra load acting vertically on the car - that is the car compresses by its own weight again.
That's another 640-800kg of force into the tyres depending on the fuel load, which puts a lot of extra strain on the shoulder of the tyre - where the sidewall meets the tread.
So Pirelli will be recommending quite high minimum tyre pressures to ensure that stress on the tyres is kept under control.
Gary Anderson is the former technical director of the Jordan, Stewart and Jaguar teams. He was talking to BBC Sport's Andrew Benson
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post #5 of 6 (permalink) Old 08-26-2013, 07:25 AM
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I'm afraid the fat lady is warming up backstage.

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post #6 of 6 (permalink) Old 08-26-2013, 11:45 AM Thread Starter
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Without questioning Vettel's driving skills, the first lap pass by Vettel on Hamilton demonstrated how superior the design of the Red Bull chassis really is.
Other than praying or sticking needles in a Vettel voodoo doll, Hamilton was pretty helpless.
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