Race Weekend Central

Formula 1 Friday: Back on Track … Finally

*Praise be…..F1 is back!*

After what has seemed a quite interminably long break which has been filled with lots of running, jumping, throwing and a fair haul of gold, it gives me enormous pleasure to tell you that once again this weekend the Formula One circus rises again from its mid-season slumber at my personal favourite track, Beligium’s fearsome Spa Francorchamps. The first half of the season has been thrilling so far and there’s no reason to suspect that the second half won’t be equally as unpredictable.

Stepping away then from the stray thoughts and opinions that usually make up the bulk of this column, we’re going to go for an old fashioned preview of what should be a fantastic race. Welcome back F1.

The Formula 1 series is in action this week at Spa Francorchamps and Andy Hollis previews the action.

*The Track*

This is the 44th F1 championship race now at what sits at the top of the pile for the favourite circuit for drivers and fans alike. Fresh from signing a new contract with F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone which confirms the position of Spa Francorchamps on the calendar until 2015, this long, undulating, track more often than not provides thrills and spills aplenty. I will never forget the first time I visited the track at the turn of the century – walking in to the main entrance you look up and see what looks like a piece of track up ahead of you. And when I say “up” I mean UP! Your brain convinces you that your eyes are playing tricks. That can’t be a real piece of track. Well, ladies and gents, that’s your first sight of the fabulous, legendary Eau Rouge corner. Trust me, watching it on television does it no justice at all. That is one STEEP piece of asphalt! After three days of trudging up and down it to get to my seat, I left Spa that first time with a beaming smile and thigh muscles that would make any of the Olympic cyclists jealous!

In terms of stats, the racecourse is a hefty 4.3 miles long and our current lap record holder is a certain Kimi Raikonnen, making his way round the track in 1min 45.108 secs in 2007. More on his record at Spa later. Slap bang in the middle of the Ardennes forest, Spa is a mixture of long straights, and fast, swooping corners. Other than the clunky bus-stop chicane and the first corner hairpin, La Source, there isn’t a slow corner worth the name. The fastest corner, Blanchimont is taken at 199mph. That’s a corner. On a track. 199mph. You’re so watching, aren’t you?

*The Weather*

You’re kidding right? You want me to predict the weather at Spa? Well herein lies one of the fabulous things about the circuit. Nobody knows when it comes to the weather there. You can have blazing sunshine at one part of the track, turn a corner and the heavens will have opened. Spa is notoriously unpredictable but I can pretty much guarantee one thing. Across the weekend, there will be rain and there will be sun. That’s all I can give you. What I will say though is that the implications on the teams will be significant if it’s a full dry race or a full wet race – those long, fast corners suit some cars an awful lot better than others, but rain of course is a great leveler.

*So what’s the best car for the job?*

The long straights at Spa will favour teams utilizing the double-DRS system such as Mercedes and (perhaps) Lotus at those points of the circuit. However the nature of the long, fast corners is an area where the likes of Mercedes and even Ferrari have struggled a little. The masters of aerodynamics under these conditions are Red Bull and McLaren…..but the Red Bull has always suffered from a comparatively low top speed. So that leaves us with the McLaren as the car to have right? Well perhaps. But as an all-round package the Lotus might well be the right ingredients to finally get up to that top step, as long as they can hook everything up in qualifying. If you gave me a drivers skillset, a free contract to choose my car and the Spa track in front of me, in order I’d say McLaren, Lotus, Red Bull, Ferrari, Mercedes, with the proviso that Sauber may spring a surprise.

*And who’s the best driver around here?*

Well here’s a thing. The race itself is synonymous with Michael Schumacher’s career – he had his first ever Grand Prix here, it’s where he took his first ever win in 1992, and it is where, on Sunday he’ll make his 300th start. He’s always been pretty strong around the track, but then that’s Schuey, he HAS been pretty much strong everywhere at some point in his career. Will he win? I doubt it. Can he win? Well yes. And it wouldn’t surprise me completely.

The nature of the course requires the gentlemen to have proverbially large dangly bits between their legs too, and that factor plays into the hands of the brave and slightly mad. Hamilton territory for sure. And Webber.

Skill factor? Well it’s pretty high, and our old friends Fernando Alonso and Seb Vettel have that aplenty, so they’ll certainly be ones to watch.

But the best around this circuit? No question. It may surprise you, but the man that has a peculiar hold here is none other than the Iceman himself, Kimi Raikkonen. In 8 seasons in F1 he’s won at Spa 4 times. With a little more luck in 2008 that would have been 5. Why is he so good around here? Well that’s a little more difficult, but other than certainly possessing the requisite nerve (does Kimi even have nerves?) technically Kimi drives with the minimum of steering input, particularly when cornering, and Spa punishes oversteer HARD. Kimi’s style leans on his front tyres and on a circuit with so few slow corners, it plays into his hands. He’s many people’s favourite for this weekend, and despite him claiming that he’s “nothing special around here” he’d be my choice for the win too. Heart ruling head here? Perhaps to some extent – I’d love to see him win. But logic certainly puts him up there too.

As I say though, after a five week break, it just feels great to be back in the saddle again and I do implore you to set your alarms, slip some whiskey in the kids milk, unwire the doorbell and turn off your phones. Just make sure you’re sat there in front of the television in time for what should be a cracker.

*NASCAR from the UK update*

At the start of the season I promised you guys I’d do my very best to try and get into NASCAR so I thought it best to give you a quick update on my…..umm…..progress. Well firstly I am struggling a little bit with the sheer volume of races. Hard to keep up with what is on when, whether it’s part of this series or another, so should I watch or should I sleep? Either way, I’ve taken the bold step of investing in the NASCAR 2011 game for my Playstation. I figured if I wasn’t “getting it” by watching the guys and girls at work on the screen, I’d best get as close to having a go at the sport via the medium of gaming……

……and you know what, right now there’s a Brit leading the championship after Bristol. I still have no real idea what’s going on though. I’ll keep pushing on!

*Connect with Andy!*

“Contact Andy Hollis”:https://frontstretch.com/contact/37997/

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