F1: Hamilton looking to sparkle in 2012 Belgian Grand Prix

PUBLISHED: 12:23 26 August 2012 | UPDATED: 12:28 26 August 2012

Lewis Hamilton at the Belgian Grand Prix last year [Picture: Vodafone McLaren Mercedes / www.mclaren.com]

Lewis Hamilton at the Belgian Grand Prix last year [Picture: Vodafone McLaren Mercedes / www.mclaren.com]


THE 2012 Formula 1 season resumes next weekend with McLaren star Lewis Hamilton hoping to follow his victory in the Hungarian Grand Prix with another podium in the Belgian race at the Spa-Francorchamps circuit.

Belgian Grand Prix facts

* Race distance: 44 laps (191.410 miles/308.052km)

* Start time: 14:00 (local)/13:00 BST

* Circuit length: 4.352 miles/7.004km

* 2011 winner: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing)

* 2011 pole: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing) 1m48.298s

* Lap record: Kimi Raikkonen (McLaren-Mercedes MP4-19) 1m45.108s (238.931km/h)

After the sport’s traditional fortnight summer shutdown, the F1 circus heads to Belgium this week, with first free practice on Friday and the grand prix on Sunday, September 2.

Vodafone McLaren Mercedes driver Hamilton, the 2008 F1 world champion from Hertfordshire, won in Hungary last month and will be looking to repeat his 2010 triumph around the famous Spa-Francorchamps track.

McLaren has an enviable record at Spa, with Stevenage-born Hamilton winning there two years ago with a sure-footed drive in mixed weather conditions after passing pole-sitter Mark Webber on the opening lap.

The team’s founder, Bruce McLaren, also won at the track in 1968 and McLaren has taken 10 subsequent chequered flags at the circuit.

McLaren at the Belgian Grand Prix

* Wins: 13 (1968, 1974, 1982, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1999, 2000, 2004, 2005, 2010)

* Poles: 10 (1985, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2005, 2008)

* Fastest Laps: 8 (1974, 1982, 1986, 1987, 1989, 1999, 2004, 2010)

Hamilton and team-mate Jenson Button will be hoping to add further to that tally next Sunday.

Hamilton currently lies fourth in the FIA World Drivers’ Championship standings and is hoping for a surge to the title in the second half of the season.

He said: “My win in Hungary was a fantastic way to go into the summer break.

“It had the added bonus of sending the whole team away for their holidays with a positive feeling in their hearts.

"I reckon the coming few weeks ought to give us a much clearer idea of the destination of the world title."

Lewis Hamilton

“It’s also given me the hope and assurance that we can come back for the final nine races with a real chance to go for both world championships.”

One of the most revered race tracks in the world, Spa featured on the inaugural Formula 1 World Championship calendar in 1950 and has retained much of its original high-speed character to this day.

There have been two iterations of the circuit. The first was designed in 1920, using public roads and the natural elevation changes of the local Ardennes countryside.

This layout measured 14km and was extremely fast – F1’s final visit in 1970 saw cars averaging 150mph per lap.

A substantial redesign 30 years ago shortened the circuit to seven kilometres and made it safer, while still retaining many famous corners from the original layout such as the classic Eau Rouge and Blanchimont.

It’s now the longest circuit in F1 and a favourite among the drivers as a result of its challenging high-speed sweeps.

Average lap speeds are in excess of 140mph, which mean the drivers and engineers search for a good high-speed balance on their cars.

Engine power and aerodynamic efficiency are also important because the cars are flat-out for more than 20 seconds between the La Source hairpin and Les Combes corner.

Lewis Hamilton factfile

* Car 4: Lewis Hamilton

* Age: 27 (January 7 1985)

* GPs : 101

* Wins: 19

* Poles: 22

* FLs: 11

* 2012 points: 117 (4th)

The fickle microclimate of the Ardennes forest region can also play a role in the outcome of the race, too.

Rain often plays havoc with race strategies, while also making track conditions treacherous, which is why the Belgian Grand Prix sees such a regular occurrence of safety cars.

As well as winning at Spa two years ago, Hamilton bagged pole position there in 2008. He then snatched victory from Kimi Raikkonen in the closing stages, only for his celebrations to be cut short.

Stewards thought he had gained an unfair advantage by running across the chicane late in the race and a 25-second time penalty demoted him to third place, with Felipe Massa taking the win.

Lewis Hamilton’s Belgium record

* 2011: Q2, R-

* 2010: Q2, R1

* 2009: Q12, R-

* 2008: Q1, R3

* 2007: Q4, R4

Nevertheless, Hamilton still loves the Spa track. He said: “I really couldn’t be happier that the season gets back down to business again in Belgium.

“Spa is one of the best circuits in the world – it’s always a buzz to nail a fast lap around there, and, after five weeks out of the cockpit, that first lap on Friday morning is going to feel absolutely sensational.

“Given the unpredictability of the sport, I think it’s still difficult to predict accurately who’ll win the next grand prix, but I reckon the coming few weeks ought to give us a much clearer idea of the destination of the world title.

“It’s going to be an extremely tough, tactical and interesting finale to the season.

F1 2012 FIA World Drivers’ Championship

1 Fernando Alonso (Ferrari) 164pts

2 Mark Webber (Red Bull) 124

3 Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull) 122

4 Lewis Hamilton (McLaren) 117

5 Kimi Raikkonen (Lotus) 116

6 Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) 77

7 Jenson Button (McLaren) 76

8 Romain Grosjean (Lotus) 76

“There’s no team with a clear advantage – although we’re all pushing hard to catch Fernando [Alonso]’s points tally in the drivers’ championship – so there’s still everything to play for.”

Button, who hosted a triathlon at Luton Hoo last week, is also looking forward to the season’s return.

He said: “The past few weeks have been a perfect combination of a bit of downtime to relax and some great training, all of which has had me raring to get back in the car.

“In fact, you couldn’t really ask for a more spectacular double-header for F1’s return: Spa is the daddy of them all, one of the all-time great grand prix tracks, and Monza is one of the most historic and evocative circuits on the calendar.

Lewis Hamilton driving at Spa during 2011 Belgian Grand Prix qualifying [Picture: Vodafone McLaren Mercedes / www.mclaren.com]Lewis Hamilton driving at Spa during 2011 Belgian Grand Prix qualifying [Picture: Vodafone McLaren Mercedes / www.mclaren.com]

“They’re each places with their own unique atmosphere. I’ve got some really great memories of both circuits, but I’ve won neither.

“Given our pace in the last few races, I go forward feeling positive about rectifying that over the coming weekends.”

McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh feels both titles are still within reach.

He said: “The summer break has given everybody at Vodafone McLaren Mercedes the chance to rest and recharge our batteries ahead of the nine remaining grands prix – all of which are set to be thrilling and fascinating in equal measure.

2012 FIA F1 World Championship team standings

1 Red Bull 246pts

2 McLaren 193

3 Lotus 192

4 Ferrari 189

5 Mercedes GP 106

“It feels appropriate to be returning to the fray at Spa-Francorchamps. Formula 1’s historic venues provide us with a richly storied backdrop that few sports can match, and Spa is truly one of the greats.

“Everybody is looking forward to hearing the engines fire up in anger once more, and there are few better places on earth to watch a Formula 1 car at speed than around Spa.

“Following the mandatory factory shutdown, we’re fortunate to have had two full weeks available to prepare ahead of the Belgian Grand Prix.

“As usual, we’re heading into this double-header hopeful of closing the gap to the leaders in both the drivers’ and constructors’ championships.

“Lewis’ victory in Hungary certainly provided further proof to us that we can take on the fight for both – and that remains our aim: to win both world championships.”

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