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When: 12.00 (BST)
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After enjoying its traditional summer break, Formula One returns for round 12 of the 2014 championship, the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps, one of the calendar’s true classics and one of its toughest tests.
The 7.004km circuit features every kind of challenge.
From the run down through Eau Rouge and up the steep incline towards the blind Radillon corner, to the flat-out blast of the Kemmel Straight, through Les Combes and the technically difficult stretch down through Rivage, Pouhon and Fagnes and on to the fearsomely fast Blanchimont left-hander, Spa-Francorchamps is a circuit that, despite myriad alterations over the years, still pushes man and machine to the limit.
Spa is one of the season’s fastest tracks with average speeds of 230km/h and the stretch from the exit of La Source to Les Combes sees the throttle wide open for 23 seconds – the longest single period on the calendar.
Indeed, in the past as much as 70 per cent of each lap has been spent at full throttle so it will be interesting to see how teams meet that demand with 2014’s hybrid power units. Set-up is tricky too, with the key to success being the right balance between low downforce for the high-speed first and third sectors and good grip for the twistier middle sector.
And then there’s the weather.
The Ardennes defines the phrase ‘four seasons in one day’ and while one end of the circuit can be bathed in sunshine the opposite side can be drenched with rain. The changeable conditions can present a real headache for teams especially regarding tyre choice.
All told, Spa is the perfect venue for F1’s title hopefuls to renew hostilities.
In the Driver’s Championship, just 11 points separate leader Nico Rosberg from Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton, while the battle for third spot sees Daniel Ricciardo, a two-time GP winner this season, 16 points clear of Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso. Of these, only Hamilton has won here before, but at mercurial Spa past form often counts for little.