2023’s events continue to freeze car setup after FP1 as the drivers transition into qualifying, with any modifications after this point resulting in a pitlane start for both the sprint and grand prix.
Teams already possess some familiarity with this new structure, having used it in both Azerbaijan and Austria.
Nevertheless, the scenario at Spa will be particularly demanding, given the cars’ heightened sensitivity to downforce and drag levels, as well as ride height, with the Eau Rouge compression necessitating a trade-off for the latter.
Typically, the Belgian venue offers engineers three practice sessions to experiment and observe their immediate rivals’ straightline speed before determining the optimal solution for qualifying.
However, this time they will only have a single session after which they need to make those vital setup decisions.
Missteps could lead to cars being out of balance for the rest of the weekend, rendering their drivers either incapable of defending on the long run from Eau Rouge and Raidillon, or lacking speed through the other track corners.
Teams generally anticipate their cars’ likely start position, for instance, those with grid penalties often lean towards less downforce and maximum straightline speed to aid their field progress.
An alternative strategy involves focusing more on the winding Sector 2, where extra downforce is beneficial.
Eau Rouge track action
Photo by: Erik Junius
Bringing new parts that need to be understood and optimised in the single practice session complicates matters for the teams. Everyone is shifting towards a lower drag spec for Spa, typically including new wings or brake ducts specifically designed for the track’s requirements.
Certain teams will also introduce general updates that need to be understood – for instance, Alpine will debut a new floor this weekend.
This is also only the third race with Pirelli’s new tyre construction introduced at the British GP, with the harder C2 only previously seen at Silverstone, and the softest C4 only run in Hungary. Teams are still trying to understand these.
The challenge is further amplified by a high probability of rain on Friday, making crucial decisions even more challenging, as extra downforce is notably advantageous in wet conditions.
“The biggest issue for us is a wet FP1, a common occurrence over the years,” stated Aston Martin performance director Tom McCullough. “We’re going a bit earlier this year before the August break.
“You’re going to heavily rely on your simulation tools. We’re still adapting to these tyres, and you’re about to dive into a weekend where you commit to your low fuel, high fuel and wet set-up all with a single session at a uniquely challenging track. I believe we’re reasonably prepared.”
“All sprint weekends present a greater challenge, but it’s the same for everyone,” he comments. “I believe you need to place more importance on your pre-event and simulator work. A good simulator allows you to hit the ground running.
“Daniel will face an even bigger challenge as he’s still familiarising himself with the car. We’ll be adjusting to a significantly different downforce level, a different track, harder tyres, and cooler temperatures.
“I believe we’ll try to get the setup as close as possible from the start, and then simply give him the laps and likely adjust the aero balance through FP1.”
Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing RB18
Photo by: Mark Sutton / F1 Flow Images
Eddolls recognises that teams frequently diverge on drag levels, and this is influenced by rivals’ decisions.
“Sometimes your simulations may suggest a different optimal setup from others,” he explains. “When you have a top speed difference, you sometimes need to run slightly differently to what you believe is your race optimum, just to stay competitive with others.
“So, the rear wing will definitely be a talking point. We’ve got new ones on the way, specific for this event. We’re doing everything possible in our pre-event simulation work, studying last year’s data. We’re trying to find an optimal solution that works for us, but also aligns us with the competition.
“And if we’re off, we’ll have to adjust for qualifying, but that’s never a simple task either.”
Theoretically, the reduced running should benefit teams with superior simulation tools, which typically means the usual front-runners should be better prepared.
“Certainly, the format is different,” comments Ferrari boss Fred Vasseur. “But we’ve done well so far with the sprint race when there’s only one FP1 before the qualifying, as seen in Baku and Spielberg.
“I hope Spa will follow suit. I believe all teams are pretty advanced with the simulations. We know our position.”
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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Belgian Grand Prix Sprint Challenge
What challenge is the Belgian Grand Prix Sprint posing to F1 teams in 2023?
The challenge lies in the rule that car setup gets frozen after the FP1 session as drivers proceed into qualifying. Any changes made after FP1 result in a pitlane start for both the sprint and grand prix. This year, teams will have only a single practice session to make vital setup decisions. Missteps can lead to the cars being out of balance for the rest of the weekend.
What previous experiences do the teams have with the new format?
The teams have some familiarity with this new structure, having used it in Azerbaijan and Austria.
Why is the situation at Spa considered particularly challenging?
At Spa, cars have heightened sensitivity to downforce and drag levels, as well as ride height. The Eau Rouge compression necessitates a trade-off for the latter. If the setup is not right, drivers may be incapable of defending on the long run from Eau Rouge and Raidillon or lack speed through other track corners.
What strategies do the teams usually employ?
Teams often anticipate their cars’ likely start position. For instance, those with grid penalties often lean towards less downforce and maximum straightline speed to aid their field progress. An alternative strategy involves focusing more on the winding Sector 2, where extra downforce is beneficial.
How will the weather affect the Belgian Grand Prix?
The weather forecasts suggest a high chance of rain, making crucial decisions even more challenging. Extra downforce is notably advantageous in wet conditions. Teams will have to rely heavily on simulation tools to make the right decisions.
What does AlphaTauri’s chief race engineer say about their preparations?
AlphaTauri’s chief race engineer, Jonathan Eddolls, points out the importance of pre-event and simulator work. This becomes even more crucial for new recruits like Daniel Ricciardo, who is still getting acquainted with the AT04.
How are the teams adapting to Pirelli’s new tyre construction?
Pirelli’s new tyre construction was introduced at the British GP. The teams are still trying to understand these tyres. The Spa race is only the third race with this new construction, with the harder C2 only previously seen at Silverstone, and the softest C4 only run in Hungary.