Belgian Grand Prix - Preview

Belgian Grand Prix - Spa-Francorchamps

Track length: 4.352 miles (7.004 km)
Number of laps: 44 (191.410 miles/308.052 km)
Lap record: 1:45.108 Kimi Raikkonen (McLaren) set in 2004
2007 winner: Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari)

A tally of zero victories over a period of four months is hardly the form of a World Championship contender, but that's the trend Kimi Raikkonen is hoping to reverse at this weekend's Belgian Grand Prix.

The Finn's summer malaise has led to rumours about his very future in Formula One and with Ferrari team-mate Felipe Massa coming on strong of late, there has even been talk of the Scuderia backing the Brazilian over the defending World Champion (and the sport's highest paid driver), assuming Raikkonen cannot pull a rabbit out of the hat and quick.
It's perhaps just as well that, seven points behind his team-mate with six races remaining and a full 13 points behind Championship leader Lewis Hamilton, the Finn has the chance to display his magic act at the magical Spa-Francorchamps circuit.

If ever a driver needed a boost it's Raikkonen and if it's going to happen for him in 2008 then previous form suggests that the 4.352-mile sweep around the Ardennes forest might very well be the place for the momentum to take hold.
Raikkonen has made the place his own in recent seasons, taking victory in 2004, 2005 and last year (the 2006 race was cancelled) and is certainly looking forward to trying to make it both four wins in a row and his first anywhere since April's Spanish Grand Prix.

"This is the one that I've been waiting for," Raikkonen said on his website . "The weekend of Spa is always a certain highlight of the season for me. You cannot get the same kind of 'pedal to the metal' feeling anywhere else."
Raikkonen might, however, find it difficult to enjoy such a feeling if the team have not sorted out the engine problems which have bedevilled them in the last two races. A single Ferrari engine failure is something of a rarity, nevermind successive blow-ups.
But, speaking on Thursday, and despite Spa being one of the most demanding tracks on the calendar for engines - 72 percent of the lap is spent at full throttle - Raikkonen claimed that "we should be fine".


Ferrari scored a one-two finish in Belgium 12 months ago, with Raikkonen leading home Massa. However, fresh from a surge in form which yielded an easy victory last time out in Valencia and which should also have brought the same in Hungary, Massa will certainly be confident has can get one over his team-mate this weekend.

And, given Raikkonen's past dominance at Spa, such a result would surely alter the dynamic within the Ferrari garages decisively. Bookmakers seem to think that shift has already taken place, with Massa's title odds shorter than Raikkonen's place them respectively at 7/4 and 11/2).
However, one major factor to consider when assessing Massa's chances this weekend is the weather, which at Spa can, to say the least, be changeable.

The track's length and undulating forest location can conspire to produce microclimate conditions, with rain teeming down on one part of the track while the sun shines on another. The last time rain fell during a grand prix was at Silverstone at the start of July - and Massa's performance on that occasion was dismal.

The current forecast is for showers throughout the weekend. Being in a Ferrari and starting at the front of the grid with the sun beating down is one thing; if Massa really wants to establish his credentials as a possible World Champion then another performance of the type seen a fortnight ago - but this time amid rain showers and mist - would certainly help sway opinions.

In contrast, Hamilton's drive in the British Grand Prix was definitely that of a World Champion-in-waiting and the McLaren Mercedes star will surely not be fazed if the rain was to fall once again at Spa.
Describing it as "one of my all-time favourites", the Briton further waxed lyrical last week that "it has probably the most exciting corner in Formula One, Eau Rouge, and it's one of the few circuits where you really feel like you're actually going somewhere; you blast off into the forest and get to the top of the hill and can feel the whole circuit beneath you. It's one of the best challenges in Formula One."

Usually, it also produces good racing, although that was hardly the case 12 months ago when all the best action - Fernando Alonso squeezing out then team-mate Hamilton at the La Source hairpin and through Eau Rouge - happened in the first two corners of the race.
In short, Spa was put on earth to make racing cars look fantastic. If he's not to lose further ground in the Championship race on Sunday, Raikkonen needs to display himself in much the same light.