Lewis Hamilton struggled to get to grips with his McLaren-Mercedes at the legendary Spa-Francorchamps track last year, his explosive run-in with Fernando Alonso at Hungary still playing with his mind.
A post-race analysis back at Woking identified where he had gone wrong, and he bounced back with a stunning win in the wet at Japan.
One year on and the British hope is once again entrenched in a fierce battler for the world championship. This time though he should be better equipped for the high-speed demands of the undulating Spa Francorchamps road course.
“It s one of my all-time favourites,” enthuses the Briton. “Even before I first came here, which was back in 2002 for a Formula Renault race, I played it on my computer – it was always one of the best tracks.”
“It has probably the most exciting corner in Formula 1, 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 1.”
Spa Francorchamps was taken off the calendar in 2003 due to a row over tobacco sponsorship, and it is not the only ‘historic’ track to have come under threat as Formula One expands to emerging global venues.
Hamilton admits that there is an extra buzz at these classic tracks: “I prefer the more historic circuits like Monza, Silverstone and Monaco. You really feel the history of those places whenever you race there; they have real character.”
“Each time they are refurbished, they lose a little more of their individuality – but they are made safer, so we can continue to race on them – so that s a good compromise.”
Team-mate Heikki Kovalainen is also relishing the prospect of racing at Spa: “When you talk about Spa, everybody thinks about Eau Rouge – but the bigger challenge is Pouhon; it s a sweeping, downhill left-hander and is very fast indeed.”
“It s almost flat, but not quite, so it s quite tricky to find a balance that allows you to attack without going off. Drivers love corners like this – high-speed turns that are not quite flat: that s where the real excitement lies because it s up to the driver to make the difference.”
“Spa is a big, fast circuit and still feels a little bit dangerous. For a driver, that always gives you an added element of excitement – it s fast and narrow, almost like a street circuit between the trees. And it s long, so it s very difficult to string a good lap together.”
“The most important thing you need here is bravery: you really need to attack the corners faster than your brain is telling you to. You ve got to keep the throttle flat even if it doesn t look possible, you have to trust your instincts and just put the danger out of your mind. It s a real driver s circuit.”