Following the month-long summer break, Pirelli
returns to action with the P Zero Silver hard tyre and P Zero White medium: a combination that has not been raced since the second grand prix of the season in Malaysia.
The conditions at the legendary Spa-Francorchamps circuit will be somewhat different however. The 7.004-kilometre lap is the longest of the entire year by some margin, and this is just one of the factors that can lead to extremely variable weather conditions, with a high risk of rain. Set within the Ardennes hills, Spa's geography also ensures that it has its own microclimate, meaning that it can often be raining on one part of the circuit but be completely dry on another part.
The track is renowned for its high speeds and fast corners. It is also challenging on the tyres, which have to cope with extremely high lateral and longitudinal energy loadings, thanks to fearsome compressions such as Eau Rouge: a corner that feels like the ultimate rollercoaster ride. This is why the two hardest compounds from Pirellis range have been chosen, reflecting all the hard work that the tyres will have to do during the 44-lap race.
As Spa is such a long and variable race, there is ample scope for strategy to come into play, but tactics always have to be extremely flexible to cope with the potentially changeable weather conditions.
Pirelli's motorsport director Paul Hembery: "The Spa circuit is a personal favourite of mine. I recently visited the 24-hour race there: the configuration of the track and the variety of the weather always seems to produce some great racing. From a tyre perspective, its certainly one of the most demanding circuits that we face all year, because of the high speeds and extreme forces involved, which are often acting on the tyres in more than one dimension. The nomination of the hard and the medium tyres will allow drivers to push hard from start to finish, which is what Spa was designed for. The first half of the season began with the most close and competitive start to a year ever seen in Formula One's history, so I am looking forward to seeing how the rest of 2012 pans out, and which teams have made which steps forward over the summer break. Currently the grid is so closely-matched particularly in the midfield that its impossible to predict."
Pirelli's test driver Jaime Alguersuari
: "I think Spa is a fantastic race because of its rich sporting history. It is also home to some of the most famous corners on the Formula One circuit, including Eau Rouge and Blanchimont. There are a lot of high-speed corners, but also some straights making it a very fast circuit. Spa will challenge both the drivers and the teams as it is a circuit that requires a medium downforce set-up and good mechanical grip. For me, next week will be very interesting as I set my fastest qualifying in Spa last year. My most recent test with Pirelli was also in Belgium and you will struggle to find any driver that does not enjoy this race. From a tyre point of view, Spa is relatively smooth, so it is not tough on the tyres but it does pose its own unique challenges. There are a lot of high-speed areas where considerable lateral force is put on the construction of the sidewall. It is similar to Japan's Suzuka race circuit, and requires the same set-up and handling."