With rain forecast for all three days of the Belgian Grand Prix race weekend, it’s certain that the teams will have to get their thinking caps on in Spa.
Sound strategy, quick thinking and rapid reactions in the garage could make this race a winner for any team who can exploit the weather or the mistakes made by its competitors.
Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen comes to Spa having won the last three grands prix there, as well as holding the fastest lap record – a time of 1:45.108 set in a McLaren in 2004.
He’s in sore need of a victory and a chance to even things up between himself and Ferrari team-mate Felipe Massa if he’s to have any chance of holding on to his world title. If he gets that anywhere, it should be at Spa.
Lewis Hamilton has raced once here in a Formula One car, a subdued performance in which he was overshadowed by former team-mate Fernando Alonso. He qualified fourth, a place behind the Spaniard, and went on to finish in the same position.
Indeed, with a Ferrari one-two heading the grid last year, none of the four leading runners finished adrift from their qualifying position.
What can Lewis do this year? How will he rise to the challenge laid down by Massa, who has looked commanding over the last couple of races?
Honda will be especially interested in the possibilities of rain, since this is how Jenson Button made it on to the podium for the team in 2005.
The team was disappointed with its performance in Valencia, which it feels did not do justice to recent improvements, and will be looking to do well in qualifying and make the most of the race.
Things have got serious at Red Bull, where team principal Christian Horner is reportedly being called to account for the team’s recent poor performances, and rumours are afoot that DC won’t be in the car past Monza.
The team says it has identified tyre performance at the root of its troubles and says it is hoping to make an impact this weekend.
In the McLaren team preview, Lewis Hamilton described how he is looking forward to the race: “It’s one of my all-time favourites. 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.”
McLaren CEO Martin Whitmarsh added: “We have tremendous faith in our colleagues at Mercedes-Benz and feel comfortable with both our engine’s performance and reliability.
“The recent engine failures suffered by Ferrari in Hungary and Valencia clearly demonstrate that even a homologated engine can break, so we take nothing for granted.
“There’s always an element of risk whenever you come to two fast and demanding circuits but we have the additional security of knowing both our drivers can each still suffer an engine failure without receiving a 10-place grid penalty.”
Jenson Button, speaking in his Honda team’s preview, said: “All the drivers love going to Spa, and for me, it is one of the most beautiful circuits that we race on with fantastically green and lush surroundings.
“For a driver, the circuit has one of those layouts which has everything and gives you a real buzz to drive, just like Suzuka and Silverstone. Eau Rouge is a legendary corner and the feeling when you hit the bottom of the hill, the car touches the ground and you shoot straight back up again is amazing.
“It’s a crazy corner in the dry and even more so in the wet. The weather can play a big part in the race weekend which is great for us as the car goes well in the wet. It can be raining at one end of the lap but completely dry at the other so you have to be ready and react quickly to whatever the weather throws at you.”
Team principal Ross Brawn added: “The lap features some of the most interesting, fast and challenging corners on the racing calendar which make it a great favourite for the drivers, and also with the engineers because when you get the car right, you can really pick up a lot of time.
“To stand at Eau Rouge and watch a car go through that very fast corner, right on the limit, can still make the hairs stand up on the back of your neck.
“The weather frequently plays a role at Spa and there is a great opportunity when bad weather strikes to achieve a surprise result.
“We have seen already this season that our car can perform rather better in the wet than the dry and I for one would certainly not object to an inclement weekend.”
In its team preview, Red Bull acknowledges that it “comes to Spa after a couple of disappointing outings in Budapest and Valencia.
“In fact, after an encouraging front row grid position at Silverstone was followed by a spin for Mark Webber at Becketts on the opening lap of the British Grand Prix, points have proved hard to come by.”
Asked for his thoughts on the current situation, team principal Christian Horner said: “After a very strong first half of the season, the team has endured a very frustrating past few weeks, with no points scored in the last four races.
“It is extremely important that we reverse this trend and get back on terms with Renault and close the gap to Toyota. The next few circuits, in particular Spa, should play to the strengths of the RB4 package. ”
He said analysis by the team had shown that tyres were currently the biggest factor affecting its performance.
“Over the past couple of months, Toyota has looked very strong tyre wise in the higher temperatures. It’s not a case of our rivals suddenly ‘bolting on’ more performance. It’s down to tyre useage and they have handled that better than us.
“We have understood why this happened and I feel we can get on top of this situation and return to our earlier form for the final third of the season, hopefully starting this weekend in Spa.
“I think we can expect a very tight grid, while the early autumn weather and the race taking place a weekend later than usual can add further unpredictability.”