The 2013 Belgian GP preview: Everything you need to know about this weekend's race!
The crucial second half of the season begins right here!
By James Galloway. Last Updated: 20/08/13 10:32am
It's been a long month but the 2013 Formula 1 season finally recommences this weekend and what a place for the defining second half of the year to begin: Spa-Francorchamps.
The fast, flowing circuit that pierces through the Ardennes forest may not possess the obvious glamour of a Monaco or Singapore but for many reasons Belgium is one of the most eagerly anticipated stops on the calendar for both drivers and fans.
The composition of corners around what is the longest lap of the season - Eau Rouge, Pouhon, Blachimont... - remains a truly spectacular concoction and this year's race could be a classic with Lewis Hamilton's pre-summer break victory having breathed new life and expectation into the title race.
So read on below, and watch Anthony Davidson's expert track guide above, as Sky Sports Online gives you the lowdown on this weekend's event...
The 2013 Belgian GP in a nutshell
Track: Spa-Francorchamps. Permanent track.
Race start time: 1pm UK time Sunday (2pm local).
Track length: 7.004 km.
Tyre allocation: Medium (white) and hard (orange).
DRS Zones: Two - Half-way down Kemmel Straight between turns four and five and on the pit straight, with separate detection points.
Driver steward: TBA.
Lap record: Sebastian Vettel - 1:47.263 - (Red Bull; 2009).
2012 pole: Jenson Button - 1:47.573 (McLaren).
Button was supreme en-route to a pole and victory double in 2012
Sky Sports F1's schedule
Monday 19th August
7.30pm - The Lost Generation - Roger Williamson.
8pm - Classic Races - 2000 Belgian GP.
Tuesday 20th August
7.30pm - The Lost Generation - Tony Brise.
8pm - Classic Races - 2008 Belgian GP.
Wednesday 21st August
7.30pm - The Lost Generation - Tom Pryce.
8pm - Classic Races - 2010 Belgian GP.
Thursday 22nd August
2pm - Drivers' Press Conference - Live!
7.45pm - Gear Up For Belgium.
8pm - 2012 Belgian GP highlights.
Friday 23rd August
8.45am - Belgian GP Practice One - Live!
11am - GP2 Practice - Live!
12.05pm - Classic Races - 1985 Belgian GP (Highlights).
12.45pm - Belgian GP Practice Two - Live!
2.50pm - GP2 Qualifying - Live!
4.15pm - Team Principals' Press Conference.
5pm - The F1 Show - Live!
9pm - Classic Races - 1955 Belgian GP (Highlights).
Saturday 24th August
8.45am - GP3 Qualifying - Live!
9.45am - Belgian GP Practice Three - Live!
12pm - Belgian GP Qualifying - Live!
2.35pm - GP2 Feature Race - Live!
4.15pm - GP3 Race One - Live!
10.20pm - Ted's Qualifying Notebook.
Sunday 25th August
8.20am - GP3 Race Two - Live!
9.35am - GP2 Sprint Race - Live!
11.30am - The 2013 Belgian GP - Live!
4.15pm - GP Uncovered - The 1958 Belgian GP.
7pm - Belgian GP highlights.
8pm - Ted's Race Notebook.
Perhaps even more than is the case at Monaco, the roll of honour at Spa-Francorchamps is a real who's who of F1's greatest exponents.
Since the race returned permanently to the new-look Spa in 1985 only twice (by David Coulthard in 1999 and Felipe Massa in 2008) has the race not been won by a World Champion. Indeed of the five title winners on the current grid, four of them have triumphed in Belgium - with a victory apiece in each of the last four years in fact.
Curiously it's the most experienced of them all, Fernando Alonso, who has yet to add his name to the glittering winners' list. By the Spaniard's sky-high standards Spa is not traditionally one of his strongest events, with second and third places in 2006 and 2007 respectively his only two podium finishes in eight previous starts. Furthermore, Alonso has only once finished the race in the last four years, with last year's exit particularly frightening - as well as being damaging for his title chances - as Romain Grosjean's out-of-control Lotus came hurtling over the front of his Ferrari.
It's Kimi Raikkonen then who boasts the most impressive record here. Up until his return to F1 after a two-year sabbatical last year, the fearless Finn had a very straightforward record at Spa - he either won (which he did four times) or didn't make the finish. Third place with Lotus in 2012 was therefore not in keeping with that trend and so, on the back of yet another runner-up finish in Hungary, Raikkonen will be eyeing a fifth victory around the famous old circuit this weekend which would draw him level with Ayrton Senna and one behind ultimate Spa master Michael Schumacher in the all-time victory standings.
2012 result: 1. Jenson Button (McLaren); 2. Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull); 3. Kimi Raikkonen (Lotus); 4. Nico Hulkenberg (Force India); 5. Felipe Massa (Ferrari); 6. Mark Webber (Red Bull); 7. Michael Schumacher (Mercedes); 8. Jean-Eric Vergne (Toro Rosso); 9. Daniel Ricciardo (Toro Rosso); 10. Paul Di Resta (Force India).
Last five winners: 2012: Jenson Button (McLaren); 2011: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull); 2010: Lewis Hamilton (McLaren); 2009: Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari); 2008: Felipe Massa (Ferrari).
Grosjean triggered one of the most frightening startline crashes in recent memory last year
Spa-Francorchamps' array of fast corners and resultant loading demands necessitate that Pirelli bring the hardest two tyres in their range to the race weekend, the medium and the hard.
Indeed, F1's tyre manufacturer states that the 7km circuit places the "highest vertical load on the front tyres all season, mainly due to Eau Rouge corner".
Of course, as any veteran watchers of the Belgian GP will know, the circuit has something of its own micro-climate and therefore it's rare that there is not some rain during the three-day race weekend irrespective of its traditional summer slot. The sheer length of the circuit also means that it can be raining hard on one part of the track but bone dry at another, making strategic calls on if and when to switch to intermediate or wet tyres particularly challenging.
Sky Bet odds
As has been the case pretty much throughout the season, World Champion Sebastian Vettel remains the favourite for victory this weekend but Lewis Hamilton's maiden Mercedes success in Budapest means it's the Briton who's Sky Bet's second favourite for the Spa win - and now the whole championship itself. Check out the full range of odds here.