Eau Rouge sep­a­rates boys from men

Com­pe­ti­tion will be stiff at to­day’s race, but Hamil­ton and Ros­berg will lead the charge

CityPress - - Sport - MICHELLE FOS­TER sports@city­press.co.za Driv­ing Ac­tion

For many years, For­mula 1 fans have com­plained that the sport is be­com­ing too easy, too safe.

Don’t mis­un­der­stand me. No one wants to see a driver, mar­shal or spec­ta­tor hurt – a fact that was brought to the fore re­cently in the US – but we do want to see the men sep­a­rated from the boys.

Over the years, F1 has man­aged to throw up sev­eral tests for the driv­ers, with those of­ten be­com­ing the sport’s most hal­lowed cor­ners.

Ar­guably, the most fa­mous of them all is Eau Rouge at Cir­cuit de Spa-Francorchamps in Bel­gium. It is a plung­ing right-left-right kink that has tested the brav­ery of driv­ers for decades. But in re­cent years, im­prove­ments in aero­dy­nam­ics and grip have put paid to that, al­low­ing driv­ers to take the cor­ner flat out. This year, they would have to be very brave to at­tempt that. Changes to the reg­u­la­tions have re­sulted in a loss of down­force on this year’s cars, and that will be ev­i­dent when the driv­ers take on Eau Rouge this af­ter­noon.

Al­ready, world cham­pi­ons Lewis Hamil­ton and four-time Bel­gian GP win­ner Kimi Räikkö­nen have stated it would be very dif­fi­cult to take on Eau Rouge flat out, but that doesn’t mean they won’t try.

At a time when F1 is be­com­ing a young man’s sport, it may be left to the elder states­men to show us how it’s done.

For Hamil­ton, the win­ner of the 2010 Bel­gian GP, to­day’s race marks the be­gin­ning of the end in the race for the 2014 Driv­ers’ Cham­pi­onship ti­tle. The Mercedes driver en­ters the race trail­ing his team-mate Nico Ros­berg, who has yet to reach the Spa podium, by 11 points in the Cham­pi­onship. And the gloves are off. Mercedes have al­ready an­nounced they won’t get in­volved in any way, that the pow­ers that be will nei­ther is­sue team or­ders nor dic­tate their driv­ers’ strate­gies.

This could re­sult in a re­peat of the Hun­gar­ian GP, where Ros­berg, on a dif­fer­ent strat­egy to that of his team-mate, came up be­hind Hamil­ton but could not pass. The team asked the Brit to move over but he re­fused, say­ing Ros­berg needed the pace to pass him. He didn’t have it. That ul­ti­mately cost Ros­berg a shot at the vic­tory, which went to Daniel Ric­cia­rdo af­ter a late bat­tle with Fer­nando Alonso and Hamil­ton.

But to­day, Ric­cia­rdo’s chances of suc­cess will be sorely dented by his Re­nault en­gine, which lacks the pace and the power needed to chal­lenge the Mercedes run­ners.

Ex­pect Hamil­ton and Ros­berg to lead the charge for the race win, while many are tip­ping Wil­liams’ Valt­teri Bot­tas and Felipe Massa to take the fight to the Merc duo as the high-speed straights and flow­ing cor­ners of Spa will suit their FW36.

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