For each F1 race this season, Matt Majendie talks with a driver for an inside view of the track. This weekend, the Ferrari reserve driver Giancarlo Fisichella, who qualified on pole and finished second at the Belgian Grand Prix last year with Force India, takes us around Spa Francorchamp.
Fast, hilly and twisty, this classic circuit is a drivers favourite
I love Spa, as do all the drivers. It's just a great racing circuit and I've had some of my best moments as a driver there, though not all the moments have been fantastic. I think I finished second there as long ago as 1997, for Jordan, and was again second there last year. But then I've had bad times too. I crashed in 2005. Coming up the hill after Eau Rouge I lost control of my Renault and crashed into the tyre wall, which was frustrating as it was all my own fault. And I've had other race retirements there as well - in 1998, 2000, 2002 and 2007.
But of course the one time visiting there that stands out is last year, because no one really expected it from Force India. We had a good feeling arriving there, but to qualify on pole was a big surprise for me and for the whole team, in fact. I was back in sixth in practice and pole just didn't seem possible, but I managed to get only the fourth pole position of my career then. I am still so thankful to the team for the amazing job they did for the car.
There is, though, still a sense of disappointment from Spa last year, just a bit. There was a big crash at the start when Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton crashed out. The safety car came out and it meant that Kimi was really close to me after the restart. He had KERs and I didn't so he just hit the KERs button and flew right past me. I didn't really have a chance of holding him off. I definitely had a quicker car than Kimi - although not on the straights - so whatever I tried to do I just couldn't get past him and second was the best I could hope for after that. But it was still a great result for me and for the team. There was a mixture of delight and disappointment at the time, but I think the disappointment begins to fade with time.
Watching on television, spectators don't get to see quite how fast, hilly and twisty that Spa is. It is one of the great driver circuits, like Monaco for example, and of course I'd love to race here again this weekend rather than just be Ferrari's reserve driver. It's a really long circuit - one of the longest on the calendar - and you come over the start-finish line at about 260kph and then hit a top speed of 280kph before breaking right down to 60kph at La Source hairpin.
From there you accelerate to Eau Rouge, which is probably the most challenging corner of any grand prix circuit in the world. It's a very steep hill and it's very fast and bumpy, too, but as a driver you have to be brave and want to take it flat out - but that's not always easy to do. You have to lift a little and then hit top speed on the straight on the long uphill drag towards Les Combes, a third-gear, right-left-right combination with very low grip.
After that you have a burst of speed for a small straight and a long, right-hand hairpin. You come out in third gear for another brief straight, then to the left for the very interesting Le Pouhon double left-hand corner. That one's very fast - you should try to leave it in fifth gear and, if you get it right, you can do it flat out. There's a big change of speed all over the circuit and it's down to third gear for turns 13 and 14, where you can struggle to understeer if your set-up's not quite right. Then comes two corners at Stavelot in quick succession before the very fast Blanchimont, which is a sixth gear, flat-out corner.
The run-off area is narrow here and people have had trouble in the past. I remember Luciano Burti crashing badly at Blanchimont in 2001 after clipping or being clipped by Eddie Irvine. He lost his front wing and smashed into the tyre wall. That can happen so you have to be brave here again. After the end of Blanchimont comes another straight before a very slow right-left before going over the start-finish line again. Those last corners are easy to mess up and you can lose a lot of time with too much wheel spin. Get it right and it sets you up well for the next lap.
Every driver will be excited about Spa tomorrow. It's a special place to drive.