Length: 7.004 km
F3 lap record: 2m13.738s (Roberto Merhi, 2011)
Circuit map: click here
Geographic position: click here
Set in the forest hills of the Belgian Ardennes, Spa-Francorchamps is one of the most beloved circuits on the planet - and the venue of the sixth round of the 2012 FIA European Formula 3 Championship. For Felix Rosenqvist, this weekend's races mark the first acquaintance with the famous track behind the wheel of an F3 car, and with no less than 29 drivers from both the European and British Formula 3 domains set to do battle amid the backdrop of the classic 24-hour race which has been run since 1924, the stage is set for an unforgettable event at one of the world's greatest driving challenges.
Spa, to use an expression too often abused, is legendary motor racing grounds. Together with Monza in northern Italy, Spa-Francorchamps is the oldest European circuit still in use, currently celebrating its 90th anniversary after having first hosted a car race in 1922. Today, the undulating rollercoaster venue is best known as the home of the Belgian Formula 1 Grand Prix, and - armed with corners such as Eau Rouge, Rivage, Blanchimont and La Source - it is little wonder it has established itself as an utter favourite among drivers and fans alike.
First and foremost, Spa-Francorchamps is a massively fast circuit. At no other venue on the calendar do drivers spend a greater percentage of the lap on full throttle, which leads to close racing and opens up more genuine overtaking opportunities than most other circuits. The majority of the corners are negotiated at very high speeds - often above 200 km/h - but the start/finish area is dominated by the slow Bus Stop chicane and the La Source hairpin; with the latter requiring a good exit in order to carry as much speed as possible through the mind-blowing uphill sweep of Eau Rouge and onto the subsequent Kemmel straight.
The key to a competitive lap time at Spa is spelled trade-off, with teams seeking to find the right balance between top speed on the never-ending straights and decent grip in the aerodynamically sensitive corners in the middle part of the lap. Many tend to put a premium on top speed in order to aid overtaking, but there is a very fine line on the road to exaggeration and the slightest mistake on set-up can bite back remorselessly in the shape of potentially tyre-chewing oversteering.
Spa-Francorchamps is surrounded by forests and mountains, and is also the longest circuit on the calendar at 7.004 km.
VIDEO: Go on-board with Felix for a lap around Spa-Francorchamps in Formula Renault (2008).
Spa-Francorchamps is infamous for its highly changeable weather. The sheer length of the lap means that one part of the circuit might be completely dry while another is soaked in rain, adding a further degree of difficulty to an already challenging track. Forecasts for the weekend ahead speak of much the same, with varying intensity of downpours and thunderstorms expected throughout the event. Together with the neighbouring Nürburgring on the other side of the German/Belgian border, Spa is considered as possibly the most unpredictable micro-climate in the world of motor racing, and forecasts are often of secondary importance as conditions change by the blink of an eye.
Click here for a detailed weather forecast
"Spa is one of the circuits I've been looking forward to the most this season. I've only driven there once before - in Formula Renault back in 2008 - and to get the opportunity to go there in an F3 car is something I've been longing for. It's such a fantastic circuit which offers everything, including some of the best corners in the world; Blanchimont, Pouhon, Fagnes... and obviously Eau Rouge, which is taken flat out in top gear in Formula 3. Once again, the weather will play an integral role this weekend, and I definitely wouldn't mind some drops of rain; we have been very quick in those conditions so far this year. Having said that, though, we have to remember that we are racing on different tyres this weekend and that we lack a lot of data compared to the rest of the field, who have raced at Spa several times before - so we will have to remain realistic and make sure we find a strong set-up from the word go in free practice."
Time schedule (all times local)
Thursday 26 July
Free Practice 1: 11.25-11.55
Free Practice 2: 15.00-15.30
Friday 27 July
Race 1: 11.15-11.45
Race 2: 16.30-17.10
Saturday 28 July
Race 3: 11.55-12.15
How it works
This weekend's races count exclusively towards the FIA European Formula 3 Championship. The event is not included on the Formula 3 Euro Series calendar, but the FIA European F3 Championship drivers will be joined on-track by the full field from the British F3 Series to make up a grid of 29 cars. With the Spa round overseen by the British F3 organisers, UK rules and regulations apply, which brings about some changes to the weekend structure in comparison to a normal Formula 3 Euro Series event.
On-track activity kicks off with two 30-minute free practice sessions, which are followed by qualifying on Thursday evening. The grid for the first race of the meeting is based on each driver's second-fastest lap time in qualifying, with the outright fastest times setting up the grid for Race 3. While the qualifying format mirrors that in use in Formula 3 Euro Series, the procedure for setting up the grid for the second race of the weekend differs from the normal top-eight-reversed scenario. The British championship instead features a ballot system, where the winner of Race 1 randomly draws a number that gives him his place on the grid for Race 2 while simultaneously deciding how many of the Race 1 finishing positions will be reversed. If the relevant driver draws number ten, for example, he will start Race 2 from that position with the top ten from Race 1 being reversed on the Race 2 grid. If he draws number five, the top five will be reversed etc.
Both Race 1 and Race 3 utilise the same points structure as Formula 1 with 25 points on offer for the winner. Due to the artificial elements of Race 2 - featuring the ballot, reverse-grid system - that event does not count towards the FIA European Formula 3 Championship (points will only be handed out to drivers racing in the British series), although all drivers are expected to take part in order to gain experience and track time for the concluding Race 3.
An important factor ahead of this weekend is the fact that FIA European F3 Championship drivers will have to race on tyres from the Cooper Tire company instead of the regular rubber normally delivered by Hankook. This is because Cooper Tire is the official British F3 supplier, and - with the Spa round part of the otherwise UK-based championship - regulatory and logistic considerations mean that the FIA European F3 Championship field will have to adapt accordingly. From a pure sporting point of view, it is believed that this will hand the British F3 regulars an early advantage.
Please note that this weekend's F3 event runs between Thursday-Saturday due to the 24-hour race that takes place at the track on Saturday-Sunday.
The full 2012 calendar and points system can be viewed here.
Preliminary entry list
*FIA European Formula 3 Championship
Car numbers 1-27 and 36-77 will only be eligible for points in the British Formula 3 Series.
HOW TO FOLLOW FELIX THIS WEEKEND
As always, www.felixracing.se will be fully updated throughout the weekend, with reports from each of the sessions that take place. The website is the central information hub for everything that goes on both on and off the track, and will also feature other relevant news, pictures and videos.
As this weekend's races do not count towards Formula 3 Euro Series, there will be no live TV streaming at www.f3euroseries.com.
The interaction with fans and followers will principally involve Felix Racing's official Facebook Fan Page (link below), where supporters can discuss all the goings-on and post potential questions to Felix.