>The track at Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium is one of my favourites of the F1 calendar. It’s fast and owes much of its lush, green beauty to the frequent rain showers its little micro-climate bestows on it. A weekend at Spa without rain is as unimaginable as going to a Liberal Democrat conference and finding nobody willing to talk about land value taxation.
Spa nearly always throws up surprises. Michael Schumacher has won there from 16th on the grid. He and David Coulthard had their infamous coming together in the rain there. Force India got their first ever pole position and podium there last year and it was the scene of Kimi Raikonnen’s only victory of his (hopefully not) last Formula One season in 2009.
At some circuits, being on pole position is as close as you’ll ever get to a guarantee of victory. Not so at Spa . That will be very much in the mind of today’s pole sitter, Championship leader Mark Webber. He grabbed the 12th Red Bull pole out of 13 of the season in a thrilling session that was livened by rain and the threat of rain.
I am hoping that this might just be Mark Webber’s year. I have a lot of respect for him because he knows what it’s like to struggle to get somewhere in F1. He knows what it’s like to come back from an horrific injury. Of the five main contenders for the Championship, he’s the one I want to win. I hesitate to say that because I clearly jinxed Rubens last year. He’s only 4 points clear in the championship at the moment and a win at Spa would certainly stamp his authority on the race for the title.
He will be helped by the fact that drivers have been expressly forbidden from doing what Kimi did last year, sneaking ahead by going on the run-off area round the La Source hairpin, but there are so many variables about Spa where literally anything can, and usually does, happen. I’m not even prepared to rule out Schumi from the points, racing at one of his favourite tracks, even though he’s starting from 21st on the grid because of a 10 place grid drop imposed by the stewards after an incident we just won’t talk about in Hungary
Ok, we will talk about it – having seen it, it’s not as bad as I expected from all the fuss and I can understand his defence of it. From the media outcry, you’d think that he was the only driver ever to vigorously defend his line. These things happen all the time in F1 – but if your name is Michael Schumacher, they attract much more disapproval. Lewis Hamilton got away with weaving in front of Robert Kubica in Malaysia.
Mark Webber celebrated his 34th birthday on Friday, which actually turned out to be a bit of a dismal one for him in practice. Just as the track started to dry, the session was red flagged because some spectators were apparently dangerously close to it, preveting him from the chance to set a decent time. Let’s hope Spa treats him better today.