2015 Belgian Grand Prix Preview


Following the month-long summer break, Formula 1 bursts back into life this weekend with the Belgian Grand Prix at the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps.

Spa stands as one of the most popular and fearsome tracks on the sport’s calendar, combining long straights with fast-sweeping corners such as Eau Rouge, which is widely regarded as being the best in F1.

The 20 drivers will have spent the last month relaxing and detoxing after a busy first half of the 2015 season, but will now be fully focused on the challenge that lies ahead.

A relentless run of nine races in the next 15 weeks will take the drivers from the classic circuits of Spa and Monza to the modern wonders of Singapore and Abu Dhabi, culminating with the latter’s grand prix on November 29.

Lewis Hamilton heads into the second half of the season as the championship leader after producing an escape act last time out in Hungary, but with Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg still within striking distance, there is everything to play for this weekend.

Here is our full preview of the 2015 Belgian Grand Prix.

2015 Belgian Grand Prix – Talking Points

Hamilton and Rosberg return to the site of their clash

One of the biggest turning points in last year’s championship battle came at Spa last year when, on lap two of the race, Nico Rosberg clipped Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton when trying to pass the Briton for the lead at Les Combes (pictured above). Rosberg bounced back to finish second, but ultimately caused Hamilton to retire, thus painting himself as the villain for the remainder of the season.

This time around, the tension between the two drivers has been defused. In fact, things have been rather tame since the Chinese Grand Prix when Rosberg last spoke out against Hamilton. With the Silver Arrows likely to lock out the front row once again though, all eyes will be on the duo when they head down to Les Combes for the first time on Sunday.

Can Ferrari surprise again?

Sebastian Vettel’s dominant victory in Hungary last month came as a shock to the majority of the F1 world as Ferrari genuinely outpaced and outclassed Mercedes in the race. All eyes will now be on the German driver to see if he can carry this form into the second half of the season at a track where he has won before.

The ban on driver aids for starts also comes into force for this race, placing even more pressure on Hamilton and Rosberg. As they found out in Hungary, it’s much, much harder to chase than be chased.

Pressure off, Kimi hopes to flourish at Spa

No driver racing in F1 can boast a more impressive record at Spa than Kimi Raikkonen. The Finn is a four-time winner of the Belgian Grand Prix, and could yet be a dark horse for this weekend’s race if Ferrari can upset Mercedes once again.

Yesterday we received the somewhat surprising news that Raikkonen would be staying with Ferrari for 2016, ending months of speculation about his future. With the pressure off, can Kimi rekindle some of his old form at his favorite track?

The driver market dominoes begin to fall

Speculation about Raikkonen’s future may have been nipped in the bud, but attention now turns to the rest of the field. Had the Finn left Maranello, we would most probably have seen a number of changes for 2016.

Now, it looks like the status quo will remain much the same. Valtteri Bottas would be foolish to race with anyone bar Williams, Nico Hulkenberg’s only option other than Force India appears to be Haas, and Jenson Button has less room for manoeuvre should McLaren opt to drop him for 2016.

Silly season may not be quite so silly in 2015, but it’s just about to heat right up.

McLaren hopes to build on Hungary success

After recording its first double-points finish of the season last time out in Hungary, McLaren arrives in Spa after the summer break with hopes of a repeat thanks to a number of engine upgrades from Honda.

Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button do not boast the best of records in the Belgian Grand Prix, yet both should not be ruled out of more points this weekend if the upgrades do deliver a sizeable pace increase.

At a track where the grunt of one’s power unit will be decisive, though, it will need to be a very big step for McLaren if it is to repeat its fifth-place finish from Hungary.

2015 Belgian Grand Prix – Facts and Figures

Track: Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps
Laps: 44
Corners: 19
Lap Record: Sebastian Vettel 1:47.263 (Red Bull, 2009)
Tire Compounds: Soft (Option); Medium (Prime)
2014 Winner: Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull)
2014 Pole Position: Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) 2:05.591
2014 Fastest Lap: Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) 1:50.511
DRS Zone: Main Straight (T19 to T1); T4 to T5

2015 Belgian Grand Prix – TV Times

Free Practice 1: NBC Sports Live Extra 4am ET 8/21
Free Practice 2: NBCSN 8am ET 8/21
Free Practice 3: NBC Sports Live Extra 5am ET 8/21
Qualifying: CNBC 8am ET 8/22
Race: NBCSN 7:30am ET 8/23

Ford unveils a new Mustang for 2024 Le Mans in motorsports ‘lifestyle brand’ retooling

Ford Mustang Le Mans
Ford Performance
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LE MANS, France — Ford has planned a return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans with its iconic Mustang muscle car next year under a massive rebranding of Ford Performance aimed at bringing the automotive manufacturer “into the racing business.”

The Friday unveil of the new Mustang Dark Horse-based race car follows Ford’s announcement in February (and a ballyhooed test at Sebring in March) that it will return to Formula One in 2026 in partnership with reigning world champion Red Bull.

The Mustang will enter the GT3 category next year with at least two cars in both IMSA and the World Endurance Championship, and is hopeful to earn an invitation to next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans. The IMSA entries will be a factory Ford Performance program run by Multimatic, and a customer program in WEC with Proton Competition.

Ford CEO Jim Farley, also an amateur sports car racer, told The Associated Press the Mustang will be available to compete in various GT3 series across the globe to customer teams. But more important, Farley said, is the overall rebranding of Ford Performance – done by renowned motorsports designer Troy Lee – that is aimed at making Ford a lifestyle brand with a sporting mindset.

“It’s kind of like the company finding its own, and rediscovering its icons, and doubling down on them,” Farley told the AP. “And then this motorsports activity is getting serious about connecting enthusiast customers with those rediscovered icons. It’s a big switch for the company – this is really about building strong, iconic vehicles with enthusiasts at the center of our marketing.”

Ford last competed in sports car racing in 2019 as part of a three-year program with Chip Ganassi Racing. The team scored the class win at Le Mans in 2016 in a targeted performance aimed to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Ford snapping Ferrari’s six-year winning streak.

Ford on Friday displayed a Mustang with a Lee-designed livery that showcased the cleaner, simplified look that will soon be featured on all its racing vehicles. The traditional blue oval with Ford Performance in white lettering underneath will now be branded simply FP.

The new mark will be used across car liveries, merchandise and apparel, display assets, parts and accessories and in advertising.

Farley cited Porsche as an automaker that has successfully figured out how to sell cars to consumers and race cars in various series around the world while creating a culture of brand enthusiasts. He believes Ford’s new direction will help the company sell street cars, race cars, boost interest in driving schools, and create a merchandise line that convinces consumers that a stalwart of American automakers is a hip, cool brand.

“We’re going to build a global motorsports business off road and on road,” Farley told the AP, adding that the design of the Mustang is “unapologetically American.”

He lauded the work of Lee, who is considered the top helmet designer among race car drivers.

“We’re in the first inning of a nine inning game, and going to Le Mans is really important,” Farley said. “But for customer cars, getting the graphics right, designing race cars that win at all different levels, and then designing a racing brand for Ford Performance that gets rebranded and elevated is super important.”

He said he’s kept a close eye on how Porsche and Aston Martin have built their motorsports businesses and said Ford will be better.

“We’re going in the exact same direction. We just want to be better than them, that’s all,” Farley said. “Second is the first loser.”

Farley, an avid amateur racer himself, did not travel to Le Mans for the announcement. The race that begins Saturday features an entry from NASCAR, and Ford is the reigning Cup Series champion with Joey Logano and Team Penske.

The NASCAR “Garage 56” entry is a collaboration between Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear, and is being widely celebrated throughout the industry. Farley did feel left out of the party in France – a sentiment NASCAR tried to avoid by inviting many of its partners to attend the race so that it wouldn’t seem like a Chevrolet-only celebration.

“They’re going right and I’m going left – that NASCAR thing is a one-year deal, right? It’s Garage 56 and they can have their NASCAR party, but that’s a one-year party,” Farley said. “We won Le Mans outright four times, we won in the GT class, and we’re coming back with Mustang and it’s not a one-year deal.

“So they can get all excited about Garage 56. I almost see that as a marketing exercise for NASCAR, but for me, that’s a science project,” Farley continued. “I don’t live in a world of science projects. I live in the world of building a vital company that everyone is excited about. To do that, we’re not going to do a Garage 56 – I’ve got to beat Porsche and Aston Martin and Ferrari year after year after year.”

Ford’s announcement comes on the heels of General Motors changing its GT3 strategy next season and ending its factory Corvette program. GM, which unlike Ford competes in the IMSA Grand Touring Prototype division (with its Cadillac brand), will shift fully to a customer model for Corvettes in 2024 (with some factory support in the IMSA GTD Pro category).