The 2012 F1 campaign resumes with a trip to the historic Spa-Francorchamps circuit, buried deep in the Belgian Ardennes region, this weekend and, unsurprisingly, the majority of the field is looking forward with anticipation.
Caterham's Heikki Kovalainen is no exception to slavering at the thought of tackling the sweeps and elevation changes presented by one of the most challenging layouts anywhere in the racing world - and his enthusiasm is plain to see.
“Spa is a legendary circuit, one of the greats and a race that every driver looks forward to," the Finn confirmed, "The track has changed over the years, but it still retains a lot of the characteristics that make it so special. It's quick, the weather almost always makes it a real challenge and the fans are hardcore F1 supporters so the atmosphere is always good.
“Spa's also home to Eau Rouge, possibly the most famous corner in F1. It's still feels good as you head down the hill and start feeling the compression as you head back out onto the straight but, in all honesty, it's not the challenge it used to be. You can go through there flat without any major issues and, compared to what it must have been like when the cars had less downforce, it's relatively tame. Despite that, you still have to get the line right and, if you do and you're close enough to the car ahead, you have a good chance to overtake on the run down to Les Combes.
“Before Eau Rouge, you're on the throttle for about 20 seconds out of the hairpin and down the hill. You need to make sure you have a good exit out of the hairpin to have maximum speed through Eau Rouge and onto the first long straight or you can lose time and track position in the first sector. We then head down into turns five, six and seven, which are taken in third gear and through which you can be pretty aggressive, using the kerbs to save lap time and pushing on into Rivage which is taken in first or, at best, second gear.
"Rivage is slightly off-camber, so the cars tend to fall off the track a bit and you can't really attack other cars into there. Sometimes you see the front rights locking up into that corner as the cars struggle for grip and there's a bump on the exit to deal with. The key is to carry as much speed as you can out of Rivage and down the hill through turn nine and into Pouhon which is another of Spa's most famous corners.
“Inside the cockpit, Pouhon is a good test. You head into it on full power, lift off a tiny bit and then you're straight back on the throttle. It's quite tight on the entry, but then it opens up on the exit so you can carry a fair amount of speed through it and out onto turns 12, 13 and 14, which are pretty similar to five, six and seven. After that, you're into turn 15, pretty much at the bottom of the valley and on your way back up to the start/finish straight.
"Turn 17 is Blanchimont, the third of the famous Spa corners and another one that these days we take flat. Like Eau Rouge, it's not quite what it was a few years ago, but you still need to have the car set up right to go in and out of there flat and carry the speed through to the final chicane at turns 18/19. Braking into there is crucial – you need to make sure you don't lose time through the final two turns and back out onto the run down to turn one.
“That's a lap of Spa. It's rightfully one of the great races and, even though it usually rains for at least half the race weekend, it's still one everyone looks forward to. After a good break and the move to our new home in Leafield, the whole team is up for it and we can't wait to get back on track.”