Having wound up right down towards the bottom of the timing sheets in both of Friday's free practice sessions at Spa-Francorchamps ahead of the Belgian Grand Prix, Honda stars Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello have been left to perform a rain dance as their only realistic hope of scoring any points this weekend.

Neither driver has now troubled the scorers since Barrichello's inspired rostrum charge at Silverstone four races ago. In ending the first practice session sitting respectively 19th (Button) and 20th and the afternoon running a barely more encouraging 17th and 18th, the big-budget Japanese outfit seems set for another trying meeting around a circuit where in the past both drivers have finished up on the podium.

"Whilst it is great to be back at Spa, one of the most challenging and enjoyable circuits of the season, we did have a difficult time in free practice," acknowledged Button, who took the chequered flag third for Honda in the 2005 edition of the race.

"It was very hard to get heat into the tyres in the cool and damp conditions, which meant that I had little front grip - and that is particularly difficult here given the cambers in the corners. We also struggled with understeer. However, we have a lot of data from the test last week and from our running in practice, so we will study this and see where we can improve before qualifying.

"All the drivers love coming to Spa, and for me it is one of the most beautiful circuits that we race on, with fantastically green and lush surroundings. For a driver, the circuit has one of those layouts which has everything and gives you a real buzz to drive, just like Suzuka and Silverstone.

"Eau Rouge is a legendary corner, and the feeling when you hit the bottom of the hill - the car touches the ground and you shoot straight back up again - is amazing. It's a crazy corner in the dry, and even more so in the wet.

"The weather can play a big part in the race weekend, which is great for us as the car goes well in the wet. It can be raining at one end of the lap but completely dry at the other, so you have to be ready and react quickly to whatever the weather throws at you."

Barrichello echoed his team-mate's desire to see the intermittently inclement conditions return with a vengeance over the remainder of the weekend - hardly an improbability given Spa's location deep into Belgium's Ardennes forest. The 36-year-old acknowledged that 'the weather really helped us to get the best out of the car' during the British Grand Prix, when he ascended the podium for the first time in more than three years.

"I was happier with the balance of the car in the afternoon session," the experienced Brazilian related, "however we struggled a lot with the rear end, which was very unpredictable throughout the day. The rain in the afternoon did not help as we lost some track time, but this was the same for everyone.

"At the moment, it looks like this track and dry conditions will not favour us, so we will be hoping that it rains heavily over the weekend. Spa is without doubt one of the best circuits on the calendar, and with the unpredictable weather and the opportunities for overtaking, you always expect an entertaining race.

"The lap gives you a fantastic feeling in a Formula 1 car, as it is very fast and flowing with some great corners. It's easy on the tyres, brakes and engine as there are an unusually low number of stops from top speed down to a low gear, and you have a long time between those corners to cool the brakes.

"The car is set-up with a medium-downforce package, similar to Montreal specification, but you have to keep your options open if the weather turns - when you will need to go to higher downforce. Spa is also the longest lap on the calendar, so you need to be precise with your timing in practice and qualifying to make the most of your track time."

Honda has endured a torrid 2008 campaign in general, sitting as it does a lowly eighth in the constructors' standings just over a handful of races from the close, with six of its 14 points having come in one fell swoop from Barrichello's Silverstone showing. The Brackley-based concern's head of race and test engineering Steve Clark acknowledged that total is unlikely to be built upon this weekend.

"The biggest issue with our car here is that we are struggling to get temperature into the tyres with both compounds," he explained. "It is not unusual for our temperatures to be low compared to others, and these cool and damp conditions mean that you lose a lot of grip. We appear to be more competitive in the high-downforce sections of the track, suggesting that we have a little too much wing.

"Tyre temperature is always a challenge at Spa; however, we made a positive step with Rubens at the end of the second session, so there was some improvement. If the track improves over the weekend, this will certainly help.

"If this is the case, we expect to find increased grip and a step forward in performance as a result. We will also be looking at our aero performance closely for the rest of the weekend."

"We made a significant step forward with the RA108 over the summer break," added team principal Ross Brawn, "however we were not able to convert that potential into a strong qualifying and race performance in Valencia, which was disappointing.

"Our priority for the Belgian Grand Prix weekend will be to optimise those performance steps and improve our qualifying performance to give Jenson and Rubens the best possible chance of a good race result.

"Spa is one of the great classic racing circuits, and certainly one of my favourites. The lap features some of the most interesting, fast and challenging corners on the racing calendar, which makes it a great favourite for the drivers and also amongst the engineers, because when you get the car right you can really pick up a lot of time.

"To stand at Eau Rouge and watch a car go through that very fast corner, right on the limit, can still make the hairs stand up on the back of your neck. The weather frequently plays a role at Spa, and there is a great opportunity when bad weather strikes to achieve a surprise result. We have seen already this season that our car can perform rather better in the wet than the dry, and I for one would certainly not object to an inclement weekend."


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