Defending Formula 1 World Champion Lewis Hamilton has insisted that Spa-Francorchamps should never be allowed to disappear from the sport's calendar - describing it as 'a magnificent circuit, a place where you can really push the limits'.

Hamilton triumphed in the Belgian Grand prix at Spa-Francorchamps last year - only his second appearance in the event, having finished fourth on his debut in 2007 - only to be controversially demoted to the bottom step of the podium in third some time after the chequered flag had fallen for having been deemed to have gained an unfair advantage during his battle for the lead with Ferrari rival Kimi Raikkonen in the closing stages.

Though the inherent characteristics of his McLaren-Mercedes MP4-24 are unlikely to give the Stevenage-born ace - and in-form driver of the 2009 F1 campaign heading towards the final straight - the opportunity to replicate that form twelve months on, he clearly finds it hard to contain his enthusiasm for the track deep in the Ardennes forest, which twice in the last decade has fallen from the schedule for political motives...

"Like Monaco, Silverstone and Monza, it's one of the historic circuits that I grew up watching on television when I was younger," revealed Hamilton. "That makes it just that bit more special for me, because it's so easy to imagine the heroes of the past racing here.

"It's also a magnificent circuit, a place where you can really push the limits of a Formula 1 car. Driving through Eau Rouge, Pouhon or Blanchimont is an incredible sensation - your whole body is on the limit and you are still pushing to go faster still. I love Spa - I don't think it should ever leave the Formula 1 calendar."

"I think everyone in Formula 1 looks forward to Spa," agreed team-mate Heikki Kovalainen, who qualified alongside Hamilton on the front row of the starting grid in Valencia last weekend, the Silver Arrows' first front row lock-out since the 2008 Hungarian Grand Prix.

"For the drivers, the circuit is a fantastic challenge; unlike some of the places we visit, Spa has real character, and it's a place where the confidence and commitment of the driver can make a difference. The big corners mean you need to be brave and take risks - and also mean you'll have a big accident if you get it wrong. I love this place - I think it's the best circuit on the calendar."

Be that as it may, McLaren is well aware that the MP4-24's predilection for the tight and twisty stuff is likely to leave Hamilton and Kovalainen grappling around for grip in Spa's high-speed corners, but off the back of 27 points from the last two outings in Budapest and Valencia - 13 more than any of its rivals - the multiple world championship-winning concern's team principal Martin Whitmarsh insists nothing is impossible around what has historically been one of the Woking-based outfit's favourite stomping grounds.

"Despite making some major improvements to the MP4-24, we go to Spa knowing that the circuit's high-speed configuration is unlikely to play to our strengths of our car," acknowledged the Englishman. "Having said that, our new technical package makes us confident that we'll be a strong contender for points as we look to improve on our fourth position in the constructors' championship. We've enjoyed a tremendous record here, winning ten times, and both Lewis and Heikki love this place so I'm looking forward to another exciting race."

"Spa has every element to make a circuit interesting," added Mercedes-Benz Motorsport Vice-President Norbert Haug, "from long and demanding corners like Pouhon and Stavelot to the tight hairpin La Source which can be taken at a speed of only 70km/h. We have won four of the previous eight grands prix at this demanding circuit, the one with the second-highest average speed after Monza of all grand prix circuits.

"The last two grands prix at Budapest and Valencia have completely different characteristics, and according to experience at Spa there will hardly be tropical temperatures like at the previous two races. In these two races, McLaren-Mercedes scored 27 of 36 possible points - no other team was more successful. After 46 races, Lewis continues to be the driver in the field who since the beginning of the 2007 season has scored the most points and wins, and he has started almost half of his Formula 1 races from the front row. Only twice has he not finished. Heikki showed a good upward trend with second on the grid and fourth in the race lately.

"Spa will be a big challenge for everybody in the team, and I don't see us in a position to perform there as well as in the previous two races. Nevertheless, we approach the second grand prix which will be held within eight days after the summer break with great impetus and very positively - at least, our hit rate there was not so bad in the previous eight grands prix..."

Ten years ago and 20 years ago, McLaren notched up a one-two at Spa, courtesy of Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost in 1988, and David Coulthard leading home team-mate Mika Hakkinen exactly a decade later.



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